Reading Hour with Anjum Hasan

There are so many times when you’re reading a book, and you wish you could ask the author something. Right? I’m so happy to be doing Reading Hour because that’s exactly what I get to do. Ask authors questions that play in my mind as I read their work. How cool is that?

So, on 14th November, Atta Galatta was a hub of crazy activity as it was Children’s Day as well. There were kids running around everywhere and we had to wait a while for the place to settle down, for the noise levels to go down. Even then, Anjum and I had one or two kids look down our backs, curiously wondering what we were doing.

Anjum’s latest novel, The Cosmopolitans was the topic of conversation. It’s a remarkably evocative book, filled with sharp insights and keen observation.

I’ve always been fascinated by how authors name their protagonists. Personally speaking I have a tough time naming them. So the protagonist in The Cosmopolitans, Qayenaat has to be one of the most interesting names I’ve seen. I wanted to know if there was some deeper significance to the name but Anjum said that wasn’t so. Qayenaat, aware of her ethereal name drops her second name, Gupta because it’s so plain and real. The drawbacks of this arise later when Qayenaat, tries to claim insurance after her father dies and is declined because she can’t prove she’s her father’s daughter.

Cosmopolitans is filled with such instances of harsh practical reality that intersperse with Qayenaat’s ruminations of life on a higher level. Like the concern with money, which people would consider crass and vulgar but it’s a concern that is real and stares Qayenaat in her face, often as she sees the world around her in a race for it, while she often feels left behind.

Also, a heroine in her fifties, one unencumbered by a husband, children or a marriage is also unusual. Anjum admitted that she wanted someone with a certain amount of experience, a solid amount of life, lived. Qayenaat’s father who makes a mark in the novel through Qayenaat’s ruminations is important and for him to be who he is, a Nehruvian idealist, it’s important for him to have been born at a certain age. It was therefore inevitable that Qayenaat would be anything less than fifty.

Qayenaat’s understanding of Bangalore is spot on. Her assimilation of the different cultures and different worlds that inhabit this city is remarkably insightful. I wanted to know if it was Anjum’s as well and how she managed to create such an intricate picture. Being a writer, I suppose one learns to observe people and surroundings even when we’re not actively aware of it. And Anjum’s experience with working at an art gallery certainly helped.

One of the things I really wanted to know, especially as a writer myself, was why do protagonists sometimes go away to find themselves. Anjum thought it was a relevant question considering how almost all her protagonists have done that.

Honestly, it’s a little difficult to capture the entirety of the event in a blog post. The audience was articulate and asked some insightful questions. But that’s saying neither this nor that. I’ll try and see if we can record some of the future Reading Hour sessions so they can be uploaded here.

Some pics.



There is no Reading Hour planned for December. The next session is in January.


A book launch is not just a book launch!

There’s a huge difference between your first book launch and your (no idea which) later ones. The first noticeable difference is that you’re no longer nervous. You’re also not worried about how many people will turn up and will it just be family and friends like last time. Or the time before that. Because it’s taken me all these books to realise that a book launch maybe many things but it’s above all, a celebration of a book. In the midst of coordinating with various celebrity guests and other such hassles, one tends to forget that and focusing on these things creates a situation where the author is tense and worried.

So here’s the thing. The very fact that the book exists is nothing short of miraculous. You conjure up the book based on just an idea in your head. You write all fifty thousand words (or more) and then if you’re lucky, you land publishers like Duckbill who give their everything to your book. And by that, I mean everything.

They work with you on the book, they make it probably two hundred times better, and they come up with a book cover that completely wows you and everyone else. And it doesn’t stop there.

Anyway, so the book is ready, but doesn’t reach until the very last minute thanks to courier glitches. Your publishers move heaven and earth to make sure you get at least three copies before the launch. They even send off twenty copies through a friend who’s flying to Bangalore from Delhi! You manage to make sure the book reaches the other very sweet author (Jane D’Souza Gopalakrishnan) and your English Literature teacher (Dr. Shantha from college) two days before the launch and hope they have time to go through it.

You call up your family and invite them to attend. This part is very important because I have to make sure I’m inviting them as I would, to a wedding. So you can imagine how I’ve had to invite everyone for all the book launches every single time. Yeah, but the nice thing is that almost everyone turns up. Because like I said, it’s a celebration of the book.

I’ve never been this *unstressed* over a launch and it probably had a lot to do because it was at Atta Galatta, an independent bookstore which is one of my all time favourite stores here in Bangalore. Of course, Lakshmi and Subodh Sankar, the gracious hosts and owners of AG have a lot to do with that feeling of comfort.

So, on 18th October, we all got together at AG for a celebration of my 8th novel, When she Went Away. Friends, family and colleagues turned up in full force! My mother surprised me by bringing a Shahi tukda sweet, all packed into small cups for all the guests and everyone loved it. The book was launched and the three of us got into a spirited discussion about the book. The audience got involved and we went on for quite a bit. The theme of the book was intriguing (after all, how often does a mother leave her perfectly all right family and go away without any reason?) and a lot of people asked questions, not just about the book but about my writing process as well.

Jane had some interesting questions to ask while Dr. Shantha offered some sharp insight into the character of the protagonist and her mother as well. All of us at the launch felt like we were in a classroom (not any class but the Optional English classes she took for us)  once again, listening to her speak so eloquently. And magnificently!

We ended the day by taking plenty of selfies and pictures and the best part was the potluck dinner at my aunt’s house after the launch. Much yummy in the tummy happened!

What better way to bring a book into the world than with family and friends, all with you to celebrate?

Some pictures of the event.









Reading Hour with Samar Halarnkar

If you’re in Bangalore, you must visit Atta Galatta in Koramangala. It’s a lovely book shop and cafe that is also home to numerous cultural events. I’ve held quite a few events for my books here and was invited to be a part of Reading Hour in 2014 with Kavery Nambisan and Nandita Bose was the most gracious host of the event.

Here’s an hour long video of the event in case you actually have an hour to spare. He he! Just kidding.

So, imagine my surprise when Lakshmi who runs Atta Galatta with her husband Subodh called me and asked if I would like to host the event in its new avatar. I agreed almost immediately.

Reading Hour is held in collaboration with the Reading Hour magazine that is run by Vaishali and Arun, and they are extremely passionate about bringing back the culture of reading into our lives.

We started Reading Hour in June and we invited Samar Halarnkar as our first guest. Samar is the author of The Married Man’s Guide to Creative Cooking and the editor of Indiaspend.



I enjoyed reading his cookbook. Not only did it have unusual recipes, it had some really quirky illustrations.


Samar spoke to the audience about the economic repercussions of men not cooking and it made for some fascinating listening.

We moved on to talk about the warm and funny elements in his book that perfectly offset the nostalgic overtone. I wanted to know why Samar happily called himself a glutton in this era of Masterchef connoisseurs and his explanation was simple. He calls himself a jugaad or jhatka cook, often assembling ingredients for a meal with the pan on the stove. It was interesting to hear him explain how he managed to conjure meals for his family without being all metrosexual about it.

Samar spoke to us about his love for seafood and fish and of course Old Monk rum as well. We even spoke of how he’s pretty much achieved some sort of foodie nirvana these days.

The audience too wanted to ask him questions about the supposed stigma that’s attached to men cooking for their families as home cooks as opposed to the respect they get by being professional chefs.

It was a perfect June evening for a lovely round of conversation with Samar and a receptive audience who engaged in meaningful conversation.