Lunatic In My Head

It’s always a bitter-sweet feeling when a book I have loved reading; that has stretched way too long, making me grab fleeting snatches time wherever I possibly could, greedily gobbling a page here, a couple more there and some more in between; finally ends. I put Lunatic In My Head down with a deep sigh. The kind that comes from a combination of the delicious feeling of closure, of finishing a book that I dragged on for too long, and also at finally having gotten to the end of a story that constantly leaves you wanting to know how it all ties up in the end.

I love narratives that entwine multiple seemingly disjointed stories, and I think it takes serious skill to bring them all together in a manner that is not contrived. Stories that keep you begging for more, dying to know which way the story goes, as Lunatic In My Head did, at several points, I find even more engaging. I started reading the book way back in July, right after I finished the last book I read and wrote about. And ideally a book like this, ought of be done with over a few days. A week, at best, given my non-breakneck reading speed. But Life got in the way. July has been a complete biatch. The disorientation of packing, moving, settling consumed a larger part of the month, leaving no room for languid reading, without a care in the world. So I had to resort to catching bits and pieces of reading, in between minding plumbers, cooking meals in a half-set-up kitchen, jhadoo-poncha, grabbing a few pages before my eyes gave up for the day. Finallly over the last couple of days, life as I once knew it has resumed. And the first thing I did was sit down and read. Thankfully we’ve had a sunny couple of days, and I soaked it all in, book in hand. That’s how I finally finished the book that felt like it would tantalisingly go on forever.

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But enough about how long I took to read it. This book has further deepened my love for Indian writing, based in India. At one point I didn’t think we’d ever go beyond writing by and about Indian women trapped in the phenomenon of housewife diaspora. But books like this one, and Lunatic In My Head, varied as they are, reinforced my faith in delightful, beautiful, clever, intelligent writing by Indian authors. (Speaking of which, does any of you have any Indian male writer reccos?)

Lunatic In My Head is based in Shillong and at a broad level, threads the lives of three separate sets of people together. Anjum Hasan does a wonderful job of deliciously bringing the NorthEastern city alive, with its constant feathery rainfall, misty mountaintops, sloping roads and weekend fairs. I have never been there, but the book conjured vivid images of what the place might be like. Each character had its unique traits and they’re distinctly maintained right thru, with the tone and flavour of each story changing accordingly. Apart from seamlessly tying together the conflicts of each of the central characters, Sophie’s over-precocious over-imaginative mind, Aman’s struggle to come into his own and Firdaus’s challenge as a single woman trying to find some purpose in her life, the narrative brings into its skein details and events of allied characters, who play a vital part in the telling of the story as a whole. None of the characters (and there are plenty of them) seem like they are out of place, unnecessarily inserted or not required. Each one has a distinct role to play and they beautifully tie in. The climax was totally gripping, almost like I was watching it on a screen. With the inviting hill-station feel, it was easy to finally sink in to the book and read, read and not stop until I was finally done.

The build up came to a required end calm restored. I felt like I could heave a sigh of relief. Because I actually felt the the Lunatics in every character’s head were laid to rest.

And also that I had finally finished the book that I had loved and wanted to finish, yet had managed to drag on for an entire month. Then, that bittersweet feeling washed over me again. I quickly googled Anjum Hasan’s other work, and felt mildly disappointed to read that her other book, Difficult Pleasures, hasn’t received as much good press as Lunatic has. So maybe I’ll just stop at this for now. Savour the lovely images of Shillong, draped over a month of rain, moving cartons, sorting out my life and finally feeling at peace. Quite like the chaos making way for order in the book, and in its own way, quite like the month I’ve had.

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27 Replies to “Lunatic In My Head”

    1. Never write again?! I could never do that to myself. I’m just crippled by some circumstances. My laptop charger is bust, so I have ery limited laptop time, until I get myself a new adaptor. We still dont have internet back up. I’m on a temp arrangement which I dont like to use for long hours. And I have just been very, very, very busy over the last month. But life is slowly coming back to normal now.

      The baking was also on hold for a whole month. But the website is almost fully up. I have to tie a few loose ends up and launch it, but I am waiting to get my oven up before I do that. Kitchen is set up, but oven doesnt have a specific place as yet..

  1. hmm.. now you’ve got me interested.. and its set in the north-east.. I know so little about that area.. that I’m always interested in reading more!! talking about books by Indian authors.. a batchmate from college Meghna Pant has come out with a collection of short stories..its been getting good reviews.. and this will be her 2nd book.. its titled ‘happy birthday’.. will let you know how it fares.. or in case you read it first!!

    1. Something tells me you will like this. it seems out preferences in books match.. much like they do with bakes :P
      Meghna Pant — why does that name sound familiar? I shall check out the book. And if you do, before me, let me know!

    1. Haha i dont think i can say te same happened with a couple of other books that took long to finish. This one was snappy. I took long because on interruptions. Some bad books just drag on painfully!

      1. Yeah! So true and it also happens with disturbingly beautiful books like Orhan Pamuk Snow that I am currently reading. Normally, I take one or two weeks but this one is stretching. I had similar experiences with bad books. Cheerz

    1. I read A Fine Balance when i was abpit 17 and couldnt bear to finish it because it was Gut wrenchingly sad and it has put a Mistry-block in my mind. Maybe I was too young for it then. i should give it another try. What other books by him do you recco?

      Amitav ghosh is already a favourite. Shadow Lines is in my top 5 most favourite books of all time!

    1. Disoriented and overwhelmed is so right. Its how I was for about a week. Then the maid arrived, things got put away, and then best of all! my folks visited for a whole week and that somehow miraculously put my home, my mind and my body back in routine :)

  2. Shillong was our weekend get away ‘heaven’ when we were kids. Sadly like most cities, its losing its charm.
    Must pick up this book if I can…its very hard to get hold of books written by new Indian authors. Saw a commenter recommend Jerry Pinto’s book-Em and the Big Hoom. Go for it, its a great read.

    1. Oh you might like the shillong feel in this book then. It gave me a very old school uncomplicated hill peoples life feel. I must check out the jerry pinto book now!

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