Courage against tragedy in ‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’


Photo from Penguin Books

By Andrew Becker
The Carolinian

In light of our grieving and enraged political climate plagued by constant conflict and tragedy, where protests have turned violent, and “as always, everybody (has) believed what they wanted to believe,” there’s something to be said of courage.

To have courage — true, noble courage — is to be devoted by duty to a purpose or cause valued as equal to oneself or higher, and to fearlessly risk danger in its defense. It must be said that the most courageous experience the strongest gravitation towards duty, notably if the devotion is born of their empathy for others.

With her new book, Arundhati Roy has built a truly daring if not at times risky narrative.

The much-anticipated release is Roy’s first return to fiction since her highly-praised debut “The God of Small Things” won the Man Booker prize for fiction 20 years ago.

What the new novel so often displays is the power of courage against tragedy. As readers, Roy leaves us drowning in a crowded amalgam of disparate voices all reverberating in and out of coalescence with one another in a flimsy echo chamber; admittedly, the novel’s politics, anachronistic tendencies, and frequent leaps in perspective often creates a disorienting and frustrated fable for readers.

However, the empathy and devotion demanded of, and displayed to, readers serves as truly rewarding endeavor.

Take “Anjum, who used to be Aftab” for instance. She left home young to live among the other Hijras in the dream-draped Kwabgah of Delhi, until tragedy after tragedy leaves her living in a graveyard plot where everyone eventually becomes one with everything.

Alienated, pushed to the subaltern regions of human experience, devoid of place, voice lost to the toxic winds and caustic whims of the world, Anjum manages to strive and survive with a glowing sense of empathy, one so strong that when she sees the orphaned future born of flesh before her, left abandoned in the hostile multitude, she seizes the moment and acts dutifully to save a life other than her own, proving that no matter one’s gender, race, caste, or class, if devoted to empathy, you’re capable of a most noble kind of courage.

And the world is in desperate need of courage.