Emerging from his den of opium

Poet Jeet Thayil is the only Indian in this year’s nominees for the Man Booker Prize. Hours before the results are expected, he tells us what the feeling is like

Published: 17th October 2012 12:40 PM  |   Last Updated: 17th October 2012 12:40 PM   |  A+A-


Emerging from the smoky darkness of addiction, Narcopolis unfolds its secrets smelling of opium, love, lust, death and god. For Jeet Thayil, whose debut novel made it to the prestigious league of Booker shortlist, remembering the past is, “hat it was like, not fiction or dead history, but a place you lived in once and never return to.” Having travelled enough through the smoky alleys and entranced himself into the seedy opium den, the writer paints stark portrait of a world he lived in for nearly two decades.

Without much of a preamble, Jeet, who wrote These Errors are Correct (poetry collection published in 2008), says it is hard to be autobiographical. “It’s not at all difficult to be fictitious,” adds Jeet who fell in love with poetry in the early years of his life.

He has penned two poetry collections, which evoked good response across the literary circles, and edited two volumes of short stories. Believe the author, it took him nearly five years to veer off the poetic path to give flesh and blood to his first novel.

Not many knew him when he wrote poems. The life-changer happened when the first endeavour with an unconventional plot gobbled the attention of the literary world.

However, there were not many encouraging reviews in India, but a confident Jeet takes it with a pinch of cynicism.

“I understand that they are living in a place of rage and envy. I have been there, a frustrated writer, who reviewed books he wished he had written. It’s easy to understand, though not easy to forgive. Most reviewers are displaying their own wounds; they expect compassion and understanding without offering any in return,” he says.

In reply to the argument that all Booker winning books are not of great literary value, he prefers to quote great American thinker Johnny Winter: “You cannot please everyone, so you got to please yourself.”

He thinks Indian-English writing is at a vital crossroads. “It is as interesting as writing from anywhere in the world. I think the next few years will be worth watching.”

His childhood memories revolve around his father, Padma Bhushan TJS George who influenced him to a great extent. “I have been influenced by the fact that he is extremely single-minded, not to mention ruthlessly disciplined when it comes to writing. He is at his desk every day, whatever chaos may be happening around him. I have found that to be a useful model.”

So how does it feel like being in the world of Booker?

“It has been a life-changer. Until you are shortlisted for the ‘Man Booker Prize’ you don’t realise how big a deal it is and how far-reaching the consequences are. This is true for every writer on the list. It is thrilling in many ways and daunting too.”

Quiz him about his chances of winning the coveted prize, pat comes reply, “I am an outsider in the race, at least according to the bookies.”



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