Sketch of a Puzzle: A Review of “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness”

Certain books are written to present us, the readers, the thoughts the author holding back or wants to present to the wider circle. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is such a book. It is the stage that authoress Arundhati Roy wanted to speak her mind, her thoughts, and presenting us with a well-known scenario leading us to the question of how much we know of that scenario.

Ministry is not actually a story but a collection stories and the book maybe genred as fiction but, actually, it’s a non-fiction. The main backdrop is of contemporary India, the modern India that Shashi Tharoor states to be in the first stage of decay. Roy had created a set of puzzle blocks at first and then she had arranged it giving out a complete picture. Kashmir forms the main picture that acts as the canvas while the main acts were played in front of it. The players or actors are the ones we come across while we are going to the office or somewhere else; the ones that we read of in the newspaper or learn from the breaking news or some investigative reports; the ones that we know exist but deny at the meanwhile their very existence in our society.

The characters or players include a eunuch name Aftab aka Anjum, the living-in-own-term S.Tilottama, the high official in IB Biplab Dasgupta, the journalist Nagaraj Hariharan and the “Revolutionary” Musa Yeswi aka General Gulrez. There were few more characters to support these characters. The prominent one is Dayachand aka Saddam Hussain; (and) Major Amrik Singh. The entwining of their lives form the story, make the scattered pieces a complete picture (read the story).

The major chunk of the puzzle is of Kashmir; how was it, what is it. Roy through Musa and entwining him with Biplab, Tilo (as S.Tilottama was addressed in most of the story), Naga (as Nagaraj was addressed in most of the story) and General Amrik Singh told us the story of Kashmir. This she had done not through mere storytelling but through her views that are tumultuous at times making realize her voice through the words she churned out. The death scene of Musa’s three-year-old daughter Miss Jeebeen not only a shocking one but also a deep lament one that showcases how the situation was in Kashmir and how the Bhuswarga–heaven on Earth–becomes the hell on earth.

She, Miss Jebeen, got killed while looking at funeral procession from the balcony with her mother. The military opened fire after, “suddenly, an explosion. Not a very loud one, but loud enough and close enough to generate blind panic.” Later it was revealed a car had driven over “…an empty carton of Mango Frooti on the next street.” Roy threw the question of who had left it and who had driven over it; “India or Kashmir? Or Pakistan?” the authoress questioned later saying “nobody was blamed. This was Kashmir. It was Kashmir’s fault.”

Roy’s description of Anna Hazare’s rally at Delhi back in 2011 (Chapter 3 The Nativity) reminds another author, Kaliprasanna Singha and his books Hutom Pyachar Naksha (in English it maybe Sketches of the Watchful Owl). There the author in one of his book had described the Bengali Babu Culture of the early 19th century through Charak festival through satire.

Similarly, in Ministry, Roy through satire depicted the event of movement lead by an “old man” who with “…gummy Farex-baby smile…” in a sharp outspoken way and presented the resonance of the thin strings of the Indian society and its fabric caused by the movement. She states, “people who have nothing to do with each other (the left-wing, the right-wing, the wingless) all flocked to him….inspired and gave purpose to an impatient new generation of youngsters that had been innocent of history and politics so far. They came in jeans and T-shirts, with guitars and songs against corruption that they had composed themselves…The old man’s rustic rhetoric and earthy aphorisms trended on Twitter and swamped Facebook.”

Roy while describing the disturbing scenario of Kashmir never left out the beauty that the state holds. In places, she had described the heavenly beauty that the land holds and how it was demolished making it a vacant state.

Like when Tilo journeyed to Kashmir, it was autumn and Roy wrote “autumn in the Valley was the season of immodest abundance. The sun slanted down on the lavender haze of zaffran crocuses in bloom. Orchards were heavy with fruit, the Chinar trees were on fire.” Then after few lines, in the next paragraph, she described “every fifty meters, on either side of the road, there was a heavily armed soldier…In every part of the legendary Valley of Kashmir whatever people might be doing…they were in the rifle-sights of a soldier…they were a legitimate target.”

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness may not be as good as her last book because of throwing away the storytelling and speaking the mind unhindered and un-guised. The strong portions of the book, Chapter 7 (The Landlord) and Chapter 8 (The Tenant) were the weakest portions of the book also. The reason was Roy had pushed her views and thoughts on different issues of contemporary India keeping Kashmir in the central stage. This portion is an exhilarating one making the reader be in the state of brown thought at the same time restlessness questioning on the objectives of the authoress as she laden it with not facts but her thoughts, shifting away from the storytelling. The story of Anjum at the beginning at times become a long prologue making the start a slow one. But, Roy holds her leash in this portion as she draws the portrait of a life of a eunuch in the Indian society showing her struggle to hold the position of her being different in the great Indian society.

Overall, Ministry is an important book of this time encapsulating the dark history of Kashmir within it, the time. A few years later, though, the book may need an appendix to discuss the points that Roy had imbued and mixed in this fiction of hers making them clear to the readers of the coming generation.


14 responses to “Sketch of a Puzzle: A Review of “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness””

  1. Read it finally. Found it offensive would share a review soon for details.


    1. I am going to read your review soon…Gina had liked it though… somehow her comment is missing on this book

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Okay but I didn’t and mine comes out from the view point of being a BSF Wards and seen the reality of soldiers.


        1. Yeah…I understand…that day I read this quote which say the most detested book is actually the mirror of that time

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Maybe but the prospective from which you see that reality changes the truth of it entirely. As opposed to what Arundhati says Indian forces are not just killing kashmiris but also getting killed themselves. How difficult it is to protect your land when the loyalty of all locals is with the predators and not where it should be.


            1. There was a portion of a soldier getting a statue…but being low caste when his statue damaged no one care to mend it…so see how she had shown the negligence our Army facing… there were few more portions… I suggest reread after a year or so…

              Liked by 1 person

            2. Yes first goes the gun, then the arm, then the statue which was pointed at to his son. No reread.


  2. Added to my tbr
    Thanks !!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. brilliant review Sangbad, your thoughts are much appreciated. we are reading this in a few months for our book club in Kuala Lumpur. May I use some of your words here? You really summed up the book nicely. and while I would agree with you on the story telling deviation Roy still tells her tale well, the beauty of Kashmir through dark and virulent times gives us a better understanding of the vastness and intricate Indian society. I will be rereading your post here for sure and making my own notes concurrent with yours. Excellent my Romantic Poet, your passion always evident in your writing in whatever form, I have missed your words so much.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. First of all you don’t need my permission to use this review in your book club…Insta me the responses so that I can get better next time…secondly you made my day…this comment inspired and encouraged me a lot…

      Liked by 3 people

      1. thank you Sangbad, you are too kind and gracious. I will keep you posted with feedback when we do discuss the book, and credit you as a reviewer. I am glad it has inspired you, and hope to read more from you. I am currently reading another Indian author…Neel Mukherjee, The Lives of Others and it’s quite epic. communism in India post colonialism and marginalised societies, he is brilliant and outspoken. I wish I understood Bengali reading this!! LOL! Happy rest of the week my dear friend.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Will wait for your review…and same wish to you

          Liked by 2 people

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