April 05, 2020
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Sophie’s Voice

Though somewhat languid in pace, the novel wins over the reader with its sincerity.

Sophie’s Voice
Neti, Neti—Not This, Not This
By Anjum Hasan
Roli Books | 288 pages | Rs 295

Anjum Hasan’s novel Neti, Neti: Not This, Not This is a tale of disaffection set in the glitz of India’s rising youth culture. Sophie Das, an engaging yet aimless young woman, is a transplant from Shillong to Bangalore, where, to her immense ennui, she transcribes the soundtracks of Hollywood movies at a call centre. Her life has all the trappings of freedom: she has her own apartment, and a sweet, if dull, boyfriend, and friends, cigarettes, beer and marijuana aplenty—as well as access to overstocked shopping malls.

Yet she is haunted by its emptiness. Behind the slick surface, everything is a mess, she discovers. Her friends are as confused as she is. Though her Bengali family never truly set root in Shillong, Sophie yearns to return there—and to belong—as the meaninglessness of her life in Bangalore disenchants her.

But Shillong, too, proves chimerical, and Sophie’s attempt to forge a permanent link to it—by way of an enigmatic love interest, Ribor—is fraught with its own complications.

Ultimately centering on Sophie’s struggle to find home, Neti, Neti paints an empathetic portrait of the unusually liberated—and unexpectedly lost—middle-class youth of the brave new India.

Though somewhat languid in pace, the novel wins over the reader with its sincerity. Hasan is a sympathetic writer who allows even her harshest critic to nestle gently in her prose. The novel’s strongest passages come in Sophie’s fleeting insights, such as the realisation that her story cannot end. It can just go on and on.

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