book review, LGBTQ, Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things, Drama, political, Hijras, literature

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy

Jahanara Begum and her husband decided that they would name their first son Aftab. After the third daughter, they were blessed with their fourth child and named him Aftab. The day after he was born, she unwrapped him to explore his fingers, toes and other body parts like all mothers do, when she discovered underneath his boy-parts was nestled inconspicuously, a small unformed, and she had no doubt it was, a girl-part.

She knew what they were called, Hijra’s, neither male nor female. There were seven reactions to this newfound information of the child that she gave birth to. One of them was to kill herself, another to not tell anybody about this embarrassing information, not even her husband, so this secret was kept safely with her for a few years as she waited for his girl-parts to heal.

Aftab became Anjum as his Hijra tendencies took precedence over the years. She joined the other Hijras in the community who lived in a run-down townhouse (haveli) called Khwabgah – the house of dreams. She was finally able to dress in the clothing she wanted to and be true to herself. Anjum's dream was to be a mother and she takes in and raises a child, Zainab.

After a traumatic encounter, Anjum realized that the only reason she was saved at one of the political outrages was nobody will kill a Hijra because it was deemed bad luck. She decides to leave the house of dreams, takes residence at a graveyard and builds on her family’s grave that soon became known as The Jannet Guest House. This became a sanctuary for the misfits, outsiders and those that were shunned by society.

We then get introduced to Tilo short for Tilotamma. She is a third-year student at the Architecture school in Kashmir. This sudden change of scene and new set of characters take us into a hopeless love story, where three men are driven to do things, that they would normally not do in the name of love, for Tilo, and we are transported right into the heart of the war in Kashmir.


Hijra’s are recognized as the third Gender in India. This book takes us into the lives of the so called outsiders, often misunderstood, and looked down upon, people of our society; the people that live on the outskirts but are very much part of the human race. We are also set right into the political scenes of India and its related world as Roy interweaves and jam packs in this book. For a book of this small capacity, it has become very informative of the discriminations that take place in India.

It is twenty years later Roy released a book since The God of Small Things. TGOST was poetically written giving us detailed insight into the characters in the book. The characters in TGOST were massively strong and so were the story plot, and it made us connect to each character on many levels.

Roy did not disappoint me in delivering the same enigma of poetic and lyrical writing but the plot-line was disjointed and the characters were weak. As I was just connecting to Anjum and gang, I had my head do a turn of 180 degrees, a third into the book, to be introduced to a whole set of new characters. The book did not have a character-flow and did not give the major characters a chance for me to get to know better, instead, it had too many minor characters that I felt that she could have done without and spent more time on the major characters. It became too politically informative, as in an essay writing, making it a hard-to-read book. I think she could have easily split the book into a two part series making it easier to digest and given us more character connection.

I still love her work irrespective of the discrepancies I have highlighted, the words and imagery still gave me goose bumps and made me slightly emotional at times.


Pragashnie Naidoo