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Anjum Hasan at her home in Coorg, where she and her husband, Zac O’Yeah, spend a substantial part of the year writing. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint
Anjum Hasan at her home in Coorg, where she and her husband, Zac O’Yeah, spend a substantial part of the year writing. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint

Writers at work: Anjum Hasan

The author on her shift from poetry to fiction, and being on the shortlist of awards but never winning them

The Cosmopolitans may be one of the most anticipated literary fiction titles, but author Anjum Hasan is certain she wants to stay on in her Nilgiris hideaway till at least mid-September, a month after the launch date. So, in keeping with the spirit of this series, we drive 250-odd kilometres into rainy, misty Kodagu (Coorg) one weekend.

Hasan, 43, and her husband, crime novelist and travel writer Zac O’Yeah, zeroed in on Coorg as the closest replacement for Shillong, where Hasan grew up, after considering Coonoor and Yercaud. Their home is bright and cosy, dominated by their separate workspaces and libraries. One of the reasons they moved here, O’Yeah tells me with a completely straight face, is because they just couldn’t fit all their books into their Bengaluru residence.

Over mugs of local coffee (for me) and green tea (for Hasan), we discuss art as a literary theme, the culture of criticism, and why Indian non-fiction is on a high. Edited excerpts from an interview:

You began dividing time between Bengaluru and Coorg three years ago. Was it primarily for your writing?

Yes, we began coming up here to write, and also to get away from the city. Actually, I was stuck with The Cosmopolitans. I began writing it in 2008, after Neti, Neti (published in 2009) was done, though the idea of writing about a 50-something woman and the arts was older. I made some progress but life suddenly got busier: I was travelling more, then I left the India Foundation for the Arts (IFA; where I was communications editor) to join the news magazine Caravan as books editor. The novel required much more time (than I could devote). Simultaneously, there were all these requests for short stories—Mint Lounge published one (Revolutions, 9 August 2008)—and I realized I enjoy those as well, and I could write them in between other things. That’s how my collection, Difficult Pleasures (2012), came about. That same year, we moved to Coorg and it really helped me get on with this book.

Is a book still as urgent when you come back to it after four years?

It took me a while to get back into it but I realized that all the ideas I had for the book were still valid. Of all my books, The Cosmopolitans has gone through the most (process)—not just time-wise but also by way of characters who were not used and plot lines that went nowhere. Till last year, I didn’t show it to a soul because I wasn’t happy with it. I think I’ve grown with this book, which is strangely appropriate, because it is a book about the passage of time.

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