“You have the soul of a cyborg”: An Extract From Anjum Hasan’s A Day in the Life

15 April 2018

Anjum Hasan, the books editor atThe Caravan, was born in Shillong and lives in Bengaluru. She is the author of the short-story collection Difficult Pleasures, and the novelsLunatic in my HeadNeti, Neti, and The Cosmopolitans. Hasan’s latest book, A Day in the Life, is a collection of short stories that provide glimpses into the daily lives of a range of characters, including newly-weds attempting to keep up with the times, a retiree confronted with modern anger, and a poet father attempting to reconnect with his son. In this excerpt from the story “Yellow Rose,” the protagonist contemplates yet another move.

Gulfam disliked going out. Every day, week by week, she saw a little less of the outdoor world of heat and dust that did not respond to a click or a swipe, that was composed everywhere of odd angles and misshapen silhouettes, that followed no clear laws, certainly not the magnificently simple binary ones that she lived by.

She had reluctantly inhabited that messy and messed-up world for the first twenty-three years of her life but had withdrawn from it in the last two, since she quit her job and decided to employ herself. She rarely looked out at the view. In fact, having moved house so many times, she had more or less forgotten what the prospect from living-room balcony or kitchen window was like. Something would bother Gulfam—a landlord suddenly dictating unreasonable terms from his penthouse somewhere in America; a neighbour in the course of an unwelcome chat, wanting to know the identity of the man who sometimes visited her; the maid inquiring once too often about why she lived alone—and she would give notice, call one of the half-a-dozen brokers she knew, impatiently urge on the movers encasing her meagre belongings with blundering care in bubble wrap and cartons, and leave.

She had hopped all over Bangalore with her minimalist ensemble of futon, sparse kitchenware, a couple of boxes of clothes and her laptop. She did not read, except blog posts and newsfeeds, so there were no books to lug around; she hardly ever went for parties any more and had let go of the fusty heirloom saris and last year’s dresses. She made sure she always had just three pairs of shoes, two wine glasses, one ballpoint pen. Much of everything else she threw away. She was a determined discarder. She promptly got rid of birthday gifts of perfume or filmy scarves, clothes barely worn, any hand-drawn or dog-eared relic of her childhood, the creaky collections of photo albums and spiritual guidebooks her grandparents had left her and the useless decorative mementos her mother always brought her and urged her to put on display so that she, Gulfam’s mother, could find her bearings and feel marginally at home in the many un-homelike, bare-walled, hollow-shelved, empty-balconied flats that Gulfam lived in.

Gulfam dreamed of world happiness bred by a universal conversion to in-the-moment functionalism, played out in a perfectly controlled indoor existence. She loved futuristic movies awash with jargon and sleek gadgetry in which neither human nor physical nature intruded—no erratic clouds moving across the sky, no sudden moods altering the state of one’s existence. Her favourite YouTube video at the moment featured the wedding ceremony of a man and a robot. Her favourite TED talk was by the world’s neatest woman. Her favourite podcast was about how Mars would eventually be colonized by the very smart and the uber wealthy. Her favourite new technology was the flying car. She wished she had been attributed, at birth, a string of numbers instead of a name, that she lived in a post-apocalyptic society of humans with short-term memories and dreamless sleep, housed in prefabricated intelligent homes and needing nothing to live life and enjoy it except their handsets.

Anjum Hasan is the author of several works of fiction. Her latest book is the collection of stories A Day in the Life. See more at www.anjumhasan.com.

Keywords: Bangalore technology cities