INDIA

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.com

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness: A Novel

Written by: Arundhati Roy

Narrated by: Arundhati Roy

ARUNDHATI ROY (INDIAN AUTHOR, WINNER OF THE BOOKER PRIZE FOR – THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS)

Arundhati Roy characterizes India’s governance in her new novel, “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness”.  She pictures India as culturally diverse; however, it is defined by separateness and injustice more than freedom and equality-of-opportunity.

India’s population; not its territorial size, makes it the largest democratic republic in the world.  Roy exposes India’s democracy and its flaws.  The flaws she identifies are reminders of America’s democratic failings.

Without having traveled to India (a trip is planned in February 2018), much of the author’s writing resonates with what is happening in America.  Roy observes Indian society as she lives it.  This is only her second novel in the last twenty years.  With a host of fascinating characters, Roy offers an insightful vision of modern India.  Her writing beautifully describes Indian society while beating democracy with an ugly-stick.

Roy’s writing beautifully describes Indian society while beating democracy with an ugly-stick.

One can personally believe in the value of democracy in the world and still appreciate what Roy says about failures of democracy in India.  A joke that Roy tells capsulizes a major flaw in democracy.  Because of difference among followers of the Muslim religion, Roy illustrates the absurdity of volitional separateness.  A comparable joke in American history might be as follows:

Picture a Union soldier at the beginning of the Civil War with the intention of jumping off Fort Sumter’s wall to his death.  A Rebel soldier sticks his head out to talk the Union soldier off the ledge.

BATTLE OF FORT SUMTER (Picture a Union soldier at the beginning of the Civil War with the intention of jumping off Fort Sumter to his death.  A Rebel soldier sticks his head out to presumably talk the Union soldier off the ledge.)

Rebel soldier: “Where are you from?”

Union soldier: “South Carolina.”

Rebel soldier: “Me too.”

Union soldier: “I’m a God-fearing Baptist.”

Rebel soldier: “Me too.”

Union soldier: “I believe in State’s Rights.”

Rebel soldier: “Me too.”

Union soldier: “I’m a white American and believe in the superiority of the white race.”

Rebel soldier: “Me too.”

Union soldier: “I believe Negroes are unequal to whites.”

Rebel soldier: “Me too.”

Union soldier: “I believe a woman’s place is in the home.”

Rebel soldier: “Me too.”

Union soldier: “I believe in majority rule for States’ Rights.”

Rebel soldier: “Me too.”

Union soldier: “I believe in a federalist government that makes States stronger and guarantees life, and liberty for all.”

The Rebel soldier leans over and pushes the Union soldier off the ledge.

SAYYID QUTB (1906-1966, EGYPTIAN AUTHOR,EDUCATOR,ISLAMIC THEORIST,POET,AND LEADING MEMBER OF THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD)

In contrast, Roy’s story is about two Indian Muslims that are the same on most levels.  However, as each layer of similarity is revealed, a singular difference compels hostility, imprisonment, injury, or murder.  That theme carries through in every character in “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness”.  The irony of Roy’s title resonates in each chapter of the book.

In the beginning of Roy’s story, a family has their first boy child.  The child is born with both male and female parts.  The mother conceals the child’s circumstance from the father until the boy begins to exhibit a desire to be a girl.  The girl is rejected by her father.  She seeks refuge in a house where other hermaphrodites live.  She grows to adulthood but becomes isolated from Indian society.  She is an extraordinary woman who establishes an outcasts’ haven in a cemetery that attracts equally shunned Indians.  (One is reminded of the many minorities in America who are driven to similar non-judgmental enclaves.)

TRANSGENDER TWITTER BY TRUMP ; e.g. AMERICA’S REJECTION OF DIVERSITY.

Roy’s novel reflects on relations between India, Pakistan, and China in Kashmir.  She notes Muslim influence throughout India that sharply differentiates the majority Hindu population in India from the Muslim majority in Kashmir.  The complexity of Kashmiri society pits Muslim against Muslim, Hindu against Muslim, Asian against Muslim, Pakistani and Chinese against Indian.  The irony is that this is democracy.

KASHMIR AREAS OF DISPUTE

The ideal of democracy is to meld different cultures into one multi-cultural and accepting society with a belief in a common good.  However, human nature gets in the way.  The drive for money, power, and prestige is unleashed by democracy in ways that separate cultures from humanity.  The rich become richer at the expense of the poor.  Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Hubris qualifies one child for Harvard; another for military service, community college, or poverty row.

AFTERLIFE (Death is a belief of a beloved that no one is missed because they are always with you. )

Roy’s novel is about life and death.  No one ever dies in her story; i.e. they just move on.  Death is belief of a beloved that no one is missed because they are always with you.

Roy’s story is not written as a political manifesto.  It is about human nature; not about governments or their politics.  Roy’s book seems a plea for people to recognize diversity in humanity; i.e. to accept rather than reject, and not to isolate, injure, and/or murder the “other”.

Roy is an idealist who sees the world as it is.  The reality is we live in a world as it is; not as it ought to be.

Roy infers the world should let Pakistanis, Afghans, Kashmiris, Iraqis, Syrians, Indians; and other nation-builders choose their own way of life.  Only in the context of human nature, does one size fit all.  To date, no government seems capable of achieving acceptance of diversity, but some are better than others.

This review fails to show how beautifully this story is written.  One can enjoy Roy’s book  just for the images she creates with words.

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