The Ministry of Utmost Happiness: Book Review (Part-I)

Hello people! The world is such a small, strange place, isn’t it? The land on its surface is divided by boundaries and its people are united by art, literature, history, legacy and above all,emotions. Who would have thought, two strangers , residing in different parts of the world would bond over a hardbound collection of words, dwell over it, derive at conclusions and create something so beautiful out of it!

I remember messaging a super cool blogger who goes by the name of Chaz Green (you guys must already be familiar with his amazing blog-Life of Chaz ) two months ago, asking for a collab and expecting no answer in return to be honest! I guess he was too kind to respond to a two-and-a-half month old baby blogger (don’t even know whether its a real thing or not) and agree for a collab. So after a lot of discussion (about how it is NOT a love story and who gets to have the best spot on our collab poster:P), we decided upon a book by a profusely acclaimed Indian author, Arundhati Roy; ‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’, read it together and the result; the first ever collaboration of my life with another blogger! So, this blog post holds a special place in my heart and will remain etched as a beautiful memory forever! Oh God, why do I turn poetic, every other moment of my life? Just for the heads up, it’s not Chaz’s fault that we are posting this blog about a month later than we decided to. It’s just that,he happens to test your patience to decide, whether you are worthy for him or not! Plus I got the premium spot for my picture, but you could get that,of course!

How to tell a shattered story?

By slowly becoming everybody.

No.

By slowly becoming everything.’

Plot

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness narrates a hard-hitting story which revolves around three characters from different backgrounds, who are brought together by the common links of pain and non-acceptance. The novel begins with introducing us to Aftab, a young boy hiding a secret in his heart right from the moment he was born and struggling with his identity in the world, till he transforms in Anjum and pledges her allegiance to the world, which challenges the very existence of rules and boundaries. It then delves deeper into her transformation, the challenges she faces, the ever lasting relationships she forms and the journey of her embracing motherhood. The story then travels to how Anjum loses her spirit in the light of 2002 Godha train burning (apologies, non-Indian readers you will have to read about this beforehand, to understand the novel), leaves her world, or as she calls ‘duniya’ once again and starts anew in a graveyard. As time elapses, she befriends other outcasts and establishes a hotel-cum-resting place for weary travelers along the graves, depicting how hope can be found in the darkest of places. The story then moves forward, where we witness a massive protest at Delhi and how the characters are one step away from meeting each other.We then have a rendezvous with the next character Biplab Dasgupta, a diplomat who tells his story of how he fell in love with S. Tilottama along with two other men Musa Yewsi (who becomes a Kashmiri millitant) and Nagaraj Hariharan (who carves a sparkling career in journalism in Kashmir)  in college. He then jumps to the present revealing how the sudden appearance of his first love created upheavals in his life. The story is then told through Tilo’s perceptive,joining dots of her story from childhood till date. The rest of the story, then completes the puzzle of how and why the characters meet and how the Ministry of Utmost Happiness is finally established in a world outside, yet lying inside the real world.

Characters

If you happen to meet Chaz at some point of your life, do me a favor and ask him how many new Hindi words he learnt and how many he remembers along with their meanings. Trust me, you would definitely be surprised at his answer and be amazed at the amazing character he is! Be prepared, Mr Green!

Jokes apart, every character arc in the book, develops vehemently and fits well in the story. The author does not shield the characters in the veil of pretense or sympathy, but presents them to the world, as they are, urging the readers to accept them in the same way .

Anjum: The protagonist of the story who transforms herself from a young Muslim boy, Aftab, to a transgender who goes by the name of Anjum. It is through her eyes, we see her struggles of shedding an identity and accepting a new one and finding hope in the shards of her broken world. Her strong personality, graceful demeanor and strong will to fight back against the current are the things that appeal to the readers and urge them to know her story.

S. Tilottama : An architecture, who finds herself in the midst of a political turmoil while following her lover, Musa. She later marries Naga and improves her relationship with her dying, estranged mother. She ultimately finds her happiness in rearing a child named after her lover’s first born.

Nagaraj Hariharan: One of the three suitors of Tilo. He works as a renowned journalist in Kashmir and marries Tilo in the later part of the novel. After she leaves him, following fourteen years of marriage, he is devastated and struggles to find balance in his life again.

Biplab Dasgupta: A diplomat and an ardent admirer of Tilo, who plays an important role in saving her from meeting with a drastic end. He later meets with Musa and broods over how he wasted his life in search of a treasure which never was his.

Musa Yeswi: A Kashmiri insurgent and a master of disguises. It is in search of his love, Tilo embarks on a dangerous journey and nearly losses her life. He later befriends Dasgupta and they both reminisce their good, old days, to rekindle the spark of happiness.

Other characters in the novel, help take the story forward in an interesting way, with their backstories and struggles running in parallel. which proves to be a different read, than most of us are accustomed to.

Writing Style

The plot of the novel is well knit and keeps you at the edge, barring some parts. The book is divided into different parts, each focusing on a different era of India’s development and how the different characters deal with these changes. The story is narrated in a third person perspective, never really giving the readers a chance to delve deeper into the minds of the characters. I feel the story has a kind of abrupt ending, which focuses on only a few characters being able to learn the true purpose and the source of happiness of their lives. Just like reality, though! I think, that is the beauty of this book, it never paints a fairy land for the readers. It grasps the reality in its words, accentuates them and presents them to the world.

Review

This probably the second hardest part, you guys know, what the hardest part was, right? So apologies in advance, Miss Roy if we do not live up to your expectations of the review…

So the book begins on an interesting note, depicting the life of a transgender in the Indian society in the wake of the changes that take place in the country. With some more characters appearing in the story and so many event taking place, you seem to lose the momentum of the story after some time. With the introduction of the other characters, the plot becomes uptight again and you start craving for them have a happy ending, which they had been searching throughout their lives.

With the melange of social issues going on in the book, you find yourself dragged in a part of a world, which you wanted to avoid for a very long time. It would be a good idea, to read about these issues beforehand, so that you don’t feel disoriented while actually reading.This book tugs at the strings of your heart and acts as a soother at the same time, only you need to keep your emotions in check and mind at work, while deciphering this novel.

This book stands at 3.8/5 for me. I was expecting a little sprinkle of gentleness and cheerfulness at the end. which would have truly paid justice to the title. But never mind it is a good read, although a serious one, with a stinging story line and open interpretations. Only strong hearts, tread ahead!

This post isn’t complete yet!Next up is a discussion on the book where both the bloggers have put in their hearts, souls and different perspectives to analyse the book from each and every angle! Tried to make it sound serious, but you know how it is with us…

So visit our blog again, to know how different thoughts and emotions are brought together by words!

Cheers!

5 thoughts on “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness: Book Review (Part-I)

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