Anjum Hasan is a well-known poet and novelist. “Street on the Hill” was her debut collection of poems. Her debut novel “Lunatic in my Head” was shortlisted for the Crossword Book Award 2007. Her second novel “Neti, Neti” was long listed for the 2008 Man Asian Literary Prize and shortlisted for The Hindu Best Fiction Award in 2010. She has also contributed poems, articles and short stories to various national and international publications. Her books have been published internationally. Her new collection of short stories “Difficult Pleasures” is about the urban experiences of solitary characters.
Interviewed by Stephen M. Thompson, Ph.D.
Welcome to OpenBeast. Tell us about yourself?
It’s basically just three words – I’m a writer! I write in multiple genres (poetry, criticism, travel writing) but increasingly find most of my energy and interest drawn towards fiction. I’m especially interested in writing stories about the inner worlds of contemporary, urban Indians, something I don’t read about enough in the fiction around me.
How and why did you get into writing?
I feel like I’ve always been writing. Both my parents have been teachers, and my father is a Thomas Hardy scholar and a translator of Urdu poetry. The house was full of books when I was growing up. As children, all my siblings were writing plays or bits of poetry. It was no big deal; it seemed as natural as playing. So I didn’t have a ‘eureka’ moment with writing, I just grew into it.
So what is “Difficult Pleasures” all about?
It’s a collection of thirteen stories. Each story has its own setting, tone and mood, as well as a unique protagonist and plot-line, but each tends to involve a person’s feelings and actions in a specific situation. How would a middle-aged man react to the news that the brother he never quite loved has killed himself; or what form could a child’s longing for a parent’s approval take; or what would a woman do if her anger over a tiff with her husband refuses to fade away? So while I wasn’t working with a common theme, I think I’m constantly attracted to the small, everyday journeys of solitary figures against an urban background. This is also a larger literary theme – in modernist fiction all characters are singular, if not lonely.
Talk to us about Norwegian translation of your “Street on the Hill”.
It’s called “Gata på toppen av en ås” and has been translated by Lene Westerås and published by a small Norwegian poetry publisher called MargBok. It appeared a few months ago. I’m not sure yet what the reaction to it has been. I’m very curious to see how readers respond to the poems in another language.
Any upcoming projects or initiative you would like to discuss?
I’m working on a new novel which is set in the Indian art world – both the contemporary, city-based art universe which has lately got very moneyed and glitzy, and the country’s old, if not ancient, traditional art practices. At the heart of the novel is the story of a middle-aged art lover trying to find meaning in her life.
I’ve also just completed a series of prose poems called “Bangalore Diaries” which will be the basis of a forthcoming production by the French choreographer couple Nicole and Norbert Corsino.
What are your leisure time activities?
Between the different kinds of writing I do and my work as Books Editor for Caravan magazine, I sadly don’t have much time for leisure activities. On a day-to-day basis, taking long walks, cooking dinner or watching films are things I very much enjoy doing.
Any advice for aspiring writers?
I think ordinary situations are full of potential for stories, even though such stories might be apparent only in retrospect. So one should always have one’s antennae up. If you’re attentive, the patterns will gradually start to reveal themselves.
If you could live anywhere where would you build your dream home?
In Coorg, the coffee-growing hills of Karnataka. I’m deeply partial to the hills and consider Coorg one of the world’s most serene and beautiful places.
For more details about Anjum Hasan and her books visit www.anjumhasan.com
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