First things first, if you have actively followed Arundhati Roy on the political screen recently and felt agitated by her comments like many of the social commentators, then this book will rile you up a lot.
The other end of spectrum, if you have loved her magnificent debut novel from 20 years ago, Booker Prize winning, “The God of Small Things” and was amazed by her incredible skill in narrating the deeper emotions, you will still be disappointed.
But, having said that, the book has its heart at the right place but the place wanders way too much for an average reader be focused at one point. However, like the many novels that focus on deep human emotions, the rewards are there to taking but you need immense perseverance.
The book centrally narrates the stories to women or rather say two people- Anjum, a trans who holds the first half of the book together and Tilotthama (Tilo), an architect student who turned an accomplice to a suspected militant, marries three men and steals a child from the protests.
But, the book has many important characters who come as close as to your heart but receedes with almost equal pace if not more. There are many hijras, many doctors, many militants, many journalists, and many police officers.
Three characters steal the show for me: Singh, Naga and Miss Jehran the Second.
The book dwindles between Delhi and Kashmir, the phase where Arundathi Roy doesn’t hesitate even for a moment to put her political views across.
The greatest takeaway from the book is you could connect to at least one character at at least one point in the book.
As the quote on the cover says:
“How to tell a shattered story?”
“By slowly becoming everybody. No. By slowly becoming everything.”
Overall, Arundhati Roy’s “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness” is brilliant as long as it holds the fiction part together but is absolutely difficult to persevere when it switches to non-fiction mode, unfortunately which is in every chapter.