I am scared to write about books by preeminent authors and then call the pieces Book Reviews. A reviewer arrogates himself to be in that rarefied position where he can sit on judgement on a piece of literature, cinema, music, the arts in general. And to be in that position of judgement, is to unequivocally be accepted as someone who comes with knowledge of the arts, a sense of history of what brings the piece to life at this present juncture, what works have brought it to be what it is today, what in the artist’s life has made this work possible at this point in her life.
But as a reader I have ‘views’, oh yes. And that’s what I like to call what I write – film views, book views, art views. It gives me a sense of opening a window for myself, and for those who read what I write, into what that piece of art means to me.
And the reason I have to say all this is because I’m in absolute awe of Arundhati Roy’s intellect and knowledge (though not always of her wisdom). But more of that later.) Her The God of Small Things has featured in my list of 5 best novels for all these years even as other books keep giving their place in the rarefied echelons to new entrants. And it’s been incredible to see Roy’s transition into a woman of substance along the years, a pursuer of ideals, an unabashed supporter of liberal causes. She is as much a perpetrator of divisive views as the class of people she so deeply hates. Alas, she has along the years, also transitioned from being sharp to being shrill.
Her writing has shifted to espouse causes with the underpinnings of details which beg to be facts but are often so obviously anecdote. Time and again. Her heart is in the right place but not her proclivity to push her case based on flimsy rather than verity.
What’s happened here, in this book, is that Roy started with a story based on the incredibly true story of a eunuch called Mona Ahmed, made famous by eminent photographer Dayanita Singh’s outstanding tribute ‘Myself Mona Ahmed’. Somewhere along the way, Roy’s almost-visceral hatred for what the present regime stands for has made its way into her story. Her story became a bludgeon and her transmutation from being a mirror to running around with a shard to kill was complete. There is also an overwhelming sense of intellectual superiority which Roy arrogates herself with.
It is a tragedy of gargantuan proportions and heartbreaking news for all who love her work. Because when she writes, she writes with such consummate artistry and detail, such humor and heartbreak. Her characters come alive with all their tics and tricks, their foibles and fault lines. The first section detailing the life and times of Anjum the Hijra is a delightful read. The sheer imagination and delight of a home being built in a cemetery over graves, and how it grows, and attracts fractured souls, is a very special joy. But then, causes have to be caused. And Kashmir has to be dragged into the narrative.
In all the mayhem and death, the needless violence and bigoted propaganda, Arundhati Roy herself becomes a proponent of sectarianism and separatism, and nothing in the entirety of her beautiful writing can take away the viciousness of her credendum.
Her book, in three distinct sections, work as the original story of Anjum; Tilo the confused soul converted to be the enemy of the state and in love with the ultimate freedom fighter; and finally the appendage which is a pathetic attempt to join un-joinable threads — and also to bring in Roy’s sympathies with armed liberation movements.
I understand that finally a work can never be bereft of what the author stands for. But when Literature is foisted with creed and the spine on which the story stands is itself infected with cynicism, the loser is the hapless feckless reader.
Nothing is more disappointing than a writer who is sold to causes, but is bent on bluffing her fans that she is still producing literature. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is, unhappily, Arundhati Roy’s massive literary lie.