Anjum Hasan talks to Curious Book Fans

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Anjum Hasan’s latest novel, Neti, Neti (Roli Books, 2009) was long-listed for the Man Asia Literary Prize. Her first novel, Lunatic in my Head (2007) was shortlisted for the Crossword Fiction Award. She is also the author of the book of poems Street on the Hill (2006). Anjum has published poems, short fiction and essays in various national and international magazines and anthologies.

Anjum Hasan

CBF: This is your second book about Sophie – what is it about her that makes you want to continue writing about her?

Anjum Hasan: I like the fact that she’s a bit of waif-like character – unmoored from everything, rootless, lacking any kind of cultural safety net. If she fell, she would fall right through. In Lunatic in my Head, I explored what it means to be like this as a child, and in this novel I wanted to see what it meant to an adult – which is quite a different thing. Of course, Neti, Neti is not really a sequel. These are two separate stories – eight-year-old Sophie and twenty-five-year-old Sophie – despite the resonances between them.

CBF: Is Sophie’s experience of settling into a big city personal – you after all moved from Shillong to Bangalore?

Anjum Hasan: It is personal – I think that’s the right word – but it’s not autobiographical. The details of Sophie’s life are not mine – I didn’t work in the kind of profession she does and I didn’t have those kinds of friends or that kind of landlord or all those other experiences. But the larger idea of someone from Shillong moving to Bangalore and experiencing the city in a particular way comes from my own memory of doing this.

CBF: Do you think a great many of India’s young people are caught up in the dilemma of being neither here nor there? Or is it something that plagues those from small towns?

I think there is a sense of impatience among young people, and a confidence, and an awareness of possibility and freedom, as well as a deep cluelessness – all of this is very specific to this generation and very interesting to me in its newness. I wanted to explore all this in the novel. Sophie represents this but is also at an angle to it – she wants something her friends don’t seem to want. And yet what she wants most of all is to fit in and stop wanting.

CBF: Also why the subplot – it seems to be a subplot in a way- on loan defaulters?

Anjum Hasan: I think there are several subplots and stories running through the book which connect to the central theme – which is Sophie’s life and where she’s going. There is the theme of money and goods (loan defaulting, the excitement over shopping malls, the fascination for new cars), there is the idolization of Western rock heroes in the Bob Dylan theme, there is religion in the form of Baba Sampige and the large following he has, and so on. I didn’t want to write a book only from the inside of Sophie’s head but also look at the larger world she lives in and is influenced by.

Thanks to Anjum Hasan and Anjana Basu for making this interview for curious book fans. You can read full review of Anjum’s book Neti, Neti here.

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Written by Anjana Basu