After the success of his debut novel Narcopolis (2012), poet Jeet Thayil has turned to songwriting. A part of the Sridhar-Thayil duo, he is also cutting an album with his six-piece band called ‘Still Dirty’, which would perform at the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival 2015 on Thursday. At the sidelines of the festival, Thayil spoke exclusively with dna about life after Narcopolis and why he is putting off writing another novel.
“There is also a novel in the offing,” he said. “I’d better not talk about it. The last time I talked about it, I jinxed it a little. That’s writing. Writers tend to be a suspicious bunch. Obsession, anxieties, rituals, appalling discoveries about your worst inner recesses, hopefully, served up with black humour. The kind of humour that doctors share.”
Author Jeet Thayil says he wrote Narcopolis as a way of reclaiming Bombay’s history
Bombay. Mumbai. Bambai. City of secret yearnings, nascent dreams, timorous memory. Steeped in glamour and restless energy. Swathed in timeless magic and fairy lights. Beneath it all, her heart of darkness. Bollywood and brothels, paucity and opulence, despair and sanguinity, grime and purity—everything is allowed to exist, everyone is allowed to be and therein lies her beauty. Like a woman of the night who paints her face, sheds her skin and shrouds her soul as she flits from lover to lover, Bombay belongs to everyone because she is owned by no one at all.
Author Jeet Thayil has won the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature-2013 for his debut novel Narcopolis based on the theme of drug addiction destroying the poor, deranged and marginalised people in Mumbai during 1970s and 80s. He was presented the coveted prize at a ceremony in the ongoing Jaipur Literature Festival here on Friday.
The prize, carrying a cash award of $ 50,000, is given every year to an international author or shared with the translator for a work of fiction thematically linked to the South Asian region. Mr. Thayil is the first Indian to win the prize, running into its third year.
Narcopolis was also nominated for the Man Booker Prize in 2012. Fifty-three-year-old Thayil, one of the six shortlisted authors for the DSC prize, was born in Kerala and is also known as a performance poet and musician. He earlier worked as a journalist in New York, Mumbai and Bangalore and his poetry collection, These errors are correct, was given the Sahitya Akademi award for English last year.
Indian author Jeet Thayil’s debut novel “Narcopolis” is among five other works shortlisted on Wednesday for the USD 30,000 Man Asian Literary Prize.
The five novels showcasing the diversity and depth of writing from Istanbul to Tokyo were announced in Hong Kong, listing distinctive and celebrated writers for the first time in a region-wide context.
The shortlist, which includes writers from five different countries, champions a debut novelist alongside a Nobel laureate, translated work as well as original writing in English, and includes smaller regional publishers as well as larger international houses.
The other shortlisted novels, selected from a longlist of 15, are “Between Clay and Dust” by Musharraf Ali Farooqi (Pakistan), “The Briefcase” by Hiromi Kawakami (Japan), “Silent House” by Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk (Turkey) and “The Garden of Evening Mists” by Tan Twan Eng of Malaysia.
IT IS often the characteristic of good authors to dispel the image their readers might create for them. The affable and poised man living in a cosy Defence Colony flat does not fit the stereotype of the addict-turned-novelist that emerges from the pages of Narcopolis, a novel chronicling the opium-induced tribulations of lost souls in 1970s Bombay. As commentators wonder whether shortlisting for the 2012 Man Booker Prize a self-proclaimed “unknown poet” publishing a first novel was deserved or not, Jeet Thayil is candid enough to admit how proud and happy he is. “I’m not going to pretend to be cool about it,” he says.
In Narcopolis, all the characters echo Thayil’s past. “I wanted to show the grim, brutal reality of the Bombay I knew,” claims the author, “you don’t usually see that in books.” From Dom Ullis, the narrator and Thayil’s alter ego, to Dimple, the saint-like hijra prostitute finding solace in opium, the characters in Narcopolis share the same addiction, and the same sense of marginality and imprisonment within the walls of Shuklaji Street’s opium room.
It was important for Thayil to translate into writing the specific high and heightened awareness produced by opium. “As soon as you close your eyes, you are dreaming,” he says. “In a book about opium, you can’t have short sentences, they have to be long and dreamy.” Thus, despite the realistic focus on Bombay, Thayil constantly moves between reality and dream, the opium smoke blurring the line between the two.
Jeet Thayil’s novel Narcopolis, set in the Bombay of the 1970s and ’80s, has made it to the shortlist of the Man Booker Prize for Fiction. The happy news follows the cancellation of the Indian tour of Babur In London, the opera Thayil wrote with composer Edward Rushton. (Read Thayil’s thoughts on the cancellation, which was made on account of sponsors’ fears of offending religious sentiments, in a recently published op-ed here). In a phone chat from his home in Delhi, Thayil spoke to us about making the shortlist, capturing a fast-disappearing Mumbai, and his next project. Edited excerpts:
This year’s Man Booker Prize shortlist has been called, by The Guardian, a reversion from last year’s “quest for ‘readability’”. What do you make of the claims of many reviewers that Narcopolis is hard to read? I’m sure there were reviewers who never made it past the first few pages. In fact, it’s six-and-a-half pages, that first sentence, and I knew that there would be a certain kind of reader or reviewer who wouldn’t make it past that. There have been a few reviewers where it’s certainly that, all they talked about was the first sentence.
I knew a six-and-a-half page sentence would turn off certain readers, and that’s fine with me, because it’s that kind of book. In terms of the form of it, and certainly the subject matter, it’s not an easy book. Not the kind of easy reading that you think of when you think of an Indian novel in English. I knew there would be uncomprehending critics. Everyone has an opinion, and some people aren’t ashamed to voice it even if they’re uninformed.
Four years after Aravind Adiga’s famous “Guildhall triumph”, another Indian writer is in the race for the £50,000 Man Booker Prize: Jeet Thayil.
The noted 53-year-old Kerala-born poet and novelist has been shortlisted for this year’s award for his debut novel, Narcopolis, a dark tale about the opium and heroin dens of Mumbai thought to be based on his own experiences of what one critic described as the city’s “seedy underbelly”.
The novel has been hailed as a “blistering debut” with The Guardian comparing it to the likes of William Burroughs’s Junky and Thomas de Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater.
Mr. Thayil , who survived a cull of 12-strong longlist, will go head-to-head with such literary heavyweights as Hilary Mantel, a previous Booker winner, and Will Self.
Ms. Mantel, shortlisted for Bring Up the Bodies – a sequel to Wolf Hall which won a Booker in 2009 – was promptly installed as the bookies’ favourite, with Mr. Self a close second for his much-acclaimed Umbrella.
If Mr. Thayil goes on to win, he will join a select band of Indian or India-born Booker winners such as Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy, Kiran Desai and Aravind Adiga.
Others, who figure in the shortlist announced on Tuesday, are Tan Twan Eng (The Garden of Evening Mists), Deborah Levy (Swimming Home), and Alison Moore (The Lighthouse).
Author Jeet Thayil looks at today’s Indian society and culture from an unusual perspective. He spent two decades of his life as an opium addict, immersed in the dark underbelly of Bombay — now known as Mumbai.
A celebrated poet and a journalist, Thayil has just published his first novel, Narcopolis. The novel begins in the 1970s, with its narrator mesmerized with a grimy opium den. Readers are introduced to a desperate set of characters — including an opium dealer named Rashid and one of his clients Dimple, a eunuch and prostitute who grew up in a brothel. As time passes, Thayil reveals how all of Bombay is transformed by the brutal underworld culture.
Thayil explains that he struggles to reconcile the Bombay of his painful past with the booming city it has become. “Anybody who knew Bombay in those years, there’s no way you cannot [not] feel nostalgia for that city because it was a beautiful, laid back, liberated, liberal place,” he tells NPR’s Rachel Martin. “And these are all things that are impossible to find in the Bombay of today.”
Jeet Thayil, noted Kerala-born poet and novelist, has been long-listed for the 2012 Man Booker Prize for his debut novel Narcopolis, built around the opium and heroin dens of Mumbai.
The Guardian hailed it as a “blistering debut” likening it to William Burroughs’s Junky and Thomas de Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater.
A self-confessed former drug addict, Mr. Thayil is thought to have drawn on his own experiences of Mumbai’s “seedy underbelly,” as one critic put it. In an interview, he described Narcopolis as “Bombay’s secret history” as distinct from its “official” history of “money and glamour.”
“You can sanitise… as much as you like, but… can’t get rid of the grime,” he told the interviewer.
Mr. Thayil (53) is among 12 writers long-listed for the £50,000 Prize, arguably the most prestigious literary honour in the English-speaking world.
A shortlist of six will be announced in September, and the winner at London’s Guildhall on October 16.