Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Not this , Not this

It’s always been difficult for me to find the geography of my own life in literature. Urban, upper middle class , mostly Bangalorean . Anjum Hasan’s Neti Neti captures the city that is in a maddening flux in some parts ,stagnant and seething in some parts and in some parts traditional as it would have been fifty years ago with sensitivity and a nuance I haven’t read in writing about Bangalore before.

Sophie Das is 25, has moved from the quiet hill town of Shillong to transcribe Hollywood movie subtitles by day and have moral tussles with her land lord about hanging underwear, spend time in pubs with her boyfriend Swami and navigate the weed bed of wealth in the malls, streets and homes of the city’s privileged.
Then there are her friends. The dubious Ringo Saar whose job is to bash up people defaulting on loans, Anu who gets through life doing nothing and keeping a boyfriend and convincing him to move to Australia where the roads are clean.
Shiva, who could be those few people we know who keeps tipping the parallel narative that connects the lives of urban youth into conversations. The South Bangalore gang that hacked a 21 year old man of a rival gang to death, a man who forced his wife to drink acid, how the shit of the rich determinedly travel to the open sewers of the poor.

Her colleague Shanti Gouda lives on the metaphoric other side of the city – lower middle class and working her way up , subtitling English shows for money but refusing to enjoy their vulgarity.
We meet the police men who tell the city’s migrants only half jokingly that in Karnataka they must speak kannada. And the rich Punjabi father and son duo who get out of their air-conditioned car to bet up a local auto driver in their perceived right to exert their masculinity.
Sophie is a witness to other people’s tragedies, forced to make a comment or two. A child dies in a mall, but when a brutal and unexpected murder ends it all for Sophie she imagines finding peace in her mountain home away from what she calls India . It is at this stage in the novel where it feels like Hasan clumsily put together news reports from Bangalore’s recent past and used these events as a backdrop for Sophie’s angst.

And yet, her dull and cold family home which she believed could never change has its own share of , if placid, fissures. Her sister is on a teenage trip towards boys and gold earring gifts while her parents’ relationship is not what she imagined it to be.

The elections are on , their politics suddenly revolving around a visit by Bob Dylan with every party wanting to capitalize on it in a rock loving town. Sophie chases her ideas of a man she has been fascinated by, if not in love with for a while . Nothing however is yielding enough for her to stay.

I can feel Bangalore in Hassan’s prose..it’s fissured class dynamics, , its confused youth , its gourmet shops , its butter and ghee shops , its migrants and its malls.
It’s not Amitav Ghosh’s Sunderbans or Arundhati Roys river polluted with world bank loans or Rushdie’s magic realism. Its most of our lives..

Those of us who went to college here know pretty well how to irritate sales girls by making them help us test lots of expensive perfumes that would cost 1/5th of our first salaries, walk into expensive branded stores and try on purple dresses just because our Tibetan market skinny jeans and what could be easily from Mango t shirt, coupled with our ‘’neutral’’ accents made us pass off for those who could afford such shit..
''She squinted at cubbon park (on a map) and tried to picture them separated by it- Sophie and her friends on the right half of this centre drinking coffee in Styrofoam cups, and Shanti’s mother and great grandmother on the left half , selling breakfast to lewd lorry drivers.’

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