In this darkly funny, sharply observed, and shockingly moving novel, Anjum Hasan deftly and delicately explores the life of Muslims in India and the force and consequence of remembering your people’s history in an increasingly indifferent milieu.
Alif is a middle-aged, mild-mannered history teacher, living in contemporary Delhi, at a time in India’s history when Muslims are seen either as hapless victims or live threats. Though his life’s passion is the history he teaches, it’s the present that presses down on him: his wife is set on a bigger house and a better car while trying to ace her MBA exams; his teenage son wants to quit school to get rich; his supercilious colleagues are suspicious of a Muslim teaching India’s history; and his old friend Ganesh has just reconnected with a childhood sweetheart with whom Alif was always rather enamored himself.
And then the unthinkable happens. While Alif is leading a school field trip, a student goads him, and in a fit of anger, Alif twists his ear. His job suddenly on the line, Alif finds his life rapidly descending into chaos. Meanwhile, his home city, too, darkens under the spreading shadow of violence.