The Literary City

Reason And Hope In A Dark Time With History's Angel And Anjum Hasan

September 27, 2023 Explocity Podcasts Season 3 Episode 65
The Literary City
Reason And Hope In A Dark Time With History's Angel And Anjum Hasan
Show Notes Chapter Markers

Good literature can help us navigate our own emotions and motivations, and it helps us see the world through the eyes of the writer. The best literature touches our hearts and our minds. It triggers our emotions, and makes us think critically about the world around us, by challenging our assumptions and consequently, expanding our understanding of what it means to be human.

Some writers write from the heart, some from the head. The truly literary among them speak from the junction of emotion and reason—and this is what makes literature powerful. It is what allows us to connect with characters and stories on a deeper level.

My guest today is an example of a writer who can write from the heart and from the head. She is novelist Anjum Hasan.

Anjum grew up in small town India, in Shillong, Meghalaya—as we imagine, an idyllic setting in which her early impressions of life and culture took root, she now lives in the urban sprawl of modern Bangalore.

And—judging from her earlier novels—she is comfortable in both skins. Anjum’s ability to traverse the two landscapes—both of small-town India and the ambition of Bangalore—is seamless. And this could be one reason why her insight is not just quick and keen, but unusual.

And this sense of the insight has led to some pretty evocative, well-crafted prose. A good example of this is her latest novel, History's Angel—a powerful and moving story about lives in a time of rising religious phobia. History’s Angel explores the protagonist Alif's challenges of navigating an increasingly incomprehensible contemporary India, where political unrest is the normal and nostalgia is the refuge. The story offers a perspective on the larger context of asserting humanity in the face of widening social fissures.

Anjum Hasan, apart from her novels, is someone I have always admired in general, for her prose. Her writing is sharp, compassionate, and darkly witty. What gets me most is her ability to craft sentences that are elegant but also accessible. I have always wanted to ask her about her prose.  So she is joining me from her family home in lovely Shillong.


Anjum Hasan’s work has been shortlisted for the Sahitya Akademi Award, the Hindu Literary Prize, and the Crossword Fiction Award. She won the Valley of Words Fiction Award 2019. She has been a Homi Bhabha Fellow, a Charles Wallace Writer-in-Residence, and is currently a New India Foundation Fellow. Her essays, short stories and poems are widely published including in New York Review of Books, Granta, The Paris Review, Baffler, Los Angeles Review of Books, Wasafiri, Asia Literary Review, and Caravan. She is the co-editor of the recent anthology Future Library: Contemporary Indian Writing.


Co-host Pranati "Pea" Madhav joins Ramjee Chandran in "WHAT'S THAT WORD?!",  where they discuss the word  "ALEF


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Cover pic credit: Lekha Naidu.