Sunday, April 22, 2018

Book Review: Anjum Hasan's A Day in the Life

I read somewhere recently that reviewing a book is all about giving it an identity. If that is so, how do you review a book of short stories? Each story has its own identity. The easiest way to do so is to write one-line reviews of each short story. I have done it before, and it's the coward's way out. The other way is to look for common themes in each of the stories - what ties them together?

Anjum Hasan's A Day in the Life is about the common man and woman, the ones who seem to be doing nothing spectacular with their days, and yet the very fact of their life is fascinating in itself, if seen through the right lens.

And so we have a man who has taken a step back from corporate life and settled in a village. Or a woman who is sick and stuck in her high-rise apartment. A newly married woman trying to settle into married life. There are two little girls in search of that elusive thing called style. A mother struggling to get back to her thesis writing while looking after her young daughter. A bedridden old woman, waiting for death in her nephew's house. A young man who wants to buy his bride-to-be a sari of expensive Banarasi silk, in the Banaras of the nineteenth century.

They are all very real people; surely there must be hundreds or even thousands such everywhere. Anjum Hasan's talent lies in bringing them to life in her precise and laid-back style, and making them interesting and relatable. Her stories have a very "material" quality to them, as if you can hold them in your hands and examine them, pick them apart if you wish to.

As always with her, it is the Bangalore stories that stand out (or maybe those were the ones I related to the most). In the story "I Am Very Angry", an old man tries to get used to his new neighbours, who fight too loudly for his liking (his new neighbours seem to be a metaphor for the changes in the city around him). In "Nur", a young Muslim girl tries to find out where her no-good husband has gotten to. In "Sisters", a sick rich woman who is stuck in a high-rise builds a sisterly bond with her forthright maid, who nurses her back to health. Each story showcases a different aspect of this varied city.

Overall, this is a book of stories that will stay with you. Days or weeks or months after reading it, you will suddenly recall something from it, maybe a line or a smell or an incident, and try to recall from where, because it will feel as real as if you had experienced it yourself, and then remember that it was, in fact, a story you read in a book long long ago. 
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