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Floyd in Shillong


Akshaya Saxena

LUNATIC IN MY HEAD
By Anjum Hasan
Zubaan/Penguin, India, 2008, pp. 290, Rs. 295.00

SILVERFISH
By Saikat Majumdar
HarperCollins India, New Delhi, 2008, pp. 293, Rs. 295.00

VOLUME XXXII NUMBER 9 September 2008

You raise the blade, you make the change/ You re-arrange me ‘till I’m sane/ You lock the door/ And throw away the key/ There’s someone in my head but it’s not me./ And if the cloud bursts, thunder in your ear/ You shout and no one seems to hear/ And if the band you’re in starts playing different tunes/ I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon.   So goes ‘Brain Damage’, the Pink Floyd song from which the title of Anjum Hasan’s debut novel is derived. But it could have well been the background score that jostled for earspace with Saikat Majumdar’s keyboard click-clack, as this Eng. Lit. Professor. from Stanford worked on his first book, Silverfish. Reading the two works one after another may feel like watching a pair of unlikely cousins fumble over vapid small-talk at a family gathering, where neither connects as pieces of a bigger family drama (or joke!). But, quirkily, as all distant unlikely cousins must display symptoms of kinship, what unfolds before the spectator, is an unambiguous nostalgia for the 90’s, an attempt at making sense of the decade, a preoccupation with the ‘present’, an abject black brushstroke of pessimism and a concern with opening up the parentheses that have closed off the ordinary and the ‘non-nation’ from any respectable treatment in Indian English fiction so far. Moving out of the shadows of the children of midnight, the two writers here seem to compulsively explore the dark side of the moon, as it were. Where Anjum Hasan’s Lunatic in My Head colours in Shillong a rainy blue, which for now is a stand-in for the gloriously homogenized North East, the hitherto unacknowledged white space on the Indian literary map. Saikat Majumdar scrabbles around for the ‘nothing’, the unheroic life of the overwhelming crowd of Kolkata. Both foreground the Ordinary/Exoticized Other furtively turning a corner unnoticed in the grandest of family sagas and the most claustrophobic of anthropological-treatise-masked-as-novels that have of late become the trophies on any Indian English library stack worth its salt.   A novel about languorous small-town existence, Lunatic in My Head maps out Shillong along the mindscapes of its three main characters, Firdaus Ansari, Aman Moondy and Sophie Das. What unites them is their outsider status vis-à-vis Shillong, and their well-meaning but a trifle hesitant efforts to break out of ...


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