2nd Jun 2011
For Books’ Sake Talks To: Daisy Hasan
We caught up with Daisy Hasan, author of The To-Let House, at Asia House‘s recent Festival of Asian Literature (more on that tomorrow), for a natter about gender, identity, literature and Salman Rushdie:
FBS: Do you think those growing up amongst political conflict respond to the world differently to those who don’t? How is this?
DH: Yes I do, those growing up with political – or personal – conflict around them react differently to their surroundings. I grew up around conflict, so in my own experience I think there is a kind of detachment at some level, or a sense of insecurity, you never feel at home in the world. That is one of the consequences of growing up with conflict around you.
FBS: Is this a response that is best suited to literature as a form of expression?
DH: Absolutely. Literature gives you a fantastic platform to explore and unravel your own psyche. Also, speaking personally, you can go into the things that have influenced your own make up, your experiences and your responses to the world.
FBS: There seems to be an element of the fantastical about The To Let- House that I felt had some echoes of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, which was set shortly after India’s Independence from England. What do you think about that?
DH: For me the form is informed by the subject matter of smaller conflicts, rather than the result of a wider national search for identity. I’m not sure about Rushdie though, a reader might pick up influences or certain resonances, but obviously I’m not consciously trying to emulate him.
It is an interesting question though, how do you fictionalise stories about national identity at a smaller or a larger national level? Perhaps there is something in the fantastical or magical narrative that lends itself to these issues.
FBS: You have very entertaining and lyrical way of playing with words. Do you think today’s media has any affect on the way a writer employs language as either a seduction, or as a weapon?
DH: The constant barrage of images that we’re exposed to at the moment desensitises you at some level, so in that sense we’re at risk of losing our sensitivity towards conflict which could make us more inhumane in our responses to it.
Some people always have, and always will, write quite explosively, and not just about conflict. I can think of Arundathi Roy (author of The God of Small Things), for instance, she thinks a lot about the way she uses language and I think the idea of language as a weapon would very much apply to her. Effectively, she uses it as a tool for provocative political negotiation.
FBS: Is the search for identity a more significant process today than in Shakespeare’s time?
DH: I think it’s a perennial human quest. Perhaps we’re talking about it a lot more now. There are more studies on identity and it is being talked about in other disciplines, rather than just in humanities and social sciences.
So it has always been there but now has been separated out into something that is worthwhile for looking at on its own, independently. Our sense of identity is also challenged a lot more because of the current precarious political nature of the world.
Everyone is so anxious about their identity; there is the feeling that a sense of security is being encroached. So a lot more emphasis is put on origin and place. And because of globalisation we’re now in this situation where spaces replace places. Everything has become homogenised and we’re experiencing the loss of the local rooted culture.
FBS: There are some emotionally strong female characters in you novel whereas the male characters are more brutal and almost satirical. Yet the presence of female identity insecurities seems to outweigh that of the men. Is there a gender difference in the way we attempt to anchor our identity?
There is a character in the book, Ma, who is very dependent on her husband for her sense of identity, but I’ve contrasted her with other strong women characters. I would say they are flawed but emotionally strong in themselves.
My aim was to show how they negotiate their independence from men and hopefully they emerge stronger at the end of the book. At the end we see the most growth from the female characters. But not all of them; some find it very difficult to overcome their own insecurities.
Whereas in others you can see they work through this in the novel and they rely increasingly on themselves for strength. They’re willing to admit their humanity; they cry more easily, they’re more honest. But the men are flawed as well!