Anjum Hasan, the books editor at The Caravan, was born in Shillong and lives in Bengaluru. She is the author of the short story collection Difficult Pleasures, and the novels Lunatic in my Head and Neti, Neti. Her third novel, The Cosmopolitans, was published earlier this month. A character in the novel remarks, at one point, that “Being a modern Indian is hard work.” In this excerpt, the protagonist of The Cosmopolitans considers one part of the challenge.
Money. Something had been happening since the turn of the century to render everyone well off except Qayenaat. Let alone the elderly uncles and aunties clinging to their bungalows and their club memberships and the rich young hipsters with everything in their pockets, even the carefree drifters of her own generation who seemed, once, to have bypassed the idea of money—by having regular careers and raising regular kids, or living with their parents till they were forty-five and adapting themselves without loss of soul to any hack job—had proved, once the new century dawned, not to be so retiring after all.
Qayenaat discovered this late. It was as if they’d all just been waiting for Pears soap and Italian pasta to hit the shelves before they disowned their alleged poverty, grinning sheepishly as they abandoned the swadeshi delights of their youth—the polka-dotted nylon saris, the low-roofed Fiat cars, the striped yellow packs of glucose biscuits, the synthetic orange juices, the bottles of royal-blue Chelpark ink with which one filled fountain pens to write letters to faraway friends and with which friends filled their pens to write back.