From Behind The Yellow Door

Anjum Hasan
Anjum Hasan

Anjum Hasan is a poet, novelist, and a chronicler par excellence of our times. She has published two novels, a book of poems, short fiction, reviews and essays in various anthologies and journals. Her first novel, Lunatic in My Head was shortlisted for the Crossword Book Award 2007 and her second novel Neti, Neti was on the longlists for the 2008 Man Asian Prize and the 2011 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature and was shortlisted for the Hindu Best Fiction Award. She is also the Books Editor at The Caravan.

I first met Anjum at a panel discussion titled These Hills Called Home at the Jaipur Literature Festival.I thought she was the quietest panelist present. I ran into her at some other events and I always saw her with a diary, making notes, intently listening to the various speakers. Following this interview and after reading some of her works, I’ve come to realize how keen and discerning an observer she really is.

Excerpts from the interview:

Before we begin talking about writing, books and other things, could you please tell our readers a bit about yourself and how writing came into the picture?

Writing is a kind of biography, an alternative one. I don’t mean that one always writes about one’s own life, but that one creates a life story in and through the writing.

In Shillong, I grew up in the protected and somewhat insular way in which most Indian English writers grow up – going to an English medium school and reading a lot in English. Writing appeared naturally – I was always attracted to literature and with a house full of books and teachers for parents, it didn’t seem like a very radical thing, putting pen to paper.

-Sophie Das is living in big-city Bangalore, with all the freedom that she can get and yet she feels unable to let go of that “out of place” feeling. Do you think that this feeling, of not finding oneself accepted, of not belonging anywhere, is something that never really leaves a person, but swings from one extreme to another with time and place?

It’s different at different times and in different places. I think it’s important to try and pinpoint the exact nature of 21st century urban Indian alienation. I think the lack that Sophie feels is a cultural lack. It’s about the values that are on offer. She likes her friends but cannot completely fit in with their world of hard materialism and functional attitudes. And she feels this as a shortcoming. She would like to be more like them but cannot. There is nowhere, no institution or space that she can turn to whose values fit in completely with her own unarticulated ones – the family is breaking down, religion has become functional in its own way, and as for literature and art, which she does fall back on from time to time, that is of limited help because she has only read 3 books! But even if she had read more, literature would offer a solitary recompense, while Sophie wants a social one. She would like to belong.

-Your characters migrate from one microcosm to another, from one faraway corner to a big city, across the vast diversity that is India. Where smaller cities are sprouting up malls, multiplexes and CCDs, youngsters are getting trendier and stylish everywhere and economical development is seen as a means to bridge the cultural gap, how wide really do you think is the divide between big cities and small towns? Can and should this breach be removed?

Yes, you’re right – smaller towns are increasingly becoming like bigger cities. The middle class everywhere seems to want the same things. That’s what Sophie Das discovers too in Neti, Neti. But what my characters are interested in and what I’m interested in are the ways in which these are place aren’t the same – how each place has a specific local character which is erased in the name of development. That’s what my novels and poems try to capture.

-You have published poems, essays and novels. Which form comes to you most easily and which poses the biggest challenge?
They’re all incredibly difficult! What I enjoy is not being locked into one form, being able to move from one to another. That movement itself is inspiring because when you’re turning from one form to another, there is a sense of freedom and possibility. I like that.
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Misery by Stephen King- Book Review

 

Misery - Stephen King
Misery - Stephen King

Misery was the first Stephen King novel I read. Before I begin with the review of this book, let me say how I feel about Stephen King novels in general. I’ve mostly seen the movie versions of his novels. I’ve read bits and parts of his stories, his writing to me seems interesting and twisted, one that I’d love to pick up on a weekend and scare the living daylights out of myself. So what about Misery?

Misery revolves around Paul Sheldon, the author of a best-selling series of Victorian-era romance novels surrounding the heroine character Misery Chastain. Having finished his manuscript of Fast Cars, a new novel, he decides to go to Los Angeles by road from Colorado. On his way, his car gets caught in blizzard and he loses consciousness in the struggle. He wakes up to find himself rescued by Annie Wilkes, a former nurse who lives nearby. There she nurses him to health and claims herself to be his number one fan. Throughout all this, she never takes him to the hospital, but keeps him in her house, sedated with painkillers.

She reads his latest manuscript and disapproves of it. She buys the latest copy of the Misery series, where she’s shocked to find that Paul Sheldon has killed off Misery. Enraged, she demands that he burn his new manuscript and continue the Misery series by bringing her back from death. And what she does to Paul Sheldon to get her wishes fulfilled is what this novel is all about. And it is gruesome and awful.

There are scenes so vividly described that they would make you cringe, would make your skin crawl. I so hated Annie Wilkes, I kept imagining ways for her to die in the same cruel manner that she would make Sheldon suffer. And I felt angry at Sheldon for making stupid decisions like taking the car to LA. I was so engrossed in hating Annie that I never really looked at King’s writing. I was so put off by the book that I swore never to read Stephen King; I was so disgusted by Annie Wilkes the character that I washed my hands clean of Stephen King novels.

I guess the fact that the book succeeded in evoking such strong emotions in me should be a mark of merit for this book. And it does hold true, the book will affect you strongly. Some books are for pleasant reading and some are for giving your mind a ruddy good wake-up call. This one is of the latter kind.

Now whenever I come across a Stephen King novel, I read the description hungrily, look at the cover and its pages and its numerous good reviews longingly and put it in my basket of books. Then I think of Misery and I quietly replace it on its shelf.

I know I’m missing out on too much. But you know how first experiences are..

 

You can also read the review here.

 

Lady Chatterley’s Lover- Book Review

Lady Chatterley's Lover- D H Lawrence
Lady Chatterley's Lover- D H Lawrence

Lady Chatterley’s Lover is probably the most controversial and most misunderstood novel of the twentieth century. The time in which it first came out was one of the primary reasons for its notoriety, but for the same reason it is also a highly commendable and one of the finest works of the time, proving Lawrence was a bold and brave man possessing courage to speak his mind within the realms of art, with the genius and understanding of a visionary.

The story revolves around a young married woman, Constance (Lady Chatterley) and her relationship with Oliver Mellors, gamekeeper of her husband’s estate and born to a class that’s beneath her and her husband’s social standing.

Constance,the protagonist, called Connie throughout the novel, who hails from a Scottish bourgeois family marries Clifford Chatterley, a baronet who prides himself on his membership in the aristrocracy, however a small part that may be. Following the first World War, Clifford becomes paralyzed from the waist down, which renders him impotent.

During their stay at Wragby Hall, she meets Oliver Mellors who goes on to be her lover in the story. Mellors comes across as a reticent man, who has a strong disdain for his rich masters. As Connie comes to know him, she realises that beneath his rough exterior and broad Derbyshire accent, there lies an intelligent, deep man with a noble heart and a sense of humor brimming with sarcasm.

Meanwhile in the novel, a new relationship begins to develop between Clifford and Mrs. Bolton, their middle-aged nurse who looks after him. Mrs.Bolton displays motherly affection and care for him,worshipping him for his success and intellect. While Connie and Mellors are moving away from dissatisfied relationships to a nurturing one, Clifford and Mrs.Bolton are heading towards a malicious and twisted one.

Though these relationships form the heart of the novel, the author explores the class and social conflict in the background. He depicts that through Mellors disregard for authority and Mrs.Bolton’s grudging admiration of Clifford.

The novel requires one to look beyond the narration, and into the characters’ minds and their words. On the surface, what is an adulterous affair, is also the rendering of one of the most beautiful relationships a man and woman can have. One that doesn’t discard passion for the meeting of minds, nor does it become mindless in the pursuit of primal desires. Lawrence describes the love making without euphemisms, without pretense and without any false modesty. He uses vernacular terms and words that are still black-listed. His work can be compared to that of Goya’s The Naked Maya which invited much ire and controversy. When the reader refuses to go beyond what he sees, he reduces a work of art to commonness or worse, to being obscene.

The book still faces censorship in many countries, a fact which still rankles free speech supporters. Even more obscene is the fact that even when the mainstream media is profligate, authorities still gun for works of art containing explicit material that might be central to the work or act as an instrument of art.

For those who have only heard of controversies of the book, it would do good to pick this one up and find out for yourself. The book is as dirty a book as Galileo was a madman for his heresies.

You can find the complete review here.

Review: The True and Outstanding Adventures of the Hunt Sisters

The True and Outstanding Adventures of the Hunt Sisters
The True and Outstanding Adventures of the Hunt Sisters- Elisabeth Robinson

This is one of the best epistolary novels I’ve read in quite some time. Composed entirely of letters from our protagonist to others, it is an engaging, emotional and heart warming read.

Olivia Hunt, a struggling film producer covers a year of highs and lows and her letters, full of tiny details show us how her life and of those around her is going. While struggling to produce a film version of Don Quixote, she has to cope with her sister’s leukemia and not to mention relationship troubles.

The novel touches a cord somewhere. It’s not a very complex read, rather straightforward and peppered with a sprinkling of humor. But it brings out the dynamics of relationships very well. Not all of us are very attached to our families, but we are still there for them as they are for us. And that is what the novel is all about. You might not like doing things for them, but you still do, with all that you have and when you do, you know you did the right thing.