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Book Review: The Ministry of Utmost Happiness- Or is it?

It was in the summer of 2003, I read God of Small Things and fell in love with it instantly. Ammu, Estha, Rahel and Velutha became a part of me and the novel set standard for my choice of books in the years to come. Even after 10 years of reading it, I clearly remembered every instance, character and even some dialogues. ( I first heard of Elvis Presley from Rahel and how the shrubs 'communist pacha' got its name in Kerala). Nonetheless to say, I was smitten by the plot, characters and also the picturesque Meenachal river through GoST.

Coming to this summer of 2017, I finally bought the book and read it all over once again. I could sense the difference I felt as teenager and now as the middle aged woman reading it. My take on the entire incestuous relationship and even the moral conflict in Ammu-Velutha relationship had changed drastically. 

So for my 32nd birthday, N gifted me 'The Ministry of Utmost Happiness' and I was happy, excited and started reading it right away. It took me 3 months to complete the novel and once again I am overwhelmed by the literary skill of Arundhati Roy and haven't read any book that matches the kind of attention to details she brings in. 

The book was a kind of revelation to me. It is majorly about the seperatist insurgency in Kashmir and the atrocities committed by Indian Military Forces in the name of counter strikes there. Such a sensitive topic was not something I expected in the novel. And yeah, one of the main protagonist is a eunuch. So all together a serendipity. 

But in finishing the novel after three months of going back and forth between pages that dealt with issues of national importance, I am disappointed. Half way through the book, I felt like all the characters are moulded in such a way that the ending will be perfectly fitting the jigsaw puzzle of author's literary propoganda. The story is biased. And to talk about a contemporary issue that is so sensitive with such judgmental views is purely a propoganda. 

Anjum (the celebrated eunuch) is a character with such an intricate background and yet in the middle of the story she vanishes to the background. And then Tilo aka Tilottama and her absurdities carry the narration. Anjum and Tilo's path crosses at Jantar-Mantar where we are introduced to Miss Jebeen, the Second. When they merges as the residents at Mannat, which is the Ministry of Utmost Happiness, everything seems to be forced to do justice to the title and impending climax. The whole entrance of Tilo and Miss Udaya Jebeen is so much thorny and confusing. 

The whole novel moves around Musa, who is the invisible thread that connects each character. He is Tilo's lover and guide. Musa is the main protagonist without a body but his presence is felt everywhere.  Sometimes it feels like the whole point of the novel is to show Musa as the much deliberate one with real life qualities. Certainly Tilo's character is shadowed and as Musa says to her "When you see what you see and hear what you hear, you won’t have a choice"; that's what the author wanted to convey after all. That the Kashmiris are crying out loud for a separate nation!

My notion is that the novel has an intellectual aura. And it is trying to bribe normal citizens who have no idea whatsoever in Kashmir issue into supporting the seperatist ideals. Also I could strongly feel that Mariyam Ipe is completely Baby Kochamma from GoST and even Tilo is a rip-off of Rahel. Musa and Velutha has so many similarities but yes, it's an author's weakness to get inspired from her own characters. 

Once I finished the novel, only then I understood the front cover illustration. It's Begum Renata Mumtaj's grave being adorned by a rose flower. Period. 

P.S. If Major Ravi happens to read this novel, he will probably suffer a heart attack. I hope he doesn't. 


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