Anjum Hasan’s writing is something that grows slowly on you. For the first couple of stories in Difficult Pleasures, I could not make out what they were trying to tell me. But as I kept reading I started making sense of them. I started recognizing the voices in the stories. I started hearing their whispers and I started sensing their movements. Thirteen stories take you through thirteen voices that are not alien to you if you live in urban surroundings, they could be your voices or voices of people around you.
Hasan’s writings are not explicit, quite a rarity in this world where everyone shouting at the top of their voices. Rather they are delicate whispers. You must pay attention to, you must bring your ear closer to, to hear them. Like whispers, you hear some and you lose some, leaving a space for putting your interpretations to what you heard. Her characters rarely speak, but they speak a lot to themselves. They keep speculating, calculating, dreaming in their minds. They go back and forth in time as they talk to themselves, joining dots in their past, present and future lives. The narrative flows like a flow of thoughts moving from one place to another. A point in one scene leading to another scene and giving you the glimpses of the character in general.
Loneliness and solitary living are the common themes that bind all the stories together. Most characters are alone even when they are living with one or two people. The lifestyle does not allow for the intimacy and interference in each other’s life. Bangalore, I guess where the author lives forms the backdrop of few stories. While others travel to places like Frankfurt, Sweden, Goa and even an unnamed Rajasthani hill town. There is a day-to-day melancholy that the author seeks to bring forth, a feeling that most of us go through. But we never think it is important enough to talk about it or is not deep enough to bother us to an extent that we will do anything about it. It is becoming a part of us and we are accepting it that way.
We are isolating ourselves every day from people, from emotions, from the joy of sharing, in the name of being professional. In the hope of success and in the fear of offending anyone by breaking walls separating us.
The story that stands out in my mind is The Big Picture. Where the protagonist keeps getting motivated to overcome obstacles in mind. And the world just on the thought of actually being in front of famous paintings she has only heard about. I loved the way story ends. Banerjee and Banerjee is another story that tries to understand the relationships in our lives that are there but not there, or come into being when they cease to be there. Story Birds takes you through the mind of a young boy whose life is about to change without his knowledge or consent. For Love of Water is the only story that I found an odd one out. It did not really deal with water as in issue as you would expect it to, nor had a narrative built around it.
Read Difficult Pleasures if you want to see a reflection of yourself in some urban characters described in these stories. Read it if everyday life seems interesting to you. And you can enjoy a story even when there are no obvious twists and turns in it. Read it if you can do a slow reading.
You may buy this book – Difficult Pleasures by Anjum Hasan at Amazon.