Lunatic In My Head

Anjum Hasan

Lunatic In My Head
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Lunatic In My Head

Anjum Hasan

Set against the backdrop of a small hill town called Shillong in Indias northeast, Lunatic in my Head is a beautifully lyrical novel about three lives in limbo.

Eight-year-old Sophie Das has decided she is adopted. What other explanation can there be for the growing chasm between herself and her parents? And yet, she cant wait to meet the baby growing in her mothers belly.

Aman Moondy is despairing about the Indian Administrative Service exams he is sitting for the second time. The only thing keeping this Pink Floyd obsessive sane is the Happening he is planning and his love for the beautiful Concordella.

Firdaus Ansari lectures in English Literature at the local university while struggling with her MPhil on Jane Austen. But how do you teach The Old Man and the Sea when youve never even seen the sea? For Sophie, Aman and Firdaus, real life begins elsewhere. But will they ever be able to leave the strangely comforting confines of Shillong? And what if elsewhere is not the solution to their restlessness?

Review

Set in 1990s Shillong, a north-eastern Indian town, high up in the mountains where it is either misty, wintery or rainy – or all three at once – Lunatic In My Head is a lyrical read that takes time to absorb. The pace is different, the rhythm is slower, the characters, like the view out of any Shillong window, are partly obscured no matter which way you look, and the horizon (Bangalore? Delhi? Manchester? America?) feels both close and far away.

Seemingly about the mundane, the small town-ness, the hopelessness of being young and directionless, Lunatic In My Head centres on that most ordinary of desires – to escape. Anjum Hasan works her slow and steady magic as she pulls her three main characters – Firdaus an unmarried, slightly older, literature teacher; Aman, a young man about to sit the public service exam after failing it once; and Sophie, an eight-year-old girl, who tells lies because the truth is too dull – into an ever-tightening circle. The landscape, both cultural and literal, is also slippery. Caste and ethnicity matter. Age and wealth matter. Generosity is watched and noted. But not everything is said, explained, made clear.

Certainty is an ephemeral notion in Shillong. Hasan, a poet (this is her first novel), uses feelings to mark the sections of the book – wonder, sadness, disgust, fear and anger – building an emotional undertow that gathers force and cleaves open the surface, quite literally, of the town and its inhabitants. Lunatic In My Head is a beguiling read and Hasan, a fresh new voice from India.

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