'Difficult Pleasures' is the only collection of short stories to have made it to the five book-strong list.
This is Anjum Hasan’s second time on the shortlist of The Hindu Literary Prize, and this time, her book, Difficult Pleasures, is the only collection of short stories to have made it to the five book-strong list. Hasan won several accolades for her first two novels, Lunatic in My Head and Neti Neti, and Difficult Pleasures was also nominated for the 2012 Frank O’ Connor International Short Story Award. In this interview, Hasan shares with her readers the importance and role of the short story in literary fiction, and talks about her latest project.
This is your second time on The Hindu Literary Prize shortlist. What does being shortlisted mean to you?
I’m really delighted to be shortlisted again, and the recognition for short stories is especially dear to me. Few literary prizes treat stories on a par with novels though the work of the best short story writers can be as interesting and worthwhile an index of the literary ideas in a culture as novels — think Manto, Carver or Chekhov. Also, the short story is a more poetic, and therefore more subversive, form — it goes against the grain of the monumental, the epic, the comprehensive, which novels often veer towards.
The Hindu Literary Prize seeks to recognise and encourage Indian writing in English. As part of this fraternity, of Indian authors writing in English, what are your views on the Indian literary scene today?
My confidence in putting down words on the page, my desire to write, and even my idea of myself as a writer has been closely tied to my reading other Indian English writers such as V.S. Naipaul, Pankaj Mishra, Upamanyu Chatterjee and Amit Chaudhuri. At the same time, I see myself, perhaps like all these other writers, as working at something that doesn’t at all draw from any idea of a fraternity. The scene — in the sense of publishing houses, literary festivals, awards, and news and opinions about books — can definitely be an enabler but it’s not where the writing comes from.
Why short stories? What was the appeal behind choosing this particular medium? Do you think there has also been an increase in interest among readers with regard to short stories today?
Difficult Pleasures was an experiment to see what I could do with the images that come to me of people’s lives, strangers’ lives. One of the things I realised while writing these stories was how our day-to-day lives are increasingly set in a mould that makes us feel like we know each other or that there is nothing to know because everything is touched with the same banality. Yet to me the interior life is always unique, strange, disturbing and yet familiar. These stories allowed me to explore different kinds of inner lives and the several ways of expressing them. And many of my readers seem to have understood that project.
A quick insight into your take on the rising number of Lit fests today?
I am often drawn to literary festivals — they promise excitements such as meetings with friends, discovering ways of talking and thinking about books, and nice hotel rooms. But they are given too much attention. At a time when thoughtfulness and nuance is difficult to sustain, literary festivals can further the tendency to think of literature as a series of instant events and throwaway remarks rather than a slow process of osmosis.
You’ve published poetry, short fiction and novels. Which medium would you say has appealed to you most?
My experiment with forms and genres has been a way of trying to capture the changes in myself and my own thinking from book to book. So I’ve just been following my instinct with the different mediums.
What are the projects in the pipeline? Would you be experimenting with style and format?
I’m writing a novel about a woman who is searching for the centre of her life and partly does so through encounters with art — looking at paintings and installations, listening to artists talk, going to the Indian village where another kind of art exists, supposedly timeless but also very contemporary because it is closely connected with our idea of ourselves as Indians.
(The Hindu Lit for Life 2013 will take place in Chennai on February 16 and 17. The winner of The Hindu Literary Prize will be announced at the festival on February 17.)
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