This is an enormous novel with interwoven stories and a strong focus on identity and diversity. Many of the characters live on the margins and often have chosen to resist conforming to a proscribed status or role in life.
The ragbag community that emerges in the graveyard as the novel progresses reminds me a little of the Nomadic Community Gardens. Not just the makeshift houses and the imperfect mess but the freedom for people to exist as they wish, without definition. This is a liminal place which sits outside of traditional society.
Roy often comes back to the theme of language and its impact. This is very personal to her, not least because of the complexities of language in India but also from her direct experiences of growing up and through education into her existence as a writer.
There, in the abyss, spinning through the darkness, everything she had been sure of until then, every single thing, from the smallest to the biggest, ceased to make sense to her. In Urdu, the only language she knew, all things, not just living things but all things – carpets, clothes, books, pens, musical instruments – had a gender. Everything was either masculine or feminine, man or woman. Everything except her baby. Yes of course she knew there was a word for those like him – Hijra. Two words actually, Hijra and Kinnar. But two words do not make a language.
Was it possible to live outside language? Naturally this question did not address itself to her in words, or as a single lucid sentence. It addressed itself to her as a soundless, embryonic howl. 
Author/critic Anita Felicelli: “What Roy recognizes in both her books is that language is often a source of power, and that naming — the act of identifying something as “man” or “woman” or “India” or “Pakistan” or “Kashmir” — is a way of exerting dominion. It’s the nature of language to capture only so much of experience and leave certain qualities of experience out. The refusal to be bound, the refusal to be named is the impulse to exist outside of language, outside of polemic, outside of countries and nations. It’s an impulse toward freedom (or perhaps, in Kashmir, azadi). And yet, as Roy recognizes, even the smallest steps toward liberating or naming oneself as a marginalized person are quickly repudiated by those who have material power.”
This last point is evident in the “all lives matter” response to the “black lives matter” movement and the “not all men” defence which so often tries to derail feminist discourses.
In a fascinating lecture about the shifting politics of language and translation, “What is the Morally Appropriate Language in Which to Think and Write?” Roy says:
Regardless of which language (and in whose mother tongue) The Ministry was written in, this particular narrative about these particular people in this particular universe would had to be imagined in several languages. It is a story that emerges out of an ocean of languages, in which a teeming ecosystem of living creatures—official-language fish, unofficial-dialect mollusks, and flashing shoals of word-fish—swim around, some friendly with each other, some openly hostile, and some outright carnivorous. But they are all nourished by what the ocean provides. And all of them, like the people in The Ministry, have no choice but to coexist, to survive, and to try to understand each other.
For them, translation is not only a high-end literary art performed by sophisticated polyglots. Translation is daily life, it is street activity, and it’s increasingly a necessary part of ordinary folks’ survival kit. And so, in this novel of many languages, it is not only the author, but the characters themselves who swim around in an ocean of exquisite imperfection, who constantly translate for and to each other, who constantly speak across languages, and who constantly realize that people who speak the same language are not necessarily the ones who understand each other best. 
This story is powerful and relentless, full of protest and challenging questions. Roy shows us the ugly, the decaying; we meet broken people full of anger and hatred, stuck in places where “dying became just another way of living.”
It is harrowing in part but also adorned with fragile and deeply moving intimacies and enough hope to stay bearable. It is a reminder that narratives can be monumental and unresolved. Life is messy and art should reflect that.
“What I wanted to know was: can a novel be a city?” says Roy. “Can you stop it being baby food, which can be easily consumed? So the reader also has to deal with complexities that they are being trained not to deal with.” 
Photography must be able to play a part in speaking “across languages’ and we should be brave and ambitious to make it like a city rather than baby food. I come back again to the brilliant work The Living, The Dead, And Those At Sea by Evangelia Kranioti, exhibited at Arles this year, as inspiration.
“Once you have fallen off the edge like all of us have, including our Biroo,” Anjum said, “you will never stop falling. And as you fall you will hold on to other falling people. The sooner you understand that the better. This place where we live, where we have made our home, is the place of falling people.” 
- Roy, A. (2018). The Ministry of Utmost Happiness: a novel. New York: Vintage Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.
- https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/outside-language-and-power-the-mastery-of-arundhati-roys-the-ministry-of-utmost-happiness/(accessed 31.12.19)
- https://lithub.com/what-is-the-morally-appropriate-language-in-which-to-think-and-write/ (accessed 31.12.19)
- https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/jun/17/arundhati-roy-interview-you-ask-the-questions-the-point-of-the-writer-is-to-be-unpopular (accessed 31.12.19)