Powerful Grip of Nostalgia

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Alongside these characters, the reader is pulled into the world of conversations where the weight of a pause has more to offer than the words exchanged as pleasantries. We progress through the book as we watch the character of Qayenaat pondering over her past. Like any other true blue-blooded cosmopolitan, Qayenaat discards the baggage of a surname to relish in the ‘sublimity’ of her first name. But she cannot distance herself from her roots because of her fascination with her father’s birthplace.

This yearning then takes root in Sati, whom she loves briefly. Hassan describes this love as one between ‘kinsmen’ and explains how the lack of passion has enabled their domestic life together. “Once she had loved Sati for this very reason — his black-and-white ethics, his grassroots point of view. When she first met him, his sincerity had felt charmingly old world, unlike the anachronism it seemed today. They had eventually gone their separate ways, but unlike she and Baban, she and Sati were still sort of kinsmen if no longer kindred souls, for Sati was from where she was.” Thus, nostalgia becomes a recurring theme in the book.

The Cosmopolitans | Anjum Hassan
The Cosmopolitans | Anjum Hassan

Once Hassan sets her characters in motion, she brings forth a platter of ideas where Qayenaat becomes the centrepiece. As a 53-year old broke and single woman, Qayenaat is looking forward to living a comfortable life. Though Baban’s return triggers her yearning for a passionate romance, it is the idea of making money that makes her contemplate an insurance fraud. This is an ironic twist and a refreshing change. However, things take a tragic turn when Qayenaat accidentally causes the death of an art critic. Devastated, Qayenaat sells her beloved painting and leaves the city that is an eternal reminder of her mistake. Reading an advertisement about reviving a dying dance form, Qayenaat leaves the comforts of Bangalore and embraces a small town called Simhal, where she hopes to revive the dance form.

At Simhal, Qayenaat is reunited with art in the backdrop of the Maoist movement. Bringing in the theme of nostalgia once again, Hassan introduces us to the monarch who is devoted to his decrepit palace and is dreaming about building a ‘museum and a library’. As Qayenaat attempts to make amends for her mistake, she also discovers love, this time in a ruin. This development is no surprise to the reader, by now well acquainted with Hassan’s style of playing on a recurring theme. However, the ‘new love’ does not become the natural end of a tale that begins on a note of intense longing. Instead, Qayenaat’s ties with her past — her friends including Sati, and Sara — become her point of survival when she gets trapped in the confines of her newfound love.

Just like her previous works, Hassan’s poetic prose resonates with the reader the entire length of the book. For instance, when Qayenaat watches her former lover Sati settle in the guest room, she wonders at their new-found peace with each other. Hassan describes their love as this: “Their easy domesticity ought to have been a source of worry yet Qayenaat felt strangely tranquil. Perhaps, men and women fought bitter wars only because they longed to be consumed by each other, whereas what really worked was a sense of fellowship.”

What stays with the reader, as we shut the book, is the absolute power of memories. No matter how you try, what you do, where you are, memories do haunt you.

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