The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy

★★★★★ (5/5)

• She lived in the graveyard like a tree
• 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
• No matter how elaborate its charade, she recognized loneliness when she saw itimages
• And she had learned from experience that Need was a warehouse that could accommodate a considerable amount of cruelty
• Then came Partition. God’s carotid burst open on the new border between India and Pakistan and a million people died of hatred
• He spoke of the past with dignity but never nostalgia
• It infused everything with a subtle sense of stagnancy, a sense that everything that happened had happened before. That it had already been written, sung, commented upon and entered into history’s inventory. That nothing new was possible
• The Mouse absorbed love like sand absorbs the sea
• They were Anjum’s somewhat maladroit attempt to make up for lost time, to transfuse herself into Zainab’s memory and consciousness, to reveal herself without artifice, so that they could belong to each other completely
• Even the dust looked different – clean and foreign
• By December Old Delhi was flooded with Afghan families fleeing warplanes that sang in their skies like unseasonal mosquitoes, and bombs that fell like steel rain
• The moment passed in a heartbeat. But it did not matter. What mattered was that it existed. To be present in history, even as nothing more than a chuckle, was a universe away from being absent from it, from being written out of it altogether. A chuckle, after all, could become a foothold in the sheer wall of the future
• As the days passed, her quietness gave way to something else, something restless and edgy. It coursed through her veins like an insidious uprising, a mad insurrection against a lifetime of spurious happiness she felt she had been sentenced to
• For months Anjum lived in the graveyard, a ravaged, feral spectre, out-haunting every resident djinn and spirit, ambushing bereaved families who came to bury their dead with a grief so wild, so untethered, that it clean outstripped theirs
• A perfect white tooth now shone like a tusk between the dark red stumps that passed for teeth
• His ineffectualness was strengthening the forces of darkness that had begun to mass on the horizon and slouch through the streets once again
• He knew it was neither plan nor coincidence that had brought him to the Place of Falling People. It was the tide
• Old secrets were folded into the furrows of her loose, parchment skin. Each wrinkle was a street, each street a carnival
• Someone said she was a beggar. Someone else said she was a rapevictim (which was a word in every language).
• Sometimes a single person’s clarity can unnerve a muddled crowd. On this occasion, Anjum’s did
• He, a revolutionary trapped in an accountant’s mind. She, a woman trapped in a man’s body. He, raging at a world in which the balance sheets did not tally. She, raging at her glands, her organs, her skin, the texture of her hair, the width of her shoulders, the timbre of her voice. He, fighting for a way to impose fiscal integrity on a decaying system. She, wanting to pluck the very stars from the sky and grind them into a potion that would give her proper breasts and hips and a long, thick plait of hair that would swing from side to side as she walked, and yes, the thing she longed for most of all, that most well stocked of Delhi’s vast stock of invectives, that insult of all insults, a Maa ki Choot, a mother’s cunt. He, who had spent his days tracking tax dodges, pay-offs and sweetheart deals. She, who had lived for years like a tree in an old graveyard, where, on lazy mornings and late at night, the spirits of the old poets whom she loved, Ghalib, Mir and Zauq, came to recite their verse, drink, argue and gamble. He, who filled[…]
• It seems to contain the geometry of motion, the shape of all that has happened and everything that is still to come
• It’s another kind of globalization, I suppose, this universal terrorspeak
• Because all my life, ever since I first met her all those years ago when we were still in college, I have constructed myself around her. Not around her perhaps, but around the memory of my love for her
• I wish I knew what it was about her that disarmed me so completely and made me behave like someone I am not – solicitous, a little overeager
• The complete absence of a desire to please, or to put someone at their ease, could, in a less vulnerable person, have been construed as arrogance. In her it came across as a kind of reckless aloneness
• True, my adult life lay ahead, but the foundations on which that life would be built seemed so immutable, so unassailable. Tilo, on the other hand, was like a paper boat on a boisterous sea. She was absolutely alone
• But when Tilo walked back into my life, those legal ties, those lofty, moral principles, atrophied and even seemed a little absurd
• The trouble with being in Dachigam was that it had the effect of unsettling one’s resolve. It underlined the futility of it all. It made one feel that Kashmir really belonged to those creatures. That none of us who were fighting over it – Kashmiris, Indians, Pakistanis, Chinese (they have a piece of it too – Aksai Chin, which used to be part of the old Kingdom of Jammu and Kashmir), or for that matter Pahadis, Gujjars, Dogras, Pashtuns, Shins, Ladakhis, Baltis, Gilgitis, Purikis, Wakhis, Yashkuns, Tibetans, Mongols, Tatars, Mon, Khowars – none of us, neither saint nor soldier, had the right to claim the truly heavenly beauty of that place for ourselves
• This was Kashmir; the Separatists spoke in slogans and our men spoke in press releases; their
• The chant that I heard on the phone that morning was condensed, distilled passion – and it was as blind and as futile as passion usually is
• When the Indian Army liberated Bangladesh, the good old Kashmiris called it – still call it – the ‘Fall of Dhaka’. They aren’t very good at other people’s pain. But then, who is? The Baloch, who are being buggered by Pakistan, don’t care about Kashmiris. The Bangladeshis whom we liberated are hunting down Hindus. The good old communists call Stalin’s Gulag a ‘necessary part of revolution’. The Americans are currently lecturing the Vietnamese about human rights. What we have on our hands is a species problem. None of us is exempt. And then there’s that other business that’s become pretty big these days. People – communities, castes, races and even countries – carry their tragic histories and their misfortunes around like trophies, or like stock, to be bought and sold on the open market. Unfortunately, speaking for myself, on that count I have no stock to trade, I’m a tragedy-less man
• As for their death, need I tell you about it? It will be, for all of them, the death of him who, when he learned of his from the jury, merely mumbled in a Rhenish accent, ‘I’m already way beyond that.’ Jean Genet
• But we never kill Kashmiri boys. NEVER. Never unless they are hard-core.’ The barefaced lie hung in the air unchallenged. That was its purpose – to test the air.
• The heat stood up and paced around the room. Traffic growled in the distance. City thunder. No rain.
• She remembered reading somewhere that even after people died, their hair and nails kept growing. Like starlight, travelling through the universe long after the stars themselves had died. Like cities. Fizzy, effervescent, simulating the illusion of life while the planet they had plundered died around them
• But Tilo had crept up on him, and become a kind of compulsion, an addiction almost. Addiction has its own mnemonics – skin, smell, the length of the loved one’s fingers. In Tilo’s case it was the slant of her eyes, the shape of her mouth, the almost-invisible scar that slightly altered the symmetry of her lips and made her look defiant even when she did not mean to, the way her nostrils flared, announcing her displeasure even before her eyes did
• Naga married Tilo because he was never really able to reach her. And because he couldn’t reach her he couldn’t let her go
• A small, desperate, frightened figure, a traffic island on the crossroads to nowhere
• Though he didn’t reciprocate her feelings with the same intensity with which they were offered, he accepted them with a tired grace
• He could not have known that he was trying to comfort a building that had been struck by lightning
• He said his brother’s lungs glittered, because they were speckled with silica
• She wondered what an un-released soul, a soul-shaped stone on a funeral pyre, might look like
• When the Jhelum rose and breached its banks, the city disappeared. Whole housing colonies went underwater. Army camps, torture centres, hospitals, courthouses, police stations – all went down. Houseboats floated over what had once been marketplaces. Thousands of people huddled precariously on sharply sloping rooftops and in makeshift shelters set up on higher ground, waiting for rescues that never happened. A drowned city was a spectacle. A drowned civil war was a phenomenon
• I am weary of worldly gatherings, O Lord What pleasure in them, when the light in my heart is gone? From the clamour of crowds I flee, my heart seeks The kind of silence that would mesmerize speech itself
• In battle, Musa told Tilo, enemies can’t break your spirit, only friends can.
• From Srinagar to Bandipora the road winds through mustard fields. Wular Lake is glassy, inscrutable. Slim boats preen on it like fashion models
• The birds stopped their twittering for a while and listened, beady-eyed, to humansong. Street dogs slouched past checkposts unchecked, their heartbeats rock steady. Kites and griffons circled the thermals, drifting lazily back and forth across the Line of Control, just to mock the tiny clot of humans gathered down below
• She saw that his outline – the shape he made in the world – had grown indistinct, smudged, somehow
• She had always loved that about him, the way he belonged so completely to a people whom he loved and laughed at, complained about and swore at, but never separated himself from. Maybe she loved it because she herself didn’t – couldn’t – think of anybody as ‘her people’
• They had always fitted together like pieces of an unsolved (and perhaps unsolvable) puzzle – the smoke of her into the solidness of him, the solitariness of her into the gathering of him, the strangeness of her into the straightforwardness of him, the insouciance of her into the restraint of him. The quietness of her into the quietness of him.
• Someday you’ll understand why, for me, history began today
• Because they trusted each other so peculiarly that they knew, even if they were hurt by it, that whoever it was that the other person loved had to be worth loving
• Tilo could see the outline of a large, dilapidated house. Its roof had fallen in and the moon shone through its skeleton of rafters that loomed against the night – a luminous heart in an angular ribcage
• As she stood beside her mother’s grave, a line that Maryam Ipe had repeated more than once during her hallucinations in the ICU came back to her. I feel I am surrounded by eunuchs. Am I? At the time it had seemed like nothing more than a part of her regular barrage of ICU insults. But now it gave Tilo a shiver. How did she know? Once
• The world is inured to the sight of piled-up corpses. But not to the sight of hundreds of living people who have been blinded. Pardon my crudeness, but you can imagine the visual appeal of that. But even that doesn’t seem to be working. Boys who’ve lost one eye are back on the street, prepared to risk the other. What do you do with that kind of fury?
• We talked a lot – when I look back on that meeting, I’m a little unnerved by the skill with which he drew me out. It was a combination of quiet solicitousness and the sort of curiosity that is flattering rather than inquisitive.

 

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