Anjum Hasan
(India, 1972)   
Anjum Hasan

Anjum Hasan writes poetry, fiction and criticism in English. Her first book of poetry, Street on the Hill, was published in 2006. Her poetry has been published in various journals and anthologies, including Reasons for Belonging, Confronting Love and Give the Sea Change and It shall Change. She freelances for various publications, including Outlook Traveller, Tehelka and the Hindu Literary Supplement. She grew up in Shillong and now lives in Bangalore where she works at the India Foundation for the Arts.

The landscape in the greater part of Hasan’s poetry is the north eastern town of Shillong in the hill state of Meghalaya. The poetry brings various local dramatis personae to life in a series of deeply attentive vignettes: the sports good shop owner with his tattooed arms, mothers “who take in everything with the detachment of artists”, the soft-spoken pakoriwallah, the neighbourhood fakir, families who cannot “live outside books”, the waiters in the Chinese restaurant “stoned from doing nothing”.

There is deep longing in these poems – longing for a place where time is never in short supply, for a world remote from the mundane prose of the ‘plains’ (that “naked howling word, a treeless stony word”), for a world of sloping roofs, houses on stilts, the “dark green anonymity” of cherry trees, for March wind and winter dark and “gutters choked with orange peels”.

But there is also an awareness of the limitations of place and the tyranny of the familiar: “the patch of lawn, the empty clothesline”, the smell of “eternally frying onions”, the spectre of boredom, of ordinariness, dreams of “of cities unvisited,/ unknown and unknowable affairs,/ people with never-fading lipstick and/ confident gestures”.

There is warmth and self-implication in these poems, a wry affection for “other people like us/ who feel they are growing through the roof of this town”. And yet, interestingly, the town is never smudged into mere locale, and its people never flattened into the simply quaint. The poet acknowledges worlds within worlds: the unventilated opinions of the shop owner, the unexplored world behind Mawlai’s “netted curtains”. She is both inhabitant and observer, humane insider and wondering outsider. This endows this first book of poetry with a depth and richness of perspective that make for compelling reading.

© Arundhathi Subramaniam


Street on the Hill, Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi, 2006


Sawnet: Links to some writing by Anjum Hasan.

Himal South Asian: Three poems by Anjum Hasan

The Hindu: Review of Street on the Hill


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