Jeet Thayil

Indian writer

Jeet Thayil (born October 13, 1959) is an Indian poet, novelist, librettist and musician. He is most famous as a poet and is the author of four collections. His first novel, Narcopolis, which won the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, was also shortlisted for the 2012 Man Booker Prize and the Hindu Literary Prize.

Writing badly will make you ill

Quotes edit

  • Yet, this is a small price I have had to pay for seeking to uphold the freedom of speech and expression.
    • On his facing a case filed against him along with three other authors for reading out portions of Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses during last year’s lit fest,
    • Mohammed Iqbal, in: "Jeet Thayil wins DSC Prize for South Asian Literature"

Jeet Thayil on why 'Where are you from?' is a complicated question for all of us edit

In: Jeet Thayil on why 'Where are you from?' is a complicated question for all of us,, 24 July 2013.

  • I was born in the south of India but I've never lived there. I went to school in Bombay, and in Hong Kong and in New York. But the place I've lived in the most is Bombay, because I've been there at various stages of my life.
    • On his being asked Where was he born?
  • Because that's where I live, and have lived for a few years now. I wouldn't say in food tastes, for instance, that I'm Indian. I would say I'm Chinese, food-wise. That's the food that I like to eat on a daily basis." It's common for people to be a mix of cultures, rather than having one specific identity.
    • To a question as to his cultural identity
  • It had people from all over the country and the world. The great thing about Bombay as a city was it was a magnet for anybody with talent, or ambition or hunger, or beauty, or intelligence. If you had any of these things and you wanted to make something of yourself, you went to Bombay and the city would reward you. I think all of that changed in 1992, when the last big riots happened in Bombay between Hindus and Muslims. Now when I go back to the city and I look at it, I can see the kind of profound impact that those riots had, and how it's changed the character of the city, and in such a profound way that I don't think it will ever change back to what it was before '92.
    • On the variety of characters portrayed in his Narcopolis.
  • It would be nice if things changed in the sense that they became more cosmopolitan, more inclusive, wider rather than narrower, with a kind of a view towards the future and a view towards many different kinds of people and people from different cultures living together. Because that's what a city really is about...That's the beauty of a great city. And the sad thing is, there was a time when you thought Bombay had it.
    • On the cultural change
  • I could feel my colour. I could feel the way people looked at you, and the way they talked to you. Now, though, because of the mixing of cultures, it seems like some kind of brilliant social experiment...In some ways it seems to me the city of the future.
    • In the cultural scene in London
  • You may lose something, but you gain a double perspective, a double vision. Especially in terms of writing, or in terms of art, I think it's tremendously useful.
    • On the intermingling of cultures

Jeet Thayil: Confessions of an Indian Opium-Eater edit

Interview with Monisha Rajesh in: Jeet Thayil: Confessions of an Indian Opium-Eater,, 2 December 2012

  • A lot of people misspelt the title of the book and called it Necropolis, but I’m fine with that, because the title is a play on that and it is a city of the dead. Narcopolis is a necropolis. Bombay disappears and a lot of the characters die with it. Throughout the book, opium disappears and heroin arrives and the last few chapters point at the future, to what Bombay will be. You can make an accurate educated guess as to what it will be in the future.
  • Indian reviewers don’t read books. They have two days to produce 800 words. They read the prologue and then skim a few pages, then they read all the other reviews. If the first two are negative, you can be sure they will all be negative. If the first two are good, the rest will be good. It’s that low-level, that pathetic. It takes a kind of confidence for a reviewer to have their own opinion about a book. And a lot of people here just don’t care about literary novels.
  • A friend from Hong Kong had turned up in Bombay and took me to an opium den in Crawford Market. I walked in and saw this room with three pipes. Everything happened at floor level. It was like a bubble: Bombay noise and heat out there, 19th-century people lying and smoking in here, absolutely self-contained. I couldn’t look at that and not think of it as a piece of literary installation art. I walked in the door and I was hooked. I smoked that day, and loved it and went back. A month or so later I got an aerogramme from my friend saying, “Jeet, get your ass out of that den.”
  • The thing about opium is that it makes you vomit. You cook the original raw sticky pellet against the bowl of the pipe. And for the first three or four months, you puke. But it’s a clean very easy puke, not like alcohol. You could be walking down the street talking to a friend, turn, puke and keep going. But you do that a lot for the first few months. It takes devotion to become an addict to opium and heroin. You have to keep doing it to get through it. I lost a lot of weight. But the payback is huge. It is pure pleasure. There is a reason why opiates are used as a painkiller: they make you feel better. They’re designed to make you feel better.
  • Opium use is a quick way of showing a person’s character. Within months some people would be stealing from family and friends, but there were people who never did that kind of thing. I used my salary to finance my habit.
  • My life hadn’t fallen apart. I kept my jobs going, I had girlfriends, I had money, I had a house, I had a car, I had all those things. But I got Hepatitis C from injecting government morphine. I started injecting in 1982, but it took 25 years for the symptoms to show. That was a complete wake-up call. As soon as I found out, I quit everything, including my job in New York, and came to India to be a writer. I started working on the book, and lived very cleanly. I even quit drinking for nine years. It wasn’t easy to do. But just knowing that my time was limited was enough. Hepatitis C will eventually turn into liver cancer. Everybody is dying, by the way. The difference is that I know it, and you don’t. We live in that kind of world. And knowing it has focused me and made me do things that I would probably have put off for another ten years.
  • I’ve spent a lot of time in London over the last few years and I liked the idea of the Mughal emperor Babur meeting with modern-day disaffected youth and talking to them about their actions. He was a sharp literary critic who could be very sweeping and cruel about poetry if he thought it was bad poetry, and he said some fantastic things that I quoted word for word in the opera. I read the Baburnama – the memoirs of Babur – and quoted lines from it. “Writing badly will make you ill.” What a beautiful thing to say. I read that book and I thought, how dramatic! If he had been a figure in western history it would have been an opera. War, murder, love, tragedy, poetry. It always jumped out at me as something worth doing.
  • We didn’t know that right before us Hari Kunzru and Amitava Kumar had just read from The Satanic Verses in a separate session. The minute I finished, people were queuing for me to sign copies of Narcopolis. But we were taken to this room where Hari and Amitava were sitting and we weren’t allowed to leave. There was a lawyer, there were police on site and they threatened to close down the festival which made all of us feel like shit. I was full of remorse, because the directors are our friends and we knew how much work they had put into it, but I don’t think we were really in trouble. Even though we were told to make ourselves scarce.

Narcopolis edit

In: Narcopolis, Faber & Faber, 31 January 2012

  • You've got to face facts and the fact is life is a joke, a fucking bad joke, or, no, a bad fucking joke.
    • In: p. 23
  • My religion is no way of knowing me. Mine is a way of knowing me. When I pray I feel I'm doing something clean. But why pray so the whole neighbourhood hears your prayers? Why use microphones?
    • in: p. 174

About Jeet Thayil edit

  • He leaves the reader with a realization. The line between those born with choices and those not so lucky is very thin. The side of the divide you’re born on is purely random.
    • Savita Iyer, Ahrestani in: "Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil Dens and iniquity"
  • Our choice was not easy and we had intense deliberations about themes, styles and genre of novels.
    • Mohammed Iqbal in: "Jeet Thayil wins DSC Prize for South Asian Literature"
    • K. Satchidanandan on making the selection of Nacriopolis for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature-2013

External links edit

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