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Custom and Infinite Variety

Baran Farooqi

By Anjum Hasan
Hamish Hamilton, New Delhi, 2015, pp. 384, Rs. 499.00

VOLUME XL NUMBER 8 August 2016

Qayenaat, the heroine of The Cosmopolitans, has been married once, doesn’t like to cook, has a friend called Sathi who’s actually her ex-boyfriend, but hasn’t quite gotten over her, and is fiftythree years old. The novel opens with the arrival of Baban Reddy on the Bangalore art scene. On display at ‘Navya’, the new art gallery is Baban’s gigantic piece of art Nostalgia. So big is Nostalgia that you have to climb up a ladder to inspect it closely! The art lovers of Bangalore are agog with the news and vying with each other to catch the attention of the artist Baban, who has a lady-friend accompanying him called Tanya. Qayenaat and Baban had been friends fifteen years ago when they both worked for an animal lovers’ magazine, Dumb Friend. Baban, who was much younger to Qayenaat, had been besotted with her at that time, while she only flirted with him. So why was this longing in Qayenaat’s heart for Baban today? The novel tries to explore the dynamics between the artist, art, and the hard realities of life as lived by a single woman in modern India. It has always been a problem for the artist to come to terms with the reality of life while being faithful to her vision. Similar conflicts and struggles have been portrayed by Hasan in this novel with perhaps more tragic consequences for the art and the artist. An alleged bad omen gives Qayenaat cold feet and she cancels her maiden show and is now unable to set up as a painter. Her marriage to a man called Deepak Sheth also falls apart soon after, as, ‘[Deepak] didn’t have the capacity for tragedy.’ The Cosmopolitans is a novel with a central character who refuses to be categorized. She has loved, she has flirted, and also lived for about two decades in Bombay as an art teacher, reviewer, gallery assistant and what have you. Back in her father’s house in Bangalore, she allows her boyfriend Sathi to live in with them. The novel is undoubtedly about art, and what it can do for you, how it entices you lusciously, enriches your life but has the potential to destroy you. A classic example of this problematic would be Irving Stone’s celebrated novel Lust for Life about the paintings and inner workings of the mind of the great ...

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