For Anjum Hasan, author of Lunatic in My Head, the idea of freedom can be consummated in a work of art (or fiction) if it can accommodate an underlying strain of entrapment. The protagonist of Revolutions, a short story that Hasan conjured up in just about 10 days for Lounge, is a photographer pursuing a dream in Mumbai.
Cryptically named Science, the young man is self-sufficient in his own visual instinct and knowledge until he meets an established photographer who becomes his idol and mentor. His search for creative freedom is tinged with a deep need for acknowledgement by the older, experienced and often uncaring artist.
Private worlds: Hasan’s unpublished novel Neti, Neti is in the longlist of the Man Asia Literary Prize, 2008. Photograph: Hemant Mishra / Mint
Will Science eventually find liberation? “I wanted to leave something for the reader, and have chosen to focus more on moments in his journey, rather than provide one definitive conclusion,” says Hasan, whose debut novel was published in December to critical acclaim. Quite unsurprisingly, in keeping with her narrative style in the first book, this story, too, is propelled by the private world of her protagonist and his unique interaction with the world around him. Hasan usually builds her works with languid and dilated visual narratives, and this is no exception. “The generation of Indian writers (writing in English) before ours had a deeply ingrained sense of being colonized and it was difficult for them to move away from that model, that language, and yet create something that is of abiding literary value. Now Indian writers are breaking out of the sense of being colonized, and creating a new language. That, for me, is creative freedom,” she says.
Read Anjum Hasan’s short story Revolutions (Click here)
As all her poems and novels do (Hasan is about to finish her second novel where Sophie, the child in Lunatic... grows up to battle with completely contrasting emotions), Revolutions also begins with a visual image—that of a young man sitting in a seedy Mumbai hotel. “It’s what Robert Frost called ‘tantalizing vagueness’,” Hasan says.
Photo: Hemant Mishra / Mint
The author finished this project ahead of time, before we met her at her quaint, modest apartment in Bangalore’s Sanjay Nagar, a leafy, unobtrusive neighbourhood. A flight of stairs leads up to her living room filled largely with books, film DVDs and a couple of John Lennon toys that her husband, Zac O’Yeah, a Swedish writer of crime thrillers, picked up from the US.
Hasan, 36, came to Bangalore 10 years ago after earning her masters in philosophy in Shillong, the hill town in the North-East which forms the backdrop of Lunatic... Hasan’s connection with, or relation to, her subjects is always informed by distance, a world view different from that of Orhan Pamuk for instance: “You have to come away from a place and your experiences in it to be able to write about them.”
But what propels her is the place that a character inhabits. Here, the backdrop is Mumbai, a city that she has visited often, but has not lived in. “Don’t question a novelist whether the place she chooses to write about is authentic in her writing. Mumbai has an overpowering and exciting sense of activity and purpose—perfect for the life of someone like Science to unfold in.”
Anjum Hasan works as programme executive for India Foundation for the Arts, Bangalore.