Where Old Birds go to Die: Spaces of Precarity in Arundhati Roy’s <i>The Ministry of Utmost Happiness</i>

  • Romy Rajan University of Florida
Keywords: Precarity, spatial traditions, neoliberal states, heteronormativity, Ministry of Utmost Happiness


This article aims at connecting recent work on precarity and post-colonial theory, focusing on Arundhati Roy’s representation of spaces of precarity in her novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, set in New Delhi, India. The novel complicates claims that precarity in post-colonies is a recent occurrence ushered in by the liberalization of their economies in the late 1980s, tracing the genealogy of earlier forms of precarity through the histories of its characters, specifically that of its protagonist Anjum, a Hijra. Such histories offer not merely ways of understanding marginal constituents of a seemingly all-encompassing neoliberal order but also local spatial traditions of resistance. These traditions converge onto the space of a graveyard, offering a model of dissidence that defies conventional parameters legible to the state. The novel posits such illegibility of resistance as an antidote to cooption by the neoliberal state, mirroring the taxonomic resistance that the Hijra offers to the heteronormative nation state. I read The Ministry of Utmost Happiness as an attempt at mapping the neoliberal state and possibilities of resistance that escape its frameworks of surveillance.

Author Biography

Romy Rajan, University of Florida

Romy Rajan is a PhD candidate at the Department of English, University of Florida. His work focuses on the experience of late capitalism in post-colonies and the ways in which literature has responded to such changes. His work exists at the intersection of post-colonial and critical theory and  his research examines the influence of globalization on post-colonial societies. Prior to joining the University of Florida, he completed his masters and M.Phil at the University of Delhi.