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Fiction Points: Jeet Thayil

Updated: Aug 30, 2023

Jeet Thayil

Jeet Thayil

Jeet Thayil is a poet, novelist, musician, and editor who currently resides in New Delhi. His debut novel Narcopolis (2011) depicts the lives opium users in 1970s Bombay. The book was awarded the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature in 2013 and shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2012 and the 2013 Hindu Literary Prize. Thayil has also published four collections of poetry – Gemini (1992), Apocalypso (1997), English (2004), and These Errors are Correct (2008), winner of the 2012 Sahitya Akademi Award for English. He wrote the libretto for the opera Babur in London and comprises half of the musical duo Sridhar/Thayil. Thayil holds a Masters of Fine Arts from Sarah Lawrence College.  

Two nuns and a penguin approach you at a bar, and you tell them you’re a writer. When they ask you what you write about, how do you answer?

“God,” I say to the penguin; to the nuns I say, “Boo!”

Points is a blog primarily for drug and alcohol historians. What do you think this audience would find most interesting about your work?

The language.

What led you to write about alcohol and drugs in the first place?

I thought it was a useful way to think about more important things.

How would you describe the way that drugs function in your work, whether in terms of thematic concerns or the choices you make about how to craft a story? Do you think that there are things you wouldn’t be able to explore as successfully were drugs not in your writing arsenal?

In Narcopolis, the experience of drug taking, particularly the experience of taking opiates, determines the form; by this I mean its circularity and digressiveness, the long sentences and unfolding paragraphs, the surreal mythic set pieces, the colliding dreams. The book I am currently working on is a different kind of beast. This is as it should be. If there are ideas I am unable to explore without using drugs as a perennial framing mechanism, I should change my job.

Thayil's Narcopolis

Thayil’s Narcopolis

What do you personally find most interesting about the way that drugs and alcohol work in your writing, and where do you see that interest leading you in future projects?

This is the kind of question I probably shouldn’t answer. It’s the kind of question it is not in a writer’s best interests to even think about. Process is something that shouldn’t be examined too closely. There is a severe penalty for breaking this rule: you may not be able to do it again.

BONUS QUESTION: Let’s hope that your novel Narcopolis gets made into a major motion picture. What song do you fantasize about hearing as the credits roll?

The Drowning Song” by Sridhar/Thayil


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