Having just bought the novel, I read Sukamaran’s reluctantly negative review of Arundhati Roy’s, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness and discovered for myself that I had not entered “The Ministry of Utmost Boredom” but a world intensely crammed, like India itself, with the vicissitudes and minutae of the human condition ranging from rapture to agony, from goodness and evil and all in between… including politics with its the omnipresent stench of violence.
The title of Sukamaran’s review announces that Roy’s book is “A Novel That Is Neither Creative Nor Fiction’
Well, it is definitely outside the run of the mill novel genre, and you can thank the god of your choice for that! Such novels are set in a bubble world, sanitised and separate from politics, with generally predictable characters that flow predictably from one predictable plot to another reaching a predictable denouement. Ho hum. Now that IS boring.
But not so The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. Its phenomenal breadth and depth of intelligence and unpredictable creativity far outstrips The God of Small Things. It is wondrously creative. It is an experience that must be mindfully savoured as you wonder word by word where Roy’s brilliance is taking you… what is around the roller coasting corner of the next word.. poetry that will make you gasp, quirkiness that charms, flagellating condemnation, a chuckle of humour, awesome acuity, shuddering contempt, fierce tenderness, brittle satire, outlandish juxtapositions where Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut sit square with Torture, and where Mango Frooti can spark a Massacre.
Sukamaran states “it is not a novel. A novel must have characters who make us feel their feelings.”
Roy’s novel is not a reading activity, I repeat – immersed – one experiences, loves tenderly its singular coterie of friends, Anjum, Saddam Hussein, Dr Azad Bhartiya, Ustad Hameed, Musa, Tilo, and many more who are at once warmly human, stridently individualistic, quirky and bravely resilient. Politics, is not background but a multifaceted character that appears behind the cruelty-incarnate mask of Major Amrik Singh, masking as faustian opportunists like Naga, or passive collaborators like Garson Hobart. And gridlocked in occupation, Kashmir and her feisty children loom large as battered but defiant heroes.
Roy has been criticised for “being frustratingly rambling, The Ministry is shockingly uneven in its register” and that her “polemical instinct is far more developed than her art,” however Roy is artfully crafting the uneven register and polemics to mess with our heads, to shock us alert to imperilled humanity threatened by wackos such as Modi, Trump, Netanyahu, May, Merkel, the Sauds…. the list is long.
This is not a novel for children desiring soma comfort, it is for adults demanding their destiny of human dignity and Roy guides us to that end… to The Ministry of Utmost Happiness located in the Jannat Guest House where its residents live the creative actions within people’s power that Binu Matthew says will “bring peace, justice and communal harmony.”
Dr. Vacy Vlazna is Coordinator of Justice for Palestine Matters and editor of a volume of Palestinian poetry, I remember my name. She is a regular contributor to Palestine Intifada, Palestine Chronicle, Dissident Voice, Al Jazeera, Counterpunch, Countercurrents. She was Human Rights Advisor to the GAM team in the second round of the Acheh peace talks, Helsinki, February 2005 then withdrew on principle. Vacy was convenor of Australia East Timor Association and coordinator of the East Timor Justice Lobby as well as serving in East Timor with UNAMET and UNTAET from 1999-2001.