Blesok no. 119, May-June, 2018

Arundhati Roy: “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness“, Knopf, London 2017

Recommendation for translation: A NOVEL WITH THE COLOUR OF SAFFRON Recommendation for translation: A NOVEL WITH THE COLOUR OF SAFFRON

The story begins from some “middle” in the life of Anjum, a woman captured in the body of a man, hermaphrodite – a rare Hijra who lives in the cemetery (2). Then it goes back to the birth of Anjum until the moment when he/she decides to live in the cemetery (1). Here “time” is connected and continues to flow together (3), after we already know why he/she is in the cemetery, and we get to know the pain of her life because of the “third gender”, but also the people who are close and important to her, especially Zainab, Saddam Hussain, d-r Azad Bharathiya and others. All the time, the birth of a baby with three mothers is being announced. This is not overemphasized, but it is not sufficiently clear and understandable either. As some kind of spread flour through the text, too little to knead a new story – too much to go unnoticed[4] .

There is a countdown to that birth, to the event whose importance the reader does not understand, nor does the reader understand why it would be important and whether at all (and how) important it would be. This part with Anjum ends with a baby found on the street. While the characters we know are trying to take the baby, someone else does it before them. This part told by an omniscient narrator ends with the imposed question “… had her [the baby’s] past been erased for ever” after she was left on the street and taken by someone else, and then a completely new one (the chapter “The Landlord”) begins, told in the first person, which leaves us to wait for hundreds of pages of elementary touch with the previous part, let alone connection, continuation.
The second narrative unit only begins with the I-form of the landlord, who, as we find out much later, belongs to the highest police intelligence structures in India – BiplabDasgupta. His story also begins in some middle, and then goes back, not following the pattern 2-1, and then 3 where everything will be connected, but a repetitive 2-1-2-1… forward-backward, during which we find out that the alcoholism and the old love which this middle-aged man has problems with are based on a very complicated story of his youth, where three friends (he – Biplab or Garson Hobart as he is called, Musa and Naga) love the same woman – Tilo. The three of them have nothing in common except for Tilo and some music. However, they are close in a powerful way. All characters are explained according to the same narrative principle, with a difficult forward-backward narrative strategy with many details, documents, facts distributed through unreal time of their appearance, understanding and need… with a lot of politics, with many frighteningly naturalistic contexts in India, with putting the three friends, who also originate from various castes, on different sides. However, Tilo is what always holds them “together”. Not chronologically, but in fragments, at the moment we manage to get a hold of the plot threads, we realize that the first-person narrative has stopped, and we have again been left to an extensive omniscience. Tilo and Musa love each other, Naga and Biplab love Tilo. Musa marries Arifa and they have a daughter Jebeen, Arifa and Jebeen get killed. Musa is with Tilo again, but since he is a Kashmiri who fights for the independence of Kashmir from India, he directs his own death in order to protect the life of his beloved Tilo; she is present in reality at the funeral of his constructed death, and as his unmarried “widow”, she marries Naga at the advice of and agreement with Musa for the sake of security and survival. She lives married to Naga for a long time, and communicates with Musa, whom everyone believes to be dead, in every possible way. Until the moment she decides to rent an apartment and leave Naga. The landlord of the apartment is Biplab who had never stopped loving her, and who previously, in the most difficult moments for her and for Musa, through Naga, provided freedom to her… i.e. – life. This is not a pathetic love rectangle, the connecting of the logical sequence of the plot is a true reading adventure.[5] The night the baby is born, event that was announced in the Anjum part of the novel (the baby – spread flour), Tilo is the one who takes it, while Anjum and Hussain try to do the same. Tilo, out of love for Musa, gives the baby the name of his killed daughter – Jebeen. Miss Jebeen the Second. Compensation for the non-compensable. After a series of dangerous situations and police doubts and threats, Tilo, along with the baby (through Saddam Hussain), goes to live with Anjum on the cemetery, and the story is finally united. The three mothers of the new Jebeen, to whom the novel is left along with the army of characters, are: her biological mother, molested and raped to death by six soldiers (that is why Jebeenhas six fathers), Tilo and Anjum. The letter by the biological mother is one of the most poignant parts of the novel, in which there is too much “blood” as it is. Aware of this, the author wonders several times in the text “What is the acceptable amount of blood for good literature?” Musa dies for real the second time, Tilomourns after him, raising her, his, their… Hindu-Kashmiri daughter with three mothers and six fathers, “because Miss Jebeen, Miss Udaya Jebeen, was come” and “the novel” must leave. Miss Udaya Jebeen is an alternation of the novel. The living person of the story whose arrival is the departure of everything before.

4. The narrative technique named spread flour is frequent and significant in this novel. It is an anticipatory strategy of anticipating what will come or what will be connected. The surprising thing in Arundhati Roy is that she makes dough of the spread flour in a totally unexpected moment. All she had casually spread during the narration, she gathers in one move and makes an irresistible Whole, dough, bread, essence, in impeccable, unquestionable and irrefutable fact.

5. Critical reviews have already extensively “recognized” Arundhati Roy in Tilo, as well as in Amu, the woman protagonist from “The God of Small Things”, but the autobiographical facts are not a subject of my interest. Roy is so close to all her characters that even if she is one of them herself, the general closeness to all the characters would not be harmed or changed.

AuthorOlivera Kjorveziroska
Translated byKalina Maleska
2018-09-20T12:42:59+00:00 May 12th, 2018|Categories: Reviews, Literature, Blesok no. 119|Tags: |0 Comments