Book Talk: Booker nominee Thayil offers bleak Bombay portrait

Thu Oct 11, 2012 5:56am EDT
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By Anuja Jaiman

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Jeet Thayil, one of the nominees for the 2012 Man Booker Prize for the year's best novel in English, paints a stark portrait of Mumbai, or Bombay as he calls it, in his debut novel "Narcopolis".

Thayil is a poet and musician who has been writing poetry since he was 13. His novel takes the reader through the Mumbai drug world's smoky alleys and features the musings of opium addicts in the late 1980s - a situation that Thayil, a former opium addict himself, knows well.

Thayil spoke with Reuters about his deep relationship with Bombay, his addiction and how this book came about.

The Man Booker prize will be announced Oct 16.

Q: What is your connection with Bombay?

A: "I went to school there as a boy. I went to St. Xavier's. My family left for Hong Kong when I was eight where my father was working as a journalist. Then I went to school in New York and then came back to Bombay in 1979 and joined Wilson College. In all, I've lived in Bombay for almost 20 years."

Q: Does this make you feel strongly about the city?

A: "Bombay does that to people. It makes a (connection) with you. It makes it difficult for you. It bludgeons you. I've been reading about that area, Shuklaji street. It is disappearing now — Kamatipura, Shuklaji street, (the) entire area between Mumbai Central and Grant Road is disappearing, being bought away by real estate sharks who are buying up all the broken-down houses and making tall buildings. So very soon that entire district will disappear, and with it a million stories. A look of Bombay will go... a certain character will go. Those people who live there now of course won't be able to afford to live there.   Continued...

Indian writer Jeet Thayil poses for a picture at his residence in New Delhi October 3, 2012. REUTERS/Mansi Thapliyal