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  • Writer's pictureAzera Rahman

Lunatic In My Head: a migrant's view of Shillong

Lunatic In My Head is a reflection of lives of three protagonists, lecturer Firdaus Ansari, IAS aspirant Aman Moondy and eight-year-old Sophie Das.

She calls her debut novel polyphonic, echoing voices belonging to different ethnicities and cultures. Set in the picturesque Shillong in the northeast, Anjum Hasan's Lunatic In My Head is a reflection of the soul of the place through the eyes of three characters.

College lecturer Firdaus Ansari, IAS aspirant Aman Moondy and eight-year-old Sophie Das - Hasan's three protagonists - have all been born and brought up in Shillong like her.

Yet, by virtue of their identity, of being

Dkhar - the Khasi word for a non-tribal - a constant line of ethnic divide separates them from the locals.

"Politically, the ethnic conflict in Shillong, Meghalaya, now is much less than what it was when I was there. Unlike 10 years back, when I was living there, now there are a lot more non-locals running businesses, restaurants there. People want a normal existence," the 36-year-old author, who is based in Bangalore, told IANS on phone.

Bollywood, which has really penetrated deep into the town's heart, is one of the reasons for the positive change, she says.

Drawing heavily from her own experiences, since her parents had migrated from Uttar Pradesh to Shillong and she was born and brought up there, Hasan's book does not attempt to paint her place of birth in a negative light.

Whether it's the sudden and perennial rainfall, the hilly terrain or Bob Dylan's music in every nook and corner, the book, which has been nominated for the Hutch Crossword Book award 2007, embodies the

Scotland of the east.

"My book is a result of my relationship with Shillong. It tries to capture the charm of the place, the music which runs in every person's vein...although I will not call it autobiographical, each of the three stories is based on my experiences," Hasan said.

According to Hasan, the book, which talks about the confused state of the Dkhars, who are not completely insiders and yet not completely outsiders, is something not often talked about.

Ansari, one of the characters of her book, struggles to complete her thesis, even as she tries to sort out her affair with a younger, Manipuri man. Moondy, amid his aspirations to clear the UPSC exam, finds solace in Pink Floyd's music and has to battle some tough opposition from a section of the tribal community while organising an event.

Das, on the other hand, has to fight her own insecurities and the understated prejudice in everyday life.

"I am now taking Sophie's story forward with my next book, which is still being written. Sophie moves to a metro, to Bangalore. Again, in parts it draws from my experience of moving to Bangalore while my parents are still in Shillong.

"The larger picture is that Sophie tries and explores her relationship with her birthplace. She decides to go back to test her relationship with it and takes a resolution whether she wants to stay on or return to the metro," said Hasan, who is also a poet.

Hasan's book of verse,

Street in the Hill,

was also based on her experiences in Shillong.

"So far I haven't exhausted my interest in Shillong. When you are setting a book in a small town, you assess the town itself, its culture, its nerve. That doesn't happen when you base it in a metro.

"Shillong is the place that formed me. Probably if I were born and brought up somewhere else, I would have been a different person. It made me an observer. It made me the writer that I am," Hasan said.

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