The launch of Anjum Hasan's book Difficult Pleasures triggered an excited exploration of the horrific reality of the ‘forever now' state of our lives

Anjum Hasan's Difficult Pleasures, published by Penguin Books, India, is a collection of short stories that explore the inner workings of the human mind, confused and beaten by identity crises and the struggle to come to terms with reality.

The book was launched at Bangalore's British Council Library in the city that Hasan said has made her a writer.

In conversation with the author were Usha K.R., Anita Nair and Anmol Vellani, introduced by C.K. Meena on behalf of Toto Funds the Arts. Usha K.R., the Bangalore-based writer, gave a glowing account of Hasan's literary craftsmanship and of Difficult Pleasures. Usha praises Hasan's sensibility and voice, which has been “distilled in her volume of short stories”. She describes Hasan's short story as an example of what Kingsley Amis describes as an “untrimmed slice of life”.

The author gives the audience a lot to think about — things that would perhaps not have been evident on the first reading. The stories are a meditation on anxiety and melancholy, a study of restrained transgressors and of quiet, sustained humour in the face of tremendous grief and sorrow.

“Set in rapidly growing urban centres like Bangalore and Shillong, in worlds that are unsettling and bizarre, the collection celebrates tenacity and the strong, quiet presence of regular people, struggling to make their way in an unsympathetic world,” she finishes.

Theatre-director and founder-director of India Foundation for the Arts, Anmol Vellani, describes the book as a personal revelation, a reflection of one's own experiences, an exercise in articulating wonderfully what could not otherwise have been articulated. “It negotiates unfamiliar territory, dissolving the dichotomy between the familiar and the unfamiliar, forcing you out of your comfort zone. Anjum's stories are not the written version of an action movie,” he says. “Her stories breathe and move at a pace closer to reality.” He encouraged the audience to probe and introspect through his personal experience with the book. “Anjum imagines what would happen if nothing happens; she explores the horrific reality of the ‘forever now'. Her use of the surreal and the metaphysical is not an example of weak plotting; it is an understanding of what happens in and around a frozen moment. She encourages the readers to become story tellers by refusing to be the ubiquitous, omnipresent narrator.”

Eminent writer Anita Nair succinctly sums up the existential dilemmas in Difficult Pleasures by quoting Hasan herself: “If a mushroom could talk, what would it say?” She praises Hasan's ability to create engaging and memorable characters and describes her work as a “gradual unravelling of thought”. Using an analogy from classical Indian dance, Nair says that the ‘sthayi bhava' or the state of permanent mood in the stories is bewilderment.

Hasan concluded by saying that ‘ignorance' is a very important part of writing fiction. “It is important to let instinct take over,” she said, adding that listening to the speakers “was humbling and instructive, because they told me what I was trying to do”.

Perhaps the highest praise and the most fitting summary came from Vellani, who said: “Reading Difficult Pleasures has a dangerous consequence — the vanity that we could all write fiction if we chose to.”

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