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Qayeenat gets cold feet on the eve of her art exhibition, and instead of following her dreams to become an artist, becomes an art critic instead. When she meets her ex-boyfriend, now famous artist Baban Reddy, his new work ‘Nostalgia’ echoes her own feelings for him.She wants ‘nothing less than the impossible – to cancel out the fifteen long years, to have him back.’ This is nostalgia, and while Qayeenat struggles to come to terms with her strong feelings for Baban, it soon becomes clear enough that while he is fond of her, Baban is not looking for anything more. She eavesdrops on a conversation between her best friend Sara and Baban, and in a hurt and furious moment destroys ‘Nostalgia’, and kills someone.
In a bid to escape, and search for a meaning deeper than her present gives her, Qayeenat decides to study a dance form in a small town Simhal and walks into a space that Baban’s installation would be nostalgic about. And discovers a world unlike her cosmopolitan one.
The canvas of Anjum Hasan’s The Cosmopolitans is wide and deep. She takes us on an external journey from Bangalore to Simhal (and places in between), from cosmopolitan to provincial lives, from money to the lack of it, and into Qayeenat’s internal world.
I did not quite connect with Qayeenat’s character, even though she is pretty unique. At 53, she is not whining about marriage, husband and kids. She is constantly questioning, evaluating, analyzing and trying to find her balance in the world changing around her, yet, she never quite became real for me.
My favorite character in the book has to be Sathi, Qayeenat’s ex-husband. His earthiness and unpretentiousness, ability to sift the wheat from the chaff, love for cheap whiskey, loyalty and staying true to his himself made him a very relatable character.
The Cosmopolitans is a social commentary – on art, on history and tradition, on government and religion, on unabashed capitalism and staying true to one’s calling and on the ever-changing social fabric of a country that lives in many centuries at the same time.
You may also want to check out other books by Anjum Hasan.Street on the Hill, Lunatic in my Head, Neti Neti and Difficult Pleasures.