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.

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Note:

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

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Reading Hour with Abhijit Bhaduri

In August, the Reading Hour session was held with Abhijit Bhaduri, Chief Learning Officer at Wipro and author of Mediocre But Arrogant and Married but Available and Don’t Hire the Best.

On a cool Saturday evening, we sat down at Atta Galatta for some conversation and coffee. Thankfully it was not raining and the atmosphere was perfect.

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Abhijit is good fun and I developed a really good rapport with him during the course of our conversation where he cleverly tried to steer the questions towards me instead of answering them right away!

Since the topic was about how authors play God with their characters I asked him if he liked it. His answer wasn’t straight but from what I gleaned I think authors don’t have much choice. So there isn’t really a question of liking it or not.

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Then we got talking about his love for the oxymoron as is demonstrated in the names of his books – Mediocre but Arrogant and Married but Available. Abhijit joked that if he writes a third one it could be called  Middle-aged but Attractive.

Students are often known to keep derisive nicknames for their professors and he too has kept plenty for his professors as is evident in the book. I wanted to know if he knew what his students had nicknamed him but he didn’t know. Ideally, we should have had a student of his in the audience too!

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We also spoke about the life of students in the 80s as opposed to the lives of students today. One thing that stands out probably is that students today end up treating support staff like furniture and often don’t even know their names.

One of the things we also talked about was his consistent blogging. I wanted to know how he stays motivated enough to continue it from so long. He admitted he started off by uploading his entire novel on his blog at first and then removing it when he realised that that’s not what blogs are about. Abhijit blogs about his work, his interests and reviews movies and books as well. Check out his blog at his website www.abhijitbhaduri.com

Abhijit also gave us some tips on Twitter. He suggested that people who are either useful or interesting get more followers and ideally you should be a little of both. I’m trying Abhijit! I’m trying.

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Reading Hour August was enjoyable and good fun. We hope more people will show up for the next session in September. Just a heads up to everyone. We’re getting Anuja Chauhan for September and it’s on 20th September. Don’t miss that!

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