Varied shades of life
Reviewed by Aditi Garg

Difficult Pleasures
By Anjum Hasan. Penguin Books. Pages 250. Rs 399

Happiness and despair, surprises and the mundane, tears and laughter; all form an inseparable part of everyday life. There is no such life as an ordinary life, there are only stories waiting to be told. Even the most staid faces hide troubling secrets and untold joy. Expect the unexpected to be discovered in the most unlikely places. These human stories bring to fore the many faces people wear to make life worth living. From small children to the young and the aged, all leave behind a rainbow of tales spanning every known human emotion.

Anjum Hasan is a promising young writer living in Bangalore. She has penned two novels — Lunatic in my Head and Neti Neti. Both have been shortlisted for awards, the Crossword Book Award and the Hindu Best Fiction Award, respectively. She has also written a book of poems, Street on the Hill.

Difficult Pleasures is a collection of short stories that is unusual and refreshing in its approach. Finding a way to escape from different situations in life, the characters struggle to do their best. Each of the 13 stories is a gem.

Birds is a touching story about a father and son who come to India to scatter the ashes of the little boy’s mother. The boy is having trouble comprehending the purpose of their visit. He is ignorant of the magnitude of what has been planned for him and feels like a fish out of water at every step of the journey. As you read the story and realise what is about to unfold, a part of you wants to scream out to the boy to run; which he does. The story is a showcase for tribulations of adults and the complexities of a child’s emotions. Good Housekeeping is an ode to the unique bond between mother and daughter and how, over the years, it turns from that of parent and child to more of friends or siblings. There is also the inevitable transformation of the daughter to become an image of her mother, however much she may avoid it. Banerjee and Banerjee offers a glance into the depths of human relationships and how, even siblings can fall out with each other, leaving nothing to be shared. It is the story of a brother who is trying to make sense of what his estranged brother’s death means to him. Aspirations of life in a big town are a recurrent theme but in Wild Things it is given a different twist. A woman with passion for painting is uprooted from her familiar surroundings and is placed in a foreign land that holds the promise of some of her dreams being fulfilled. In the Big Picture it takes her a while to get accustomed to both the new place as well as her changing body.

Fairytale on 12th Main is a story of love that wants to fight any distance between the lovers. As one of them tries to find a way to hold on to what they hold dear, they realise that the happiness can be achieved only by letting time flow its due course. There are many more stories touching different chords. There is one which highlights that memories can hold different meanings for different people. Two people may talk about the same time and episode but mean two totally different things. In another, a wife feels let down and takes off to Goa; all the while feeling restless and unsure about the sanity of her decision. A little boy cannot fathom the gravity of the consequences of his father’s visit and is overjoyed just to see his face.

The book portrays so many facets of life and yet does not overwhelm. It is surreal despite being grounded in the ordinary. Beautifully told and effortlessly written, these stories stay with you after the book is over. The characters are all from real life, yet enchant the reader with their idiosyncrasies. Carefully nurtured, Hasan crafts the stories with the finesse of a wizard.