Lunatic In My Head

Anjum Hasan

 
Lunatic In My Head
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Lunatic In My Head

Anjum Hasan

The early 1990s. It’s raining in Shillong. Eight-year-old Sophie Das is convinced she is adopted. But she is looking forward to meeting the baby kicking in her mother’s stomach and that will keep her from running off to her real parents. For now. Aman Moondy will attempt the Indian Administrative Service exam for the second time. Distracted by the lovely Concordella and plans for a first-of-its-kind Happening, his heart really lies with Pink Floyd and the messages they are sending him through their music. College lecturer Firdaus Ansari is struggling with her thesis on Jane Austen, staffroom politics and an unpredictable boyfriend. One of these days she will finish that thesis, have a no-nonsense talk with her boyfriend, and get out. Lunatic in my Head is a funny yet tender portrait of three people determined to break out of their small-town destinies. ‘…haunting, lyrical and daring, bringing fresh air into the stale confines of Indian writing …’ Siddhartha Deb, author of Surface and Point of Return

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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