Flip Chat between Anjum Hasan & Surabhi Bhattacharjee
PETTINESS by Anjum Hasan
The search for fresh carrots, small bureaucratic victories, wondering
if it’s going to rain when it’s clearly going to rain, and allowing,
even if briefly, the thought of new underwear to lift your soul.
It’s enough to fill the kind of book that life is too short to read.
Anjum Hasan is an Indian novelist, short story writer, poet, and editor. She was born in Shillong, Meghalaya and currently lives in Bangalore, India.
Her works includeStreet on the Hill which won her Sahitya Akademi Award in 2006 . It was her debut collection of poems. Her debut novel Lunatic in my Head (Zubaan-Penguin, 2007) was shortlisted for the Crossword Book Award 2007. Set in Shillong, a picturesque hill-station in north-east India, in the early 1990s, the novel weaves together the stories of its three main characters, ranging from an IAS aspirant who is obsessed with Pink Floyd to a college teacher struggling to complete her PhD and longing to find love. The novel has been described by Siddhartha Deb as ‘haunting and lyrical’ and as acquiring a ‘lyrical intensity’.
Her second novel titled Neti, Neti (Roli Books, 2009) was longlisted for the 2008 Man Asian Literary Prize and shortlisted for The Hindu Best Fiction Award in 2010. Her short-story collection, Difficult Pleasures (Penguin/Viking 2012), was shortlisted for The Hindu Literary Prize.
She has also contributed poems, articles and short stories to various national and international publications.
She is currently Books Editor for The Caravan
1.What does poetry mean to you?
It’s a language through which to make sense of or extend experience in an imaginative, open-ended, metaphorical, completely non-utilitarian fashion. So writing and reading poems becomes a way of being in the world and not just literary practice.
2.When did you start writing poetry? Do you remember the first time you wrote something? What was the source of your inspiration earlier? Did it change with the time?
I was about seven years old and wrote a poem about my love waiting for me under the orange tree. I don’t recall it impressing my parents terribly. I’ve always taken my inspiration from poetry itself – whether that of AA Milne at that age or the contemporary Indian poetry I started reading much later. It was poetry that gave me a life, or illuminated it, which I could then, in turn, put into poems of my own.
3.Which poets have influenced you the most? What are the qualities in them that inspire you the most?
I was very attracted to the aesthetic of the Italian poet Cesare Pavese, who could write of ordinary lives very distinctly situated in a rural or urban landscape in a laconic, imagistic and moving way. I also liked the English Movement poets, particularly Philip Larkin.
4.Tell me any favourite line from your own poems, and one from any of your favourite poets.
I think it has to be Shakespeare. His lines have tended to stay in my head – mostly from school and college. Hamlet’s famous speech about being versus doing keeps coming back to me – as do less portentous things like a song from As You Like it, “Under the greenwood tree/ who loves to lie with me/ and turn his merry note/unto the sweet bird’s throat”. Strangely my own under-the-tree poem was written before having read any Shakespeare. As for my own poems, I’d encourage you as a reader to choose your favourite line!
- I have known many poets, and have read about many. They all have different goals when it comes of poetry. What is your motive behind writing it – entertaining others, self-solace, providing a perspective to others to see the things in a different way or something else?
I think there is a continuity in poetry, in all literary writing, which is vital – you are writing to extend a conversation that others have conducted before you or are conducting around you. I don’t believe in solipsism in writing. Of course you could write without any sense of connection or quarrel with literature but then what you create might have no openings for other writers either.
6.A purely individual question – to you, as a poet, what matters the most? Do you prefer the wilderness, the imagination or like the practical views in your writings?
I do believe in poetry that is introspective yet communicates, that has a specific voice, with necessarily being accessible, that word that has become our new touchstone for judging literature. Rilke is a good example. You can hear him speaking to himself and yet not all of his thoughts are immediately accessible or transparent.