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A Meeting of Utmost Happiness

I was thirteen when I saw a copy of ‘The God of Small Things’ on my grandfather’s desk.

The shades of green on the cover, composed solemnly in a way not at all interesting to someone currently immersed in the pages of Harry Potter, still lie deep within my memory.

I saw the same book, a few months later, on my father’s desk. Perhaps by then something in me had changed, or perhaps it was boredom, or just plain curiosity.

I picked it up, and by the time I put it down, the words Arundhati Roy had composed, painted an utterly confusing canvas in my teenager mind.

Seven years later, I found myself, confused still, in Architecture school. National College of Arts, an institution of honour, an institution of controversy, became my home for the next 5 years.

By my fifth year, the year of that big important architectural thesis project, my friends and I found within us a voice that refused to build buildings. Across the border, lived another voice, who had once fought the same battles.

That voice had once spoken to my thirteen year old self, and today the owner of the voice spoke to my twenty six year self.

Standing in line, waiting to get my books signed, I kept thinking of something ‘interesting’ to say to her. She gifted each reader with a big warm smile and of course, her signature.

When the time came for my gift, there were no words in my mind, it just floated out of by body in silence, extremely aware of the passing time, of the next person in line, of the ushers moving us along and all of a sudden, jumped right back into my head, conjuring words that refused to follow the rules of time, or speed.

I wanted to tell her everything, starting with what a privilege it was, about how her way of seeing life has helped me accept mine, how her idea of a non-building architectural thesis helped me support my anti-building thesis, how the people she wrote about lived on my streets too, choked on my air too.

She spoke about her new book, the book that is not, she laughed, the ‘Son of the God of Small Things’. ‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’, she says, is a book about cities, the words are about things that live in the air she breathes.

Her education as an architect, as one who wanted to narrate instead of build influences her writing to date.

The composition of her narrative, understood only by those who are unbound like her, or because of her, does indeed flow like the whispers in streets. She wants us to read the book as one would a place.

‘How would you look at a story that is a city’, she remarked, ‘that has a form which is constantly being ambushed?’ Yet in her words, the form is far from ambushed, it is caressed by characters so alive, they could only live through fiction.

The real-world stories, Roy commented, reduces them to counts and figures and identity labels.

She has often been called, ‘writer-activist’, a term she amusedly compared to ‘sofa-bed’. She has been called hysterical and crazy, which she accepted with pure graciousness and of course, a hint of mischief.

She seems to write as she lives, indifferent to rules of society, indifferent to rules of prose, whatever those are. Her stories are beautiful, because Arundhati Roy, the person, is beautiful.

The crowd at BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Art), a mix of different colours, different accents, different languages watched her today with nothing but absolute love, for she sat with a presence I have seen only in the purest of human beings.

Draped in a white churidaar, she smiled and spoke of the happenings in the world, the happenings in her new book, the lives of people, in both fiction and non-fiction, and her own life, as an architect who writes, as a writer who doesn’t follow status quo, and as a woman, who I hope with all my heart, never ceases to exist.

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