A Languid Read
A short story collection, Anjum Hasan’s A Day in the Life should be read at the pace of life itself, nice and easy.BY VIVEK TEJUJA
Anjum Hasan’s writing leaves you distraught and in pieces. You cannot help but think about everything that goes on in her universe. At the same time, to me, there is something so hopeful about the way she writes. The grace and elegance of the writing leave no space for humour; yet Hasan manages to add that, thereby playing with an almost wide range of emotions when it comes to her short stories in the collection, A Day in the Life. Hasan’s stories are unexpected. They hit you like a bolt of lightning from nowhere and you are left dazed, shocked and often wanting more.
The Stranger, which is the opening story in the collection, is the one of a retired accountant who comes to a small town to experience if he could live in a hilly drenched area after spending his life in a metro. Hasan’s characters want to live on the edge in one way or the other and yet do not want to step out of their comfort zone. They are nonconformists and yet the kind who are constantly questioning their existence and life around them.
In the other 13 stories as well, one can see the complexities of everyday living and yet somehow, they all don’t seem to be too much in the readers’ face. There is always this undercurrent to Hasan’s writing that captures all that it wants to without disrupting the characters’ lives or the environment of the reader, for that matter. As I was making my way through this wondrous book, all I could think of was that the characters change constantly, and yet it is all so believable. In the story I Am Very Angry, an old man tries to understand his new neighbours and get used to them; the neighbours who fight too loudly for his liking. In Nur, a young Muslim girl tries to find out where her no-good husband has gone. You get the drift of her stories? Hasan’s characters aren’t as much flawed as they are constantly seeking and trying not to fit in but to create.
Sisters is a story of a rich, ill woman who is stuck in a high-rise and gets a chance to build a sisterly bond with her forthright maid. Hasan doesn’t have to try too hard when it comes to the construction of a perfect sentence or the imperfect emotion, which is most needed at times. There is this underlined sense of strangeness shared by each character and seems remote at the same time.
In an interview published online, she says, “I am often preoccupied with that German word – and idea – the zeitgeist. How to find it in fiction? One element of the zeitgeist is certainly this sense of inconsequentiality – the feeling that the important things are happening elsewhere, in the news or in other people’s lives, but not to us. There is something poignant to me in this sense of uselessness; I am fascinated by characters who feel wasted or out of sync with the times”.
And this sums up the stories of her characters and maybe, her life. This feeling of uselessness and yet no one is too bothered by it. It is there, not demanding a purpose of existence. A Day in the Life is the kind of book that must be savoured languidly. There is no rush. Life isn’t going anywhere after all.