I added Lunatic in my Head by Anjum Hasan to my Year of Reading (Global) Women list based on a recommendation from SouthAsiaBookBlog, because it is set in a part of India that I didn’t know much about, Meghalaya, off in the far northeast of the country.
Some interesting things I have learned about Meghalaya:
1. It is the rainiest place in the world.
2. It is predominantly Christian
3. The tradition in the local culture is that inheritance goes to the youngest daughter. This is because the youngest daughter is also responsible for taking care of her parents in their old age. That seems much more fair to me than many other cultures where the daughters take care of the parents but the sons get the inheritance!
4. Some villages make these amazing living tree root bridges that last for hundreds of years:
(#1-#3 are all relevant to the book. #4 is just neat.)
Lunatic in my Head hasn’t been published in the U.S. and the university library took a bit of time finding a copy for me. When it arrived, the first think I enjoyed about it was that it had come from a university where I studied in the past. The second thing I enjoyed was the blurb on the back of the book.
Instead of a plot summary, the back cover of the book contained a glossary. A glossary that poked a little bit of fun at those glossaries with the foreign words that readers might not understand by including words like “pregnant”. But at the same time serves as an actual glossary for the words that readers might not understand!
Lunatic in my Head tells the stories of three people living in Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya. There’s Sophie Das, a young girl who is struggling to deal with the upheaval in her family. (Apparently she gets a sequel all to herself. I’d like to read that because she is a pretty cool character.) Firdaus is a teacher with a really odd boyfriend who is trying to write her thesis and seems to be getting nowhere (I can sympathize with that last part!). The snippy conversations in the teacher’s lounge of Firdaus’s school were really funny and one of my favorite parts of the book. Finally there’s Anum who is studying for the civil service exams and obsessed with Pink Floyd. I found him a bit less interesting for the entirely personal reason that I’ve never cared much for Pink Floyd. (I didn’t even know that the title is a Pink Floyd reference.)
The three characters never really meet, but they live their lives in parallel, occasionally crossing paths in ways that sometimes seem like a bit of a stretch. All three are ‘outsiders’, they or their families have moved to Shillong from other parts of India. Even if they were born in the city they are still considered to be interlopers by members of the local Khasi tribes.
The conflict between the Khasis and the Dkhars (what the Khasis call the non-locals, helpfully defined on the back cover) is a major theme of the book. It seems like the book being from the perspective of three non-locals reflects the experiences of Anjum Hasan who grew up in Shillong. The result is that the perspective is a bit biased toward the outsiders. I never got a sense of understanding or sympathy for why the Khasi might resent the outsiders. (I’m assuming there’s some issues with economic inequality, but I don’t really know.)
Lunatic in my Head is a rainy book. I mean that in the physical sense- it rains a lot during the book, but also in a more descriptive sense. The whole atmosphere is rainy and everyone is waiting for the rain to stop.
This might be a hard book to find, but if you come across it, I recommend picking it up!