Who wrote the book Mother India

New book by Arundhati RoyLearning to live in graves

But first a national song from Kashmir: "Trav'ling lady, stay awhile until the night is over. I'm just a station on your way, I know I'm not your lover."

Tilo opened his eyes: "Leonard Cohen?" - "Yes. Even he doesn't know that he is really Kashmiri. Or that his real name is Las Kone ...", Musa replied.

Tilo and Musa are the great lovers in "The Ministry of Extreme Happiness", two bodies and souls that fit together like pieces of an unfinished - and perhaps unsolvable - puzzle. Even so, they do not take off their clothes when they go to bed together because this is cashmere and the police can kick the door at any time.

Arundhati Roy's new novel is almost alarmingly universal. Not because western singer-songwriters are quoted, but because the conflicts therein are the problems of the globalized world. With Roy, not only the private is political, but also the intimate is international.

Not a novel to read across

Make a note of Tilo and Musa, because although they are the main characters - two of the main characters - in the novel, they don't appear at all in the first 172 pages. "The Ministry of Extreme Happiness" is not a book to read sideways, one could easily get the impression of having accidentally caught several different books. But if you trust the author and follow her narrative, she interweaves the different levels of time and action so seamlessly that you are not only always oriented when reading, but the transitions also seem almost inevitable:

Of course, the book has to start half a century earlier and 900 kilometers away in Delhi's walled old town. And like every good genesis, this one begins of course with the birth of a child: A long-awaited son, Aftab, who, on closer inspection, turns out to be a son and daughter.

"In Urdu, the only language his mother could speak, all things, not just living things, but all things - carpets, books, pens, musical instruments - had a gender. Everything was either male or female. Everything but her baby. Yes, of course, she knew there was a word for someone like him - hijra. Actually two words, hijra and kinnar. But two words don't make a language. "

A third word would be the English transgender. Except that in India - in contrast to Europe and America - Hijras are officially recognized as the third gender. There are already hijras in the Ramayana, the great Indian epic from the 4th century BC. However, that does not mean that there are rights associated with it. Most professions are still denied Hijras - except for sex work and blowing up weddings with loud, shrill behavior until they are chased away with gifts of money. After all, hijras have had the right to vote in India since 1994 and in 1998 Shabnam Bano became the first hijra to enter the state parliament of Madhya Pradesh.

Aftab becomes Anjum

But even that is still a long way off when Aftab grows up in Delhi, where he feels as alien as in his body. At 15, he sees a woman who walks the streets more confidently and is dressed more glamorous than all other women - because she is not a woman. Aftab follows it up to a blue door that leads into the Khwabgah. Shortly afterwards, Aftab takes off his boys' clothes, becomes Anjum and steps through the blue door and into another universe.

She will become one of the most sought-after hijras, whose phone number international journalists are scrambling for and next to which biological women look colorless and unfeminine. But all of Anjum's wish for the impossible cannot be satisfied: namely to become a mother. Enough fabric to fill the remaining 500 pages. And that's what the novel does - too.

Because Arundhati Roy would not be Arundhati Roy if she were limited to a fate or a story. Instead, it slips into each person's skin. Even the smallest minor characters are preserved, loosely based on Andy Warhol, 15 minutes in the spotlight. So it's not surprising that it took Roy ten years to complete her long-awaited novel. ten years in which she lived with her characters and finally consulted them which publishing house they wanted to move into - and yes, it wasn't the highest bidder.

In addition to the characters, flesh and blood, there are also those made of stone and heart and soul: like Delhi, the city that Arundhi Roy lovingly calls grandmother, and which plays a central role in the plot. This is not New Delhi, but Old Delhi, the walled old town where the mainly Muslim population lives so densely and densely that privacy is almost an obscene word. The city that the Mughal lords built versus New Delhi from the drawing boards of the English colonial masters.

The giggle of history

That is why Kulsoom Bi, who is a mixture of mother and guru for the residents of the Khwabgah, prefers to take the younger hijras for training purposes to the red fort above the old town, where a sound and light show explains the life of the Mughal rulers.

"Then suddenly you can clearly hear the deep, unmistakable, croaking, flirtatious giggling of a court eunuch." - "There!", Said Kulsoom Bi like a triumphant butterfly Kundler who has caught a rare butterfly. "Did you hear that? That's us. These are our ancestors, that's our historical background. We were never ordinary, we were part of the royal court."

"The moment was as short as a heartbeat. But what mattered was that it existed. To be present in history, if only as a giggle, was a universe far from being entirely written out of history."

That was, of course, before the Hindu nationalists banned all references to a Muslim culture and tradition in India. Nevertheless, the Khwabgah is not the eponymous "Ministry of Extreme Happiness". It is not a utopian alternative to Indian society, but a niche and subculture in which the rules and differences of the majority society still apply:

When Anjum moves into the Khabgah, the Hindu hijras undergo the extremely painful religious castration ceremony. The Muslims would also like to do that, but Islam forbids them to change their God-given gender. And men born into a woman's body do not exist in the hijra community. Although Anjum is a Muslim, she opts for surgery and hormone treatments to finally get a clearly identifiable body. But like the little mermaid from the fairy tale, the talented singer Anjum has to pay for it with her voice, which becomes strangely croaking from the hormone injections and now sounds as if two voices are arguing with each other.

"Do you know why God created Hijras?", Kusoom Bi asked her one afternoon. - "No why?" - "It was an experiment. He decided to create something, a living being that has been proven to be incapable of being happy. So he created us. Think about it, why are normal people unhappy? Price increases, school admission for their children, men, beating their wives, women cheating on their husbands, Hindu-Muslim riots, the Indo-Pak war. But with us, the price hikes, the hitting men and deceitful women are in us. The war is in us. Indo-Pak is in us. "

Multiple identities

Trans is one of the topics that are currently booming. Therefore one cannot blame anyone who suspects that Arundhati Roy is following a trend here, just as her titles always follow a scheme: subject plus genitive attribute consisting of adjective and noun: "The God of Little Things", "The Ministry of Extreme Happiness" . But that would be a mistake. Yes, it is about body and identity politics, but in the broadest possible interpretation. Anjum is divided by the line of gender, but that is not the only line that runs through it. Like all people, and especially all the characters in the novel, she is shaped by numerous identities.

In 2002 on a pilgrimage to Gujarat, she fell into the hands of Hindu fundamentalists, not because she was a hijra, but because she was a Muslim. In India, the words Gujarat and 2002 immediately bring back memories of Muslims who were put on the street and put car tires around their necks and then set them on fire. The state of emergency lasted two months, more than 2,000 people were killed and 150,000 displaced. Anjum is the only one of her group of pilgrims to survive because she is a hijra. Because killing a hijra brings bad luck.

Cow urine as a panacea

Arundhati Roy then demanded that the head of government Gujarats, who could have stopped the riots, be brought to justice. In the meantime he is no longer the head of government of Gujarat, but of India: Prime Minister Narendra Modi. His party, the Hindu nationalist BJP, decreed that the national anthem should now be played in the cinema before every film and that everyone had to get up. And since cows are sacred in Hinduism, the government supports campaigns promoting the use of cow urine - as a drink, medicine and cleaning product.

What sounds amusing is part of the consistent India-to-Hindus policy, which does not even stop at the dead. Only recently, a BJP candidate in the Madhya Pradesh elections demanded that Muslims no longer be buried. After all, the Hindus cremate their dead, so Muslims should kindly be cremated as well.

It is only logical that Anjum should move out of the Khwabgah and to a cemetery after the trauma in Gujarat. And just as many Muslims in India live de facto in and next to graves because the Muslim communities are being ghettoized, Anjum is building the real "Ministry of Extreme Happiness", the Jannat Guest House, between the graves of her great and great-great parents. where it provides shelter to those who have fallen through the cracks of society. Jannat means paradise.

"The advantage of the guest house in the cemetery, which should not be underestimated, was that, unlike in any other district, it did not suffer from power cuts. Not even in summer. Clock cooling required. "

The language in "The Ministry of Extreme Happiness" is less baroque and exuberant than in "God of Little Things", her debut novel. In Arundhati Roy's case, less means, of course, that she no longer uses five metaphors per sentence, but only one or two. There is now room for humor and even self-irony. Roy has matured into an author, she doesn't take herself that seriously, but she takes her characters all the more.

One of the first to move into the strange paradise in the cemetery is Saddam Hussein, not Saddam Hussein but a young Dalit who takes the dictator's name after watching a Hindu bob beat his father to death, because he supposedly killed a cow. Saddam Hussein knows nothing of his namesake except what he looked like when he was executed because the video is on his cell phone when he bought it. Anjum asks him if he makes all of his life decisions based on cell phone videos and explains that Saddam Hussein was a bastard.

Nonetheless, the message from "The Ministry of Extreme Happiness" is clear: If India weren't such a free-market economy, the Western media would write about human rights violations in India, and in first place - even before the Muslims - would be the Dalits, the indigenous people of India , better known as: the untouchables.

And so it took even longer before "The Ministry" saw the light of day because Roy put the manuscript aside to write her book "The Doctor and the Saint" about the caste system in India, which also appeared this year is.

Public enemy No. 1

"It amazes me every time how intellectuals and scientists can fill entire libraries with volumes about India without mentioning the caste problem. It's like writing about the apartheid regime in South Africa, but not talking about apartheid."

Book cover: Arundhati Roy: The Ministry of Extreme Happiness (S. Fischer / picture alliance / dpa / epa / Geoff Caddick)

The child's voice, with which she makes these incredibly profound political statements, is part of the total work of art Arundhati Roy. From the beginning, the person Arundhati Roy rubbed with her persona. The publisher, who wanted to sell her first novel with the author's beauty and exoticism, quickly found that the books might sell like hotcakes, but that it meant at least as much trouble for Roy. She is still beautiful. So breathtakingly beautiful that she made it onto the cover of ELLE magazine last year - with the signature: Public enemy No. 1.

So why, after two decades in which publishers offered their imaginary sums for a new novel and always declared that she had more important things to do, decided to do it after all? Because there are simply things that can only be told in novel form. A lot of things, which is why The Ministry has become a beast of a book. Arundhati Roy is larger than life, so it's only fitting that she wrote an equally larger than life book that isn't about transgender people or Dalits or Muslims, but about everyone together.

The voice of the state

Nevertheless, it comes as a shock - in a book that doesn’t save on vibrations - when we not only leave the cemetery and Delhi in the middle of the book, but also the narrative perspective and jump from the third to the first person. Even more shocking is that the only person who is allowed to report from a first-person perspective in the novel is the vice-chief of Indian intelligence, Diplab Gupta, and that this is not a faceless super villain, but a deeply human and thoroughly personable character. Gupta has almost been assassinated twice.

"After the second attack we received an anonymous letter: Today we were unlucky. But don't forget, we only have to be lucky once. You need luck all the time. Something about those words sounded familiar to me. I Googled them. It was an almost literal translation of the IRA's announcement after the bombing of the Grand Hotel in Brighton in 1984, which Margaret Thatcher escaped. This is probably another kind of globalization, this universal language of terror. Gupta is now stationed in Kashmir.

Arundhati Roy had to answer in court as early as 2010 for calling the war in Kashmir unlawful. Because the conflict in Kashmir does not consist of border battles, as one might think based on international media reports, but is a military occupation of enormous proportions. Kashmir is the Gaza Strip of India, only more brutal.

While India and Pakistan each claim the region for themselves, the Kashmiris want an independent state, but even China would like a piece of the pie. For 70 years there has been a war in Kashmir, or as the armies call it "the peace process". And like any "peace process", this is a huge market of opportunities.

"We investigated disturbing information about our soldiers who were selling windows for 'safe border crossings' at certain checkpoints and who discreetly looked away when shepherds who knew the mountains like the back of their hand came with the resistance fighters. Safe border crossings were far from everything There were also diesel, alcohol, ammunition, grenades, razor wire and wood. Whole forests were cut down. Sawmills had been set up in field camps. Kashmiris were conscripted as carpenters. The trucks of the army convoys, the daily supplies from Jammu to Kashmir returned loaded with carved walnut furniture. We were, if not the best-equipped, at least the best-equipped army in the world. "

Tilo and Musa

And with that, Tilo and Musa come back into play. Because Musa is Kashmiri. His first wife and young daughter were murdered by the army. At the funeral, he makes himself suspicious for being too quiet, so he's picked up at 4 a.m. and interrogated. After that, there is only one way for him - to go underground to join the vast Legion of the Dead on vacation.

"It's a place where the dead are living and the living are just dead people pretending."

When the army really kicks in the door to Tilos and Musa's bedroom, murders Musa and takes Tilo to the infamous torture prison, it is Gupta who pulls the levers to free them. He has known Tilo since he was a student and has loved her for just as long. The only thing greater than this love is his instinct for self-preservation. Musa will survive his own death. Tilo will marry a man she does not love, the left-wing journalist Naga. And Gupta will recruit Naga for the secret service.

"One thing I have to say to Naga is that there never was a rupee. In that regard, he was - and is - overly honest. Since his idea of ​​professional integrity requires that he be principled, he had to be a person of integrity stay, change principles, and now he believes almost more in ourselves than we do ourselves. "

The great Indian novel

It is questionable whether the much-loved and even more sought-after Tilo Arundhati is Roy. Yes, like Roy, she comes from Kerala, and like her, she has a difficult relationship with her mother who, like Roy's mother, founded a reform school in her village. At the beginning of the plot - but later in the novel, which does not adhere to linear storylines - Tilo, like Roy, goes to Delhi to study architecture there and, like them, lives in a slum during this time. But even if it did, that would only make part of the book autobiographical, just one of the numerous voices that Arundhati Roy apparently effortlessly links together, as well as different literary or simply textual genres: fables and political pamphlets, asylum applications, forced confessions and transcripts of fever hallucinations .

"The Ministry of Extreme Happiness" is both thematically broader and denser than her debut novel "The God of Little Things", the most amazing thing about which was that it existed at all. That such a book existed in India in the 1990s. If the "God of Little Things" was about a family, "The Ministry of Absolute Happiness" deals with everyone and everything. It is the great Indian novel, just as Americans always want to write the great American novel. And like modern India, "The Ministry of Extreme Happiness" is a massive overstimulation. There is too much of everything: too much war, too much torture and too many stolen or abandoned babies - the last of them is Miss Udaya Jebeen. The rescue of Miss Udaya Jebeens finally brings Tilo and Anjum together and fulfills Anjum's unfulfillable wish. With this, Arundhati Roy shows that with all death and destruction, happiness is possible, and even more important: everyday life.

"They passed a thin, naked man with a twig of barbed wire in his beard. He raised his hand in greeting and hurried away. When Miss Udaya Jebeen said" Mummy, pee! ", Anjum put her under a street lamp Pointing at her mother, she peed, then got up to marvel at the night sky, stars, and thousand-year-old city reflected in the pool. Anjum picked her up, kissed her, and went home with her.

When they got there, all the lights were out and everyone was asleep. All but Guih Kyom, the dung beetle. He was wide awake and on duty, lying on his back, legs in the air, to save the world should the sky collapse. But even he knew that everything would turn out fine in the end. It would because it had to. Because Miss Jebeen, Miss Udaya Jebeen had come. "

Arundhati Roy: "The Ministry of Extreme Happiness"
S. Fischer Verlag, Frankfurt 2017, translated from the English by Anette Grube
560 pages, 24.00 euros