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.
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.