Authors who claim they write for themselves and not in keeping with what readers would like to read are usually telling a lie, says Jeet Thayil, Delhi-based poet and novelist, who was in the city for a reading from his first work of fiction, Narcopolis, on Monday.
The book, whose reading was moderated by HT Mumbai editor Soumya Bhattacharya at Fountain’s Kitab Khana bookstore, is set in the underground opium dens of Mumbai in the 1970’s and 80’s.
“I wanted to give the reader an idea of what the city was like in the 80’s. It was a time that is almost impossible to conceive now, because the city was slower, kinder and gentler,” said Thayil, who initially intended to write the book as a memoir and draws heavily from his own experiences as an addict in Mumbai in his younger years.
“Spending 20 years on one kind of addiction was not very productive; it was quite a waste of time,” he added.
Thayil worked for five years on Narcopolis and consciously tried to give the plot the pace of a thriller.
He also uses elements of magic realism to create the effect of an opium-induced state of being.
“Magic realism is a term that has fallen into disrepute but it can be pleasurable to read in parts,” said Thayil, who believes writing prose is not very different from writing poetry.
“To me, it’s all writing. I work very hard on my sentences and have brought what I learnt from my poetry into my prose.”
Although the book is peppered with literary references, Thayil claims he has consciously attempted to make the book accessible. “I wanted to make it a book that the non-literary reader would enjoy.”