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A discussion between Anjum Hasan, author of History’s Angels, and Nilanjan Choudhury, author of Song of the Golden Sparrow, this session will explore the shifting boundaries between myth, history, imagination and reality in contemporary Indian English writing. They will delve into the process of construction of their respective books and discuss the similarities and differences in their approach and writing.
History’s Angel’s by Anjum Hasan
Hailed as “A beautiful novel, timely and elegiac,” its hero Alif Mohammad described as “one of the most important characters in contemporary literature.” Alif is a middle-aged, mild-mannered school teacher who, when not taking his students around to gawp at the relics of Delhi’s past, is immersed in reveries on the country’s long centuries. But the present is pressing down on him – in the form of colleagues suspicious of too much history, landlords keen to police his eating habits, and increasingly unreliable friends, not to speak of the imam at the local mosque whom the God-loving but not necessarily God-fearing Alif is anxious to avoid. History’s Angel is a darkly funny story that explores the wildly conflicting views on the country’s past currently in circulation.
Song of the Golden Sparrow by Nilanjan Choudhury
Guilty of the crime of sleeping on the job, the lowly yaksha Prem Chandra Guha, is banished to India on a punishment posting. During his stay here, he must write a sufficiently riveting history of the land of his exile. Fate brings him to Netarhat, an obscure town near the forests of Chhota Nagpur. It is here that he meets Manhoos, an orphaned urchin who repairs motor vehicles for a living, and his friend Mary, a feisty tribal girl from the nearby Santhal village. As they plunge from one adventure to another, a series of figures play key roles in their lives: the Naxal leader Charu Majumdar; Satyajit Ray, in his crisp dhoti and lipped accent; the ever-giggling Maharishi Mahesh Yogi; the powerful business magnate, Ameer Premji; and even a mysterious man with a 56-inch chest. Song of the Golden Sparrow is the story of Manhoos and Mary, and mirrored in their tumultuous lives, is the history of free India from 1947 to 2022.
The session will be moderated by Ramjee Chandran and followed by a Q & A with the audience.
Anjum Hasan’s latest novel is History’s Angel. She is the author of The Cosmopolitans, Neti, Neti: Not This, Not This, Lunatic in my Head, Difficult Pleasures, and a book of poems, Street on the Hill. She has been a Homi Bhabha Fellow, a Charles Wallace Writer-in-Residence and is currently a New India Foundation Fellow.
Nilanjan P. Choudhury’s most recent novel is Song of the Golden Sparrow. In 2018, he’d come out with Shillong Times, a coming-of-age story set against the insider-outsider conflict in Shillong in the 1980s. His debut novel, a mythological thriller titled Bali and the Ocean of Milk, was a best-seller. His subsequent writings include The Case of the Secretive Sister, a contemporary detective caper set in Bangalore and The Square Root of a Sonnet, a play on the history and science of black holes. Nilanjan grew up in Shillong and now lives in Bangalore with his family.
Ramjee Chandran is host of Explocity’s podcast, The Literary City. He has been a writer and magazine editor for over three decades. He plays jazz guitar at the professional level and says that he plays chess with unusual mediocrity.