Final Reaction: The Ministry of Utmost happiness/ Arundhati Roy

So I’ve now finished reading The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (TMOUH). It’s time to pronounce my final reaction.

To begin with, TMOUH, running into 445 pages, is overstuffed. When you read it, you wade through a mountain of material that are disorganized, random, unedited, even unnecessary. It seems that Arundhati Roy has put in it all of what she has seen, felt and experienced as an activist in last twenty years when she wrote only non-fiction. Too many characters, too many storylines. But there is no central theme and it’s difficult to connect them by a common thread. And sometimes the text reads more like non-fiction than fiction.

A portion of the novel is of course experimental in form, but oddly, it has also a lot of silly, loose, cinematic material and action that you see in blockbuster novels or movies. Tilo’s love-making with Musa on a houseboat in Kashmir Valley and her abduction of a baby child — who is to be Miss Jeveen the second at Zannat — from the crowd at Jantar Mantar, Delhi are just two examples.

Tilo’s character is overdone, and there is a fair dose of solipsism in it, Tilo being the mirror image of Arundhati herself.

The character of Biplab Dasgupta, an intelligence station officer responsible for much of Kashmir massacre, ending up as a nervous depression wreck seems sloppy and sentimental.

What does Anjum’s Zannat, the house over the graveyard, represent? It’s an ever expanding home for the masses, mainly the deprived and under-privileged, and is modeled like a commune in days of yore. This seems to be the essence of the novel, and Arundhati’s imagination of utmost happiness. I love the idea despite it being naive and tried and rejected. Is it Arundhati’s recipe for the increasingly violent and nasty place that is India now?

But I loved the novel in spite of all these flaws. It’s an intense and passionate work and tells some hard truth about contemporary India. What I, however, feel is that Arundhati rushed it (I know she took twenty years to write this novel), or may be she cranked it out as one big experiment without letting her editor intervene her in any way.