Arundhati Roy: The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

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Arundhati Roy The Ministry of Utmost Happiness
  • Название:
    The Ministry of Utmost Happiness
  • Автор:
  • Издательство:
    Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Жанр:
    Проза / на английском языке
  • Год:
    2017
  • Город:
    NYC
  • Язык:
    Английский
  • ISBN:
    9781524733162
  • Рейтинг книги:
    5 / 5
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The Ministry of Utmost Happiness: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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The Ministry of Utmost Happiness It is an aching love story and a decisive remonstration, a story told in a whisper, in a shout, through unsentimental tears and sometimes with a bitter laugh. Each of its characters is indelibly, tenderly rendered. Its heroes are people who have been broken by the world they live in and then rescued, patched together by acts of love — and by hope. The tale begins with Anjum — who used to be Aftab — unrolling a threadbare Persian carpet in a city graveyard she calls home. We encounter the odd, unforgettable Tilo and the men who loved her — including Musa, sweetheart and ex-sweetheart, lover and ex-lover; their fates are as entwined as their arms used to be and always will be. We meet Tilo’s landlord, a former suitor, now an intelligence officer posted to Kabul. And then we meet the two Miss Jebeens: the first a child born in Srinagar and buried in its overcrowded Martyrs’ Graveyard; the second found at midnight, abandoned on a concrete sidewalk in the heart of New Delhi. As this ravishing, deeply humane novel braids these lives together, it reinvents what a novel can do and can be. demonstrates on every page the miracle of Arundhati Roy’s storytelling gifts.

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The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

Arundhati Roy



To,

The Unconsoled

I mean, it’s all a matter of your heart…

— NÂZIM HIKMET

At magic hour, when the sun has gone but the light has not, armies of flying foxes unhinge themselves from the Banyan trees in the old graveyard and drift across the city like smoke. When the bats leave, the crows come home. Not all the din of their homecoming fills the silence left by the sparrows that have gone missing, and the old white-backed vultures, custodians of the dead for more than a hundred million years, that have been wiped out. The vultures died of diclofenac poisoning. Diclofenac, cow aspirin, given to cattle as a muscle relaxant, to ease pain and increase the production of milk, works — worked — like nerve gas on white-backed vultures. Each chemically relaxed, milk-producing cow or buffalo that died became poisoned vulture bait. As cattle turned into better dairy machines, as the city ate more ice cream, butterscotch-crunch, nutty-buddy and chocolate-chip, as it drank more mango milkshake, vultures’ necks began to droop as though they were tired and simply couldn’t stay awake. Silver beards of saliva dripped from their beaks, and one by one they tumbled off their branches, dead.

Not many noticed the passing of the friendly old birds. There was so much else to look forward to.

1. Where Do Old Birds Go To Die?

She lived in the graveyard like a tree. At dawn she saw the crows off and welcomed the bats home. At dusk she did the opposite. Between shifts she conferred with the ghosts of vultures that loomed in her high branches. She felt the gentle grip of their talons like an ache in an amputated limb. She gathered they weren’t altogether unhappy at having excused themselves and exited from the story.

When she first moved in, she endured months of casual cruelty like a tree would — without flinching. She didn’t turn to see which small boy had thrown a stone at her, didn’t crane her neck to read the insults scratched into her bark. When people called her names — clown without a circus, queen without a palace — she let the hurt blow through her branches like a breeze and used the music of her rustling leaves as balm to ease the pain.

It was only after Ziauddin, the blind imam who had once led the prayers in the Fatehpuri Masjid, befriended her and began to visit her that the neighborhood decided it was time to leave her in peace.

Long ago a man who knew English told her that her name written backwards (in English) spelled Majnu. In the English version of the story of Laila and Majnu, he said, Majnu was called Romeo and Laila was Juliet. She found that hilarious. “You mean I’ve made a khichdi of their story?” she asked. “What will they do when they find that Laila may actually be Majnu and Romi was really Juli?” The next time he saw her, the Man Who Knew English said he’d made a mistake. Her name spelled backwards would be Mujna, which wasn’t a name and meant nothing at all. To this she said, “It doesn’t matter. I’m all of them, I’m Romi and Juli, I’m Laila and Majnu. And Mujna, why not? Who says my name is Anjum? I’m not Anjum, I’m Anjuman. I’m a mehfil, I’m a gathering. Of everybody and nobody, of everything and nothing. Is there anyone else you would like to invite? Everyone’s invited.”

The Man Who Knew English said it was clever of her to come up with that one. He said he’d never have thought of it himself. She said, “How could you have, with your standard of Urdu? What d’you think? English makes you clever automatically?”

He laughed. She laughed at his laugh. They shared a filter cigarette. He complained that Wills Navy Cut cigarettes were short and stumpy and simply not worth the price. She said she preferred them any day to Four Square or the very manly Red & White.

She didn’t remember his name now. Perhaps she never knew it. He was long gone, the Man Who Knew English, to wherever he had to go. And she was living in the graveyard behind the government hospital. For company she had her steel Godrej almirah in which she kept her music — scratched records and tapes — an old harmonium, her clothes, jewelry, her father’s poetry books, her photo albums and a few press clippings that had survived the fire at the Khwabgah. She hung the key around her neck on a black thread along with her bent silver toothpick. She slept on a threadbare Persian carpet that she locked up in the day and unrolled between two graves at night (as a private joke, never the same two on consecutive nights). She still smoked. Still Navy Cut.

One morning, while she read the newspaper aloud to him, the old imam, who clearly hadn’t been listening, asked — affecting a casual air—“Is it true that even the Hindus among you are buried, not cremated?”

Sensing trouble, she prevaricated. “True? Is what true? What is Truth?”

Unwilling to be deflected from his line of inquiry, the imam muttered a mechanical response. “Sach Khuda hai. Khuda hi Sach hai.” Truth is God. God is Truth. The sort of wisdom that was available on the backs of the painted trucks that roared down the highways. Then he narrowed his blindgreen eyes and asked in a slygreen whisper: “Tell me, you people, when you die, where do they bury you? Who bathes the bodies? Who says the prayers?”

Anjum said nothing for a long time. Then she leaned across and whispered back, untree-like, “Imam Sahib, when people speak of color — red, blue, orange, when they describe the sky at sunset, or moonrise during Ramzaan — what goes through your mind?”

Having wounded each other thus, deeply, almost mortally, the two sat quietly side by side on someone’s sunny grave, hemorrhaging. Eventually it was Anjum who broke the silence.

“You tell me,” she said. “You’re the Imam Sahib, not me. Where do old birds go to die? Do they fall on us like stones from the sky? Do we stumble on their bodies in the streets? Do you not think that the All-Seeing, Almighty One who put us on this Earth has made proper arrangements to take us away?”

That day the imam’s visit ended earlier than usual. Anjum watched him leave, tap-tap-tapping his way through the graves, his seeing-eye cane making music as it encountered the empty booze bottles and discarded syringes that littered his path. She didn’t stop him. She knew he’d be back. No matter how elaborate its charade, she recognized loneliness when she saw it. She sensed that in some strange tangential way, he needed her shade as much as she needed his. And she had learned from experience that Need was a warehouse that could accommodate a considerable amount of cruelty.

Even though Anjum’s departure from the Khwabgah had been far from cordial, she knew that its dreams and its secrets were not hers alone to betray.

2. Khwabgah

She was the fourth of five children, born on a cold January night, by lamplight (power cut), in Shahjahanabad, the walled city of Delhi. Ahlam Baji, the midwife who delivered her and put her in her mother’s arms wrapped in two shawls, said, “It’s a boy.” Given the circumstances, her error was understandable.

A month into her first pregnancy Jahanara Begum and her husband decided that if their baby was a boy they would name him Aftab. Their first three children were girls. They had been waiting for their Aftab for six years. The night he was born was the happiest of Jahanara Begum’s life.

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