A room of my own
Latest posts by Sehar Hashmi (see all)
- The Ministry of Happiness:A Magnificent Looking Glass - August 17, 2017
- The Proposal - July 30, 2017
- Free to Surrender - July 17, 2017
Unlike The God of Small Thing , delved deep into the personal and psychological realms , The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, divulges fearlessly the “politically incorrect” records of the Indian society exposing the alarming rise of jingoistic narrative;the real cause of the marginalization of the minorities.
Arundhati Roy’s new novel, The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness,is a magnificent, looking glass mirroring the fragmented story of ” the unconsoled”.Its theme has deep political overtones as “Gujarati ka Lalla ” and his “saffron parakeets” initiate a harrowing massacre of muslims in Gujarat( reference to 2002 pogrom in Ahmedabad ,Gujrat )and Biplap Dasgupta, the Intelligence Bureau man, Major Amrik Singh and ACP Pinky wreak havoc in Kashmir with their ” infrastructure of impunity”. Interwoven is the theme of caste system and its dreadful effects on violators. Tilo is ignorant of her father’s Identity because”the man ,who belonged to an ” untouchable ” caste(a “Paraya”, Mammen P. Mermen whispered , as though even to say it aloud would contaminate him)”
Even, well-educated urbanized people are guilty of it.”The Hindu doctors who were required to conduct post-mortem thought of themselves as upper caste and would not touch dead bodies for fear of being polluted”
Saddam Husain records the misery of Dalits narrating how his father and his friends who were out to clear away a carcass of an already dead cow were suddenly held guilty of killing it by a bloodthirsty mob.” How they splashed through puddles of his father’s blood as if it were rainwater,how the road looked like a street in the old city on the day of Bakr-Eid.”
As Roy says, it’s a shattered story, the non linear structure of the plot is in synch with the real life chaos. She employs both third person and first person to tell the story as it plunges backwards into past from present, thereafter heads towards future successfully.She uses archives, journalistic reports,description of photographs, post-its,notes ,personal letters and even FIR report of Kashmir police to unfold the story and for the delineation of character.
Like the scattered pieces of a gigantic jigsaw, they are to be jotted down by the readers who ,at times, in the middle section of the novel may start trudging due to its dry report like nature. The episode of Jantar Mantar and an endless array of the characters leave a bitter taste in mouth but no great novel is immune to digression. And Jantar Mantar acts as a unifying force as it brings together Anjum and Tilotamma in a very subtle and suspense filled manner. Both represent the nurturer of love irrespective of its legality or religiosity; its crucial to novel’s final thesis of happiness and hope .
Anjum tells Saddam Hussain,” I don’t care what you are……..Muslims,Hindu, man, woman, this caste ,that caste ,or a camel’s arsehole.”
The novel is glowing with a variety of three dimensional characters essential to its theme and structure of the plot.
Anjum the main protagonist is a Hijra ,a hermaphrodite ,struggling to be at peace with the conflicting nature of her body. In fact ,Anjum personifies India, which is home to a paradoxical population of varying religions and ethnicities. She is victimized by the shortsighted society.The surging extremist political forces rob Anjum of whatever peace she finds for herself at Khawabgah,a home to all the Hijras, when,in Gujrat ,Anjum witnesses how “thirty thousand saffron parakeets with steel talons and bloodied beaks ” ” folded the men and unfolded the women”.
Anjum’s journey branches out in various directions introducing other major characters to the novel. There is an unconventionally stunning woman, Tilotamma, Keralite christian and ,a student of architecture studying with three of her lovers at the local university in New Dehli. The delineation of Tilotamma ‘s character is innovative as we get to know her through Roy’s words,from her suitors’ feelings and impressions and her treasury of post-its, photographs, personal notes, bills and checks.
Naga,a journalist,from the upper crust of ambassadors. Biplap, a Brahman and a history graduate turned Intelligence bureau man deployed in Srinagar.Both pine for Tilo ,but it’s Musa an architect turned a Kashmiri freedom fighter who wins her heart. Skillfully, Roy brings these characters of varying religious and regional backgrounds together in one university to emphasize upon the intertwined reality of the Indian society. Kashmir’s freedom fight and Indian army’s atrocities take the central stage.
Major Amrik Singh, aka”spotter” is responsible for atrocities and targeted killings of Kashmiris. The journalists like Naga and bureaucrats like Biplap operate with their “infrastructure of impunity” to hasten Kashmir tragedy.
The characters evolve and gain self knowledge after having been through life. Guilt-ridden Major Amrik Singh commits suicide in exile and the disillusioned Biplap Dasgupta wonders,” I am a little Amrik Singh myself- old , bloated, scared, and deprived of what Musa so eloquently called “the infrastructure of impunity “that I have operated within all my life.What if I self destruct too.”
All the characters set sail in the quest of happiness, ironically, only those who are derided and ostracized by society finally discover the gem of happiness. Under the auspices of Anjum and Tilo Madam, the ministry of utmost happiness operates ,at the most unlikely place ever ,the Jannat Guest House situated at a graveyard!
The novel is resplendent with Roy’s characteristic images of nature, symbolizing hope and its absence. It begins with a poetic description of the twilight hour, aspirin induced cows to produce plentiful milk, the extinction of vultures “the custodians of the dead”, and ends with a stunning image of a dung beetle called Guih Kyom, ” He was wide awake and on duty , lying on his back with legs in the air to save the world in case the heavens fell.”
The hope of India’s resurrection springs from Anjum ‘s newly built unique family at the Jannat Guest House which include Tilotimma ,a christian ,Saddam Hussain, a Dalit inspired by the defiant Irapi leader, goes by the same name, Miss Jabeen the second ,a Hindu child of a Maoist, Telugu mother, named after the Shaheed kashmiri muslim girl and Dr. Azad Bhartay.And where Imam Ziauddin says the the funeral prayers of a christian Maryam Ipe and a Hindu Dalit.
In a nutshell, the novel is a real summer treat read and Roy’s daring attempt at speaking nothing but truth makes it remarkable for its objectivity.