Book title: Difficult Pleasures
Author: Anjum Hasan
Publisher: Penguin Viking
Price: Rs 399
Not so long ago at a literary festival, Lekhana, in Bangalore, authors and publishers animatedly discussed the “prestige and position” short fiction holds in the Indian literary circuit. While many were brutally honest in admitting the fact that short story was a genre struggling hard under the shadow of its mightier cousin, the novel, the arrival of a collection of short stories like Difficult Pleasures by Anjum Hasan busts all such myths.
Difficult Pleasures, a collection of 13 stories, mostly presents the urban milieu and represents its populace. The writer not only intelligently brings the beauty of short stories to the fore, but also reinforces the fact that Anjum Hasan, as author Amit Chaudhuri says, is “one of the most suggestive and subtle Indian writers of her generation.”
Anjum is primarily a poet, and the fact comes out seamlessly in most of her writings, with lyrical accuracy. Even the emotions of most of her characters have a poetic bearing, as they wrestle with their dilemmas and confusion in a manner normal mortals are generally not expected to handle.
Her stories are set in various metropolis of the world — Calcutta, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Mumbai, London or Paris — but it is Bangalore, the author’s current home, which has been referred to several times in many of her stories. In fact, in a few stories, India’s tech hub is a character in itself. In the story For Love or Water, good and ugly snapshots of the city play a pivotal role in various actions undertaken by its characters. The water shortage faced by the city becomes a deciding factor in the life of a medical student, as she deals with her roommate, lover, landlord and a pervert.
The author’s birthplace Shillong once again features in the collection, as it did elaborately in her debut novel Lunatic in my Head (Zubaan-Penguin, 2007). A retired professor of philosophy revisits Shillong in Immanuel Kant in Shillong to rekindle his old memories after his wife Maia’s death. The story sadly depicts the social, political, physical and moral degradation of the once-picturesque Shillong from the Scotland of the East to the shitland of the East.
Anjum describes her latest literary outing as “a collection of stories about solitary, brooding types who spend a lot of time inside their own heads”. Her stories are set in urban and contemporary landscape. Most of her characters are modern and well-to-do people, who do not have to struggle for their livelihood. However, their struggles are played out at a different level, more to do with their inner world, where individual likings, longings, happiness and sadness take centrestage.
As a short story writer Hasan clearly stays away from a definite beginning and an end, as modern day fiction writing mostly professes. In most of the stories, the end itself is the beginning for several of its characters, as they discover new facts about themselves and their loved ones, which they have ignored for long. Again, the author has stayed away from explaining what her characters gain or lose in the end, leaving it to the readers to decide.
In the story Banerjee and Banerjee, the protagonist was forced to travel hundreds of miles after his brother commits suicide in a foreign land to understand the link they shared, in spite of previously sharing no sibling attachment.
All stories in the book share some kind of connection, as they all delve deep into love, dreams, relationships, aspirations, disappointments and madness.
Difficult Pleasures deals with the inner and secret world of human existence that is mostly considered as personal by every individual, well avoided in public platforms. Nevertheless, it’s not to keep personal secrets intact that one reads a book, but for pleasure and Hasan’s new collection surely gives you that unmistakable feeling in abundance.