The international breakthrough came for Arundhati Roy with her debut novel The God of Small Things for which she received the 1997 Booker Prize. Over the next decades, she wrote dozens of nonfiction articles and essays on issues such as globalization, imperialism, and capitalism. She argued against US foreign policy, Hindu nationalism and India’s development of nuclear weapons and for indigenous land rights, Maoist rebels and Kashmir’s independence from India. After a long fictional break, she published her second novel. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness was on the longlist of the Man Booker Prize 2017. The book received much popularity, but there were also critical voices.

In a book review Frost At Midnite (aka Jayasree Bhargavan) wrote:

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’s many, many characters were like a circus to me. I didn’t know who to hold onto and who to hate. The God of Small Things was a crisp and vibrant 30 piece puzzle with its limited characters, substantial plot and writing. With The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, it is like Arundhati Roy gave us a puzzle with 3000 pieces and a black & white one at that.

Arundhati Roy, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness
The Ministry … (Wikipedia)
Arundhati Roy reads from The Ministry of Utmost Happiness.
Book Reviews
Chantal da Silva. “A mesmerising labyrinth worth the wait: Decades of contemplation are compounded in the God of Small things‘ author in a new novel.” Independent (UK) (21 June 2017)
Parul Sehgal, “Arundhati Roy’s Fascinating Mess: Being an activist and an artist is trickier than it sounds.” The Atlantic (July/August 2017 Issue)
Michiko Kakutani. “Arundhati Roy’s Long-Awaited Novel Is an Ambitious Look at Turmoil in India.” The News York Times (June 5, 2017)

Another reader wrote:

I was fighting to get an access to Arundhati Roy’s new novel. When reading I felt that I was not getting the whole picture from it.
This is where this blog post begins.

On Arundhati Roy

Arundhati Roy was born in 1961. When she was two, her parents divorced. She grew up with her mother, an activist for women’s rights, and her brother in Kerala. Since the release of her debut novel, The God of Small Things she belongs to world literature.  For Arundhati Roy India is a country that lives in several centuries simultaneously. In the seventies, India was, to her mind, a most revolutionary society. Fundamental questions had been addressed, e.g. the distritution of land. There was the Naxalite movement, etc. For her, all these tendencies toward a modern India had been destroyed. (Conversation with Natza Farré”)

“I wanted the write a book that was like a city”: The Novel

Cover Page
On the cover page, the novel’s title,
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, is inscribed on a tombstone.

Glossary
Haveli
a traditional townhouse or mansion in India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh, usually one with historical and architectural significance.
Hijra
a word used to describe transwomen and other gender identities
Janath
Meaning paradise/heaven. Usually a kind-hearted girl who gives the best advice. She cares for others and helps others out in little ways.
Khwabgah
Meaning “Dream Palace”. Khwabgah were Emperor Akbar’s private quarters: He had a library, small bedroom and bathroom, airy verandas on the upper floors and everything he needed to make this a little spot of paradise.

Setting
A Jannath Guesthouse maintained in a graveyard by the novel’s main character.

Plot
The novel begins with the story of Anjum who was born Aftab, a child born with both male and female parts. Her parents, Mulaqat Ali and Zainab are delighted at the birth of their first son, take her home and bring her up as a boy until Anjuman is revealed as a trangender at the age of ten.
Following her female instincts she gets attracted to one of the prostitutes of khwabgah (see Glossary) and goes to live there as a woman.

One day on a cemetry in Old Delhi Anjuman nearly becomes a victim of a Hindu reprisal against Muslims for an attack on Hindu pilgrims. She can escape. Later she runs a guesthouse in the Old Delhi graveyard and gathers around her the lost, the broken and the cast out. By the novel’s end, all the characters the guesthouse find repose in each other’s company. Their new home among the dead gives them life again; it gives meaning to the India that they thought to be – dead.

Main characters

Anjum
She used to be Aftab, runs a guesthouse in an Old Delhi graveyard and gathers around her the lost, the broken and the cast out.

Tilo
an architect, half Dalit, unconventional. A
lthough loved by three men, lives in a ‘country of her own skin’. When Tilo claims an abandoned baby as her own, her destiny and that of Anjum become entangled. “To tell a shattered story,” claims Tilo in one of her poems, “one should slowly become everything.”

Naga
a radical university student who transforms into a successful journalist reporting on the Kashmir situation

Musa
a quite and sensitive man who is forced by circumstances to respond vehemently to the insane situation in Kashmir. Tilo’s friendship with Musa takes her deeply into the Kashmir crisis

Tilo’s landlord
a former suitor, now an intelligence officer posted to Kabul.

The two Jebeens
the first child was born in Srinagar and buried in the overcrowded Martyrs’ Graveyard; the second was found at midnight, abandoned on a concrete sidewalk in the heart of New Delhi.

To conclude
“No (contemporary Indian) writer you know will ever write about the caste system. The caste system is the engine that runs modern India. The whole society is arranged in a hierarchy. There are human beings that are thought of as “untouchable”; unless you understand this, you understand little of that place.” said Arundhati Roy (“Conversation with
Natza Farré”). Roy’s second novel tries to show how the Indian society is ruined by these beliefs and ideologies – and that those officially perceived a threat to the traditional, political, national, social and religious norms may find happiness in the world where no such rules exist. How this community of the socially injured people will develop, whether it could possibly develop the nucleus of a new, the Indian society revolutionizing actionism: This will hopefully tell us Arundhati Roy in another novel.

 

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