Narcopolis

Only the rich can afford surprise and/or irony. The rich crave meaning. The first thing they ask when faced with eternity, and in the fact the last thing, is: excuse me, what does this mean? The poor don’t ask questions, or they don’t ask irrelevant questions. They can’t afford to. All they can afford is laughter and ghosts. Then there are the addicts, the hunger addicts and rage addicts and poverty addicts and power addicts, and the pure addicts who are addicted not to substances but to the oblivion and tenderness that substances engender. An addict, if you don’t mind me saying so, is like a saint. What is a saint, but someone who has cut himself off, voluntarily, voluntarily, from the world’s traffic and currency? The saint talks to flowers, a daffodil, say, and he sees the yellow of it. He receives its scent through his eyes. Yes, he thinks, you are my muse, I take heart from your stubbornness, a drop of water, a dab of sunshine, and there you are with your gorgeous blooms. He enjoys flowers but he worships trees. He wants to be the banyan’s slave. He wants to think of time the way a tree does, a decade as nothing more than some slight addition to his girth. He connives with birds, and gets his daily news from the sound the wind makes in the leaves. When he’s hungry he stands in the forest waiting for the fall of a mango. His ambition is the opposite of ambition. Most of all, like all addicts, he wants to obliterate time. He wants to die, or, at the very least, to not live.
—  Jeet Thayil, from Narcopolis

anonymous asked:

hi love!!! just wanted to drop in and say how much i love your book recs tag - i've rediscovered my passion for reading bc of your suggestions and it's rly something i'm grateful for so thank you <3 on another note, do you have any recs for ya lit novels w/ south asian protagonists?

im so happy for you!! as for book recs (im relying on wikipedias definition of which countries are part of south asia, if thats ok. i’ll make a note of where theyre all set/where the characters are from too though so you can pick and choose):

some i have marked as to read are:

allisunargents has a list here too of books by poc authors/with poc characters that will probably have a few more on. i hope this helps!

p.s. you might want to be wary of the books written by white authors on this list (ive marked two that im thinking might be a problem) if in doubt go for the ones written by an author from the country the book is set in

edit (here are some more)

there are also a couple of lists on goodreads: south asian fiction, pakistani authors, set in india & fiction by women (i just searched south asia in the lists)

News. Glorious News.

It’s been a while, my lovely Bathursty admirers, and I can only apologise. Here’s a wee round up of what’s going on:

RB has been in Dublin, starting filming on Mrs Brown’s Boys D'Movie. No word yet on how Irish he’ll be in it ;)

Speaking of films, Narcopolis (previously known as Dreck - this film’s changed its name more times than Prince…) is being finalised and I believe they’re sorting out a distribution deal after a very successful Kickstarter so with any luck, Robert’s (sci-fied up) face will be gracing a cinema screen near you in the very near future.

Meanwhile, on the small screen, Toast of London finally returns this week for a full series, and that means more of Ed Howzer-Black! That’s Sunday 20th, Channel 4, 10.40pm SAVE THE DATE.

Robert’s celebrity antique roadshow thingy (… Um, I believe they look at antiques, I hope no one’s suggesting he is one howverydareyou) was filmed in aid of Children in Need, which means it will no doubt be on very soon indeed.

And lest we forget, Dracula is due later this month (Sky Living in the UK, I believe) with Lord Thomas Davenport. Who may or may not be dissolute, just sayin’.

What Downton? Edith and Anthony are totally loved up and living happily ever after LALALALA ICAN'THEARYOU.

An addict, if you don’t mind me saying so, is like a saint. What is a saint but someone who has cut himself off, voluntarily, voluntarily, from the world’s traffic and currency? The saint talks to flowers, a daffodil, say, and he sees the yellow of it. He receives its scent through his eyes. Yes, he thinks, you are my muse, I take heart from your stubbornness, a drop of water, a dab of sunshine, and there you are with your gorgeous bloom. He enjoys flowers but he worships trees. He wants to be the banyan’s slave. He wants to think of time the way a tree does, a decade as nothing more than some slight addition to his girth. He connives with birds, gets his daily news from the sound the wind makes in the leaves. When he’s hungry he stands in the forest waiting for the fall of a mango. His ambition is the opposite of ambition. Most of all, like all addicts, he wants to obliterate time. He wants to die, or, at the very least, not to live.
—  Jeet Thayil, Narcopolis

Narcopolis

Jeet Thayil

ISBN 0571275761 

Wait now, light me up so we do this right, yes, hold me steady to the lamp, hold it, hold, good, a slow pull to start with, to draw the smoke low into the lungs, yes, oh my… Shuklaji Street, in Old Bombay. In Rashid’s opium room the air is thick with voices and ghosts: Hindu, Muslim, Christian. A young woman holds a long-stemmed pipe over a flame, her hair falling across her eyes. Men sprawl and mutter in the gloom. Here, they say you introduce only your worst enemy to opium. There is an underworld whisper of a new terror: the Pathar Maar, the stone killer, whose victims are the nameless, invisible poor. In the broken city, there are too many to count. Stretching across three decades, with an interlude in Mao’s China, it portrays a city in collision with itself. With a cast of pimps, pushers, poets, gangsters and eunuchs, it is a journey into a sprawling underworld written in electric and utterly original prose.

Sonnet

God & dog & dice & day
Live forever, like Man.
Nothing dies; no way, I say.
The world turns according to plan,

Everything endlessly recycled
Into endless Life:
The way you laugh & say, ‘Like hell,’
This fly, this light, his gone young wife,

All are alive and will always live,
Here, or elsewhere.
So - open your arms to me, give

Me the scent of your skin & clean hair,
Hold me, your lost brother,
Love me so we live forever, everywhere.  

“This chooth country, cunt country, how the fuck are you supposed to live here without drugs? Look at the Gujaratis, chooths, we all know this, kem cho choothiyas. Human calculators, you can’t even talk to them without giving them cash, they’re such accomplished chooths. And the Kashmiris, complete chooths, offer them your hand, they’ll take your ass. It’s their nature; they can’t help it. And what about the Madrasis, all those Keralites and Kannadigas and so on? Chooths, undu gundu choothiyas, idli dosa choothiyas, nothing personal, but it’s true, you know it and I know it. And Punjabis, do I even have to mention Punjabis? Number one chooths, the Punjus. They’ll eat and drink with you and all the while they’re measuring you for a coffin. Bengalis? Bengalis are beyond your average category of choothiyadom, they’re chooths of the highest order, first-quality bhodrolok choothiyos, who invent new levels of choothiyaness daily. Followed closely, as in everything, by the Oriyas, who are more in the league of chooth wannabes. But none of them approach the level of choothiyahood perfected by the Sindhis, who are the world’s most sophisticated chooths, inventors and tweakers of the choothiya’s guidebook, in short, chooth perfectionists, true masters of the genre. As for the Christians, the Anglos and Goans, chooths, as you know, unquestionably chooths, though they’ll act as if the word has never left their lips or entered their brains. And the UPites and APites, they’re criminals to a man, born criminals, you can’t trust them with a pencil. Then there are the chooths in waiting and the chooths by association, such as the Parsis and the tribals. Now that may seem like an odd chooth combo, but it’s not. They are exactly alike in at least one way, they act like they aren’t chooths, but they are, deep inside they are utter chooths. The only non-chooths in the entire country are Maharashtrians. I grant you there’s been some degrading of the rule in recent times but at least with Maharashtrians what you see is what you get: islands of sanity in a sea of chooths.”
-Jeet Thayil, “Narcopolis”

Jeet Thayil: the ex-junkie shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize

First published in The Times: 13 October 2012

 

Jeet Thayil leans against the soft stomach of a woman and her right breast settles on the top of his shaved head, which gleams with the rich red-brown of a freshly shelled conker. The naked woman is, in fact, a pencilled outline of his partner, Divya, which he drew on the wall around her silhouette one night. He jumps up suddenly. “Let me just go and feed the fish a little bit.” He kneels down by Robert and Elizabeth — named after Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop — and takes a pinch of food from inside a skull. “It’s so teenage, I know.”

 

Teenage perhaps, but the rest of his flat in Delhi is wonderfully infantile. Wax crayon covers the yellow walls with drawings and soundbites, including, “It’s OK to eat people, they don’t have any feelings” and “I cried and cried a little bit. Then I said, oh, OK, fuck it”.

 

A little teenage, a little infantile but, at 53 years of age, the poet, musician, librettist and Man Booker-prize nominee looks no older than 30. Wearing jeans and a fitted white shirt, open to reveal a well-toned chest, he looks relaxed despite having been pinned down for the past hour by the owner of a local bookshop who forced him to sign a tower of copies of Narcopolis.

 

 Eighteen months ago it was a different story. Narcopolis had been rejected by every Indian publisher. It was grabbed by Faber in the UK, which distributed the book in India via Penguin India, which had also turned it down, and it met vicious criticism. “I was destroyed,” says Thayil in a manner so measured that you have to quieten your own breathing to catch the nuances of a voice designed to recite poetry. “But I knew the reviews would be bad, because Indian reviewers don’t read the books.”

 

The UK critics were much warmer. “I realised Western critics had actually read the book, which at that point was hugely emotional. I felt it was a good book but I also knew it was full of brutality, grime and ugliness, as well as beauty. People feel upset when they read it, and there is a reaction to it, and there should be.”

 

Thayil first heard about the Man Booker on Twitter. Did it feel like two fingers up to the publishers and critics who had turned it down? He looks long and hard through his giant black glasses before whispering: “Absolutely.”

 

The shortlist comprised books with themes including old age, memory and loss. “Memory and loss, for sure,” Thayil says, “but Narcopolis’s themes are death, God and addiction. Most of the characters die and the book is full of ghosts who disappear and keep coming back.Narcopolis is a necropolis.” Thayil’s wife, Shakti Bhatt, died of heart complications in 2007, aged 26, while he was writing the book, “so the idea of death is very obvious”, he murmurs.

 

In addition to his poetry and his role as the lead guitarist in the band Sridhar/Thayil, Thayil has written the libretto for Babur in London, an opera about exploring multi-faith in Britain. But why did it take him until his fifties to write the novel that stems from his own “embedded research”? “I was a journalist and a junkie for 20 years, but I was a hardworking junkie. Heroin doesn’t affect your brain. It doesn’t touch your thinking. It’s purely physical.”

 

Thayil arrived in Mumbai, aged 18, to study literature, living 25 minutes from Shuklaji Street, the centre of the opium trade, where he encountered his first den. “It was like a bubble, all the Bombay noise and heat out there, and in here, 19th-century people lying and smoking, all absolutely self-contained. I couldn’t look at that and not think of it as a piece of literary installation art.”

 

It’s almost midnight and Thayil jumps up to go and buy a bottle of wine. Divya comes in from the next room and smiles at him like a naughty school kid. “You know you’re not supposed to,” she scolds. “Have you told her why?”

 

In 2002, while undergoing a methadone programme in New York, Thayil passed an Aids test, but discovered he had contracted Hepatitis C from sharing needles. It was the wake-up call he needed. “I quit everything: my habit, my job in New York, and I came to India to be a writer. I started working on the book and began to live cleanly.”

 

Hepatitis C is progressive, resulting in liver cancer. “Everybody is dying. The difference is that I know it, and you don’t. Knowing it has made me do things that I would probably have put off for another ten years. It was both the best and the worst day when I found out I had Hepatitis C.” He has even dedicated the book to it.

 

Thayil is two months away from finishing his next novel, The Book of Chocolate Saints, based on Newton Xavier, a character in Narcopolis, but assures me that the only things he’s now addicted to are poetry and coffee.

Narcopolis, by Jeet Thayil. Faber and Faber, 304pp, £12.99. To buy this book for £10.99

The song stayed in her head for days, but the message meant nothing to her. All she saw a group of rich kids smoking charas in the mountains. She saw their beauty and she heard their laughter. They didn’t work and yet they had plenty of money and friends and fashionable clothes and families who worried about them. Why were they so full of self pity? What were they rebelling against? Why didn’t they just admit it, that they liked to get high?
—  — Narcopolis, Jeet Thayil
She didn’t believe in culture. She didn’t believe in books. She didn’t believe in knowledge that die not benefit society as a whole. She believed that indiscriminate individual reading was detrimental to progress because it filled the populace with yearnings that were impossible to identify, much less satisfy. Societies with the highest literacy rates also had the highest suicide rates, she said. Some kinds of knowledge were not meant to be freely available, she said, because all men and women were not equipped to receive such knowledge in an equal and equally useful way. She did not believe in art for art’s sake; she did not believe in freedom of expression; she did not believe in her husband, whose stature as a novelist she regarded with suspicion mixed with shame. Despite her lifelong aversion to culture she would go to university because she wanted to be a teacher. Teaching was the noblest profession in the world, she said. It was selfless, revolutionary, and critical to the nation’s well-being. It concerned itself not with money, which was irredeemably dirty, but with the future of the mind.
—  Jeet Thayil, from Narcopolis
I’m driving past the beach and it’s still dark, the street all quiet and pretty before the freaks and the fuck-ups start their daily shit – right? – the ocean on my right, and that’s when she tells me to open the sunroof and she starts to sing, so loud you’d never believe that big voice was coming out of this small woman and all of a sudden I got it, you know? The words were in German, but I got it, the function of opera, I understood that it was the true expression of grief. I understood why she needed to stand and turn her face up as if she was expressing her sadness to God, who was the author of it. And for a moment I understood what it was to be God, to take someone’s life and ash it like a beedi. I thought of her life, her useful life, and I wanted to take it from her for no reason at all. And I drove that big car better than I ever had, the sky lightening, the clean water close by, and her voice carrying up to heaven. I wanted her to sing for ever. I thought, as long as she keeps singing, I’ll keep driving.
—  narcopolis - jeet thayil
The song stayed in her head for days, but the message meant nothing to her. All she saw a group of rich kids smoking charas in the mountains. She saw their beauty and she heard their laughter. They didn’t work and yet they had plenty of money and friends and fashionable clothes and families who worried about them. Why were they so full of self pity? What were they rebelling against? Why didn’t they just admit it, that they liked to get high?
—  Narcopolis, Jeet Thayil

The Burning Deck collaborates with Jeet Thayil (author of 2013 Booker Prize shortlisted Narcopolis) on guitar and vocals along with Katie Mackay on trumpet and vocals. A reinterpretation of Rabindranath Tagore’s ‘Where the mind is without fear’

Made with SoundCloud
An addict, if you don’t mind me saying so, is like a saint. What is a saint but someone who has cut himself off, voluntarily, voluntarily, from the world’s traffic and currency? The saint talks to flowers, a daffodil, say, and he sees the yellow of it. He receives its scent through his eyes. Yes, he thinks, you are my muse, I take heart from your stubbornness, a drop of water, a dab of sunshine, and there you are with your gorgeous blooms.
—  Newton Xavier, Narcopolis