Hassan Bin Zubair
Arundhati Roy’s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (2017) presents the story of a transgender woman, Anjum, who lives in a crumbling Delhi neighborhood. After a massacre in Gujarat, India’s current Prime Minister Narendra Modhi stands accused of complicity in the killings of Muslims in the same state in 2002, she flees to a cemetery and establishes a new life there full of colorful characters. Alongside this narrative is a wider perspective set in Kashmir. As she recently told the Guardian, these two sections become one book because, “geographically, Kashmir is riven through with borders, and everybody in the book has a border running through them,” she said. “So it’s a book about, how do you understand these borders?” Roy is scathing of India’s behavior in Kashmir, accusing the military of torture, extra-judicial killings and disappearances. Roy wants readers to understand that state-backed violence across India is central to economic benefits for the minority who have become enriched through destructive neo-liberal policies. One can’t happen without the other. This violence permeates the book because so many characters either suffer because of it or inflict it on the less fortunate. This could be physical or psychological and the author is often explicit in her descriptions. This is an India that’s far away from the glossy tourist brochures advertising a tranquil holiday at the Taj Mahal. This section could be written by any number of Indian critics about Roy herself, incensed that a citizen of their country dares to publicly shame the human rights abuses of the current and previous governments. Roy’s life is committed to those less fortunate than her, more marginalized and hated by the majority. It’s where the best writers should always be. It’s hard not to be transported to India with Roy’s love and revulsion of her birth country. The book isn’t a dry exercise in political culture but a rich and detailed look at a nation that overwhelms visitors and citizens. Roy is unforgiving of its mainstream leadership but embraces the myriad of characters she has created.
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