As part of its “Writers at Jamia” initiative, the Department of English, JMI, welcomed writer Anjum Hasan on Wednesday February 13, 2013 for a reading and interactive session with the students.
Anjum Hasan is the author of “Lunatic in my Head,” “Neti, Neti” and “Difficult Pleasures,” which has been shortlisted for The Hindu Literary Prize 2013. She is also a poet, and her debut collections of poems are titled “Street on the Hill.” Hasan’s short stories, articles and poetry have been widely published in Indian and international publications. Presently, she is the Books Editor at The Caravan magazine.
“Talking about what you do as a writer is not always the easiest thing. There are so many ways of creating a narrative out of what a writer’s doing,” Hasan said.
Stating that the question she is most often asked is about how she moves through the different genres in which she writes, she said that she maintains a continuity of interest and theme in her works. She expressed that the genre is important, but asserted that the thread of continuity is the most significant. “A lot of my writings are connected to my own biography. Not in the sense that I’ve directly told the story of my life in my work, but in the sense that my own situation, starting out in a relatively small town, has been sort of the basis for my earlier writing,” she added.
Talking about the boredom that she faced while growing up in the small town of Shillong, she said that she sensed a “feeling of being cut off from the world.” She further said that “there are two things that you can do with this kind of feeling. One is that you can escape into fantasy, and the other is that you can turn the lens back on the boredom itself, and see if it can become a creative source. And I think with my first and only book of poems –“Street on the Hill” — I was trying to do the latter.” However, she believed that growing up in small towns is not the same today as globalization has changed the experiences of the past.
Speaking about her debut novel “Lunatic in my Head,” she said that she had turned her attention to the people in the town of Shillong, and to their frustration, and how they deal with the idea of being cut off from the world, along with the sense of comfort and coziness that they get out of living in a small town. Also, she said that the thing that unites her three main characters in the book is their fascination for the Western culture. Hasan also mentioned that she had written the novel after leaving Shillong. “I think the fact of moving away enabled me to actually look at the lives of these characters as something that could actually be turned into fiction,”she added.
Talking about her second novel “Neti, Neti,” she said that it was based on one of the characters from her previous novel. “When I was planning the second novel, which is “Neti, Neti,” the story was going to be the story of Sophie Das, and her journey from being that eight-year-old girl, who’s in the grip of this fantasy, to being an adult at loose in a way, in the city of Bangalore,” she said. She further narrated that in Bangalore, Sophie experiences the freedom and liberties of living in a big city; but she also explores the things about a small town that one misses, how one deals with life in a crisis and where one gets their strength and sense of values from, if the older ones have vanished. “She also explores the idea of living through books, how they influence us and our thinking,” Hasan said.
Her latest book “Difficult Pleasures” is a collection of short stories. “[It] was sort of taking off from the idea of living in the city, and living a life that was in some ways alienated, in some ways holding a kind of vacuum at its core, but also the complete opposite of the boredom I described when I was starting out,” she said.
Hasan described “Difficult Pleasures” as a collection of stories that deal with the paradox of being in the place where on thought one wanted to be, yet feeling unsatisfied. She said that one deals with the dissatisfaction by constantly being on the move. The book is about movement – physical movement and mental flux.
Hasan also read out excerpts from all her four books, and later interacted with the students.
Listen to Anjum Hasan’s talk at the Department of English on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013 here (audio recording has been edited for time):