Tuesday, 1 August 2017

BOOK TALK: THE MINISTRY OF UTMOST HAPPINESS

27 July 2017—School of Business Studies and Social Sciences, Christ University

Arundhati Roy took a very long interval in her creative life. Akin to her style of mixing poetry with prose let’s call this ‘gap’, a ‘caesura’. She broke this silence with yet another masterpiece, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. The novel in spite of being in the news as Roy’s second novel in 20 years is again inviting attention by being longlisted for the Man Booker Prize Awards 2017, a rare achievement for any author to be consecutively shortlisted for both her works.  In the backdrop of such attention the book was taken up by Ellipsis, the English Association of the BGR campus, for its second session of Book Talk for the academic year 2017-18. The class in charge of the event was 1 MA English with Cultural Studies.

The discussion was held at the Christ University BGR Campus Library on 27 July 2017 from 3:45 to 5:00 p.m. The gathering was welcomed by Dr Meghna Mudaliar who gave a general introduction to the book and author commenting the brave tone of Roy’s to discuss various controversial topics in her novel through a poetic language and style, as “we say things in literature which we can’t say in public.” The opening pages of the novel were read out to the audience to appreciate and to enjoy the language, imagery, thought and content of Roy’s writing. The poetic-prose of the chapter was accentuated by the circle.  
      
The first topic of discussion was presented by Shivani Kuthe of 1 MA ECS on “The Non-Linear Narrative of The Ministry of Utmost Happiness”. The speaker pointed out how fragmented the narration and storyline was, thus bringing through these shattered stories several protagonists. The novel is a recollection of memories. She mentioned the critique of Nilanjana Roy on the novel as an “elegy to the bulldozed world.” These shattered pieces slowly become everything. The poetic language was again cited with reference to the tone of compassion by quoting from Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem ‘Kindness’ through which Nye highlights the need to understand sorrow and pain as equally important as the need for kindness, as also seen in Roy’s book.
 

Prakriti Arora of 1 MA ECS was the second speaker of the Book Talk on “Twisted Politics and the Quest for Identity.” She called the novel the baby of Roy’s twenty years of experience. She noted the trace of political events in the novel from the Gujarat riots to the Kashmir issue. She tried to trace these political events not subjectively but through the tone of the author. The discussion was on the quest of identity of the marginalised voices. The choice of a transgender character as the protagonist was discussed. The remark on the poetic verse in the novel was reemphasized and the address by Arora ended with her reading her favourite lines from the novel and appreciating the language and style of Roy.

3 BA English Honour’s Yashwant Singh Panwar took an interesting topic of “Borders: Physical, Metaphorical and Philosophical.” In his talk he gave examples of events and characters to brief his topic.  He took characters like Anjum, Saddam Hussain and Tilottama to show the different manifestations of borders. In Anjum the border of religion breaks in the haveli Khwabgah, the place of dreams. In Saddam Hussain caste as a barrier is shed off by the witnessing of the murder of his father. In Tilo, Panwar traced the autobiographical connection with the author. He mentioned many personal experiences of the author seen in various characters of the novel. The importance of animals was also highlighted with the reference to Roy calling herself a stray dog. He also took notice of the shattered and scattered narrative of the novel.  

The talk concluded with Dr Meghna referring to the novel as beyond categorisation of genres and commenting on the play of language by Arundhati Roy. Dr Meghna mentioned the works and language of Shashi Tharoor, who emphasises not just the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of the story but the ‘how’ as well, thus providing an additional dimension to our readings of The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. The Book Talk closed its session with some of the audience pointing their views and reading lines from the work.

—Report by Sheetal S Kumar, 1 MA English with Cultural Studies. Photography by Gokul Jayan, 1 MA English with Cultural Studies.