The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, Arundhati Roy’s second novel, came into the world with a bang. Amazon had pre-booked more than 50,000 copies even before the release. Publications from all over the world had bought the rights of its translations prior to the release date of June 6. And now, post its release it has been long-listed for the Man Booker Prize 2017. The novel centres around Anjum, a hijra from the cramped neighbourhood of Old Delhi, and weaves its way into Kashmir and beyond – the novel has elements of beauty, of peace and of war.
Here are the reasons why Arundhati Roy should get the Booker again, 20 years after she won it for her debut novel, The God of Small Things:
1. A prose wherein you can lose yourself
It is easy to forget the ticking of the clock, and to lose yourself in the feverishly detailed prose that almost feels like poetry. Whatever be the plot, and whatever your problems with it, her writing shines in the details. Even a seemingly grotesque description of a cow being butchered for Eid is written with a realism that makes you flinch when the characters do. The struggle for an identity that Anjum and those around her face in their everyday lives has been painstakingly expressed. That’s what the Booker judges look for.
2. Roy’s own language
The reason why The God of Small Things won the Booker back in 1997 is because Roy found a ‘new’ language in which she wrote the book. It’s not a language us Indians are unfamiliar with, but is as rooted in our speech as a rickshaw is on the Delhi roads. It is unique, it is INDIAN. And it’s the same language she has used in her second novel as well. The plots of the the two novels maybe world apart, but the language remains the same.
3. Old Delhi ways
Whether it be the narrow lane around Chitli Qabar or the lax, otherworldly life of its residents, Shahjahanabad, or what is known as Old Delhi, TMOUH never fails to fascinate us with its shared culture dipped in history. After reading the novel you will long to walk along the same lanes and breathe in the air of the same mohallas where the characters reside.
Whether it be Anjum, a hijra from Old Delhi or Musa, a militant from Kashmir who dives into the struggle for Kashmiri independence, Roy’s characters bring the pages alive with their nuanced descriptions and characteristics which are so real, it’s hard for one to not empathise with their struggles and joys, or with their tragedies and romances. And this flush of empathy makes you, more often than not, pause, look up from the text and let the realisation of what you’ve just read sink in.
5. A mirror to reality
Roy’s novel more or less is a companion piece to her political writings. The issues range from the Gujarat pogrom in 2002 and Kashmiri insurgency in the 90s to the anti-corruption struggle of Anna Hazare. She spares no one. The events act as a backdrop and shape the characters as the plot progresses. She is ruthless when she shows the dark side of the State and is unsurprisingly elegant when she portrays the human stories that emerge out of those events.
6. Non-linear plot
Whoever is familiar with Roy’s debut novel, A God of Small Things, knows that she is clever when it comes to the structure of her novels. She doesn’t give away the plot easily. She makes you wonder where the story goes, seduces you by giving away snippets and tantalises you to reach to keep continuing. And when you do, you wish you hadn’t. This kind of a chronological structure is something the Booker loves.
7. Because it’s Arundhati Roy
Roy has, more or less, has attained the status of a ‘Goddess’ in the literary circles. She has sold over eight million copies of her first novel. The whole world awaited the release of her next one, and now that they have it in hand along with an international praise to which is no stranger, they wouldn’t hold back to keep it on a pedestal. Roy rules!