I spent some time talking with Jeet Thayil, whose book on Mumbai and opium culture is a contender for this year’s Man Booker Prize, which will be awarded on Oct. 16. You can read the interview that we published on the Reuters news wire. Here are some excerpts:
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.
Q: In an interview you used the word “seductive” for Bombay. In “Narcopolis”, words seem to come from under a cloud of smoke. Is there a parallel you have drawn between opium and Mumbai?
A: “That’s kind of hinted at in the book where the change from Bombay to Mumbai takes place … It’s the change from this old 19th century romantic, glamorous, quiet, slow world of opium to the quick, brutal, modern, degrading world of cheap heroin.
And here are some parts that we saved exclusively for India Insight:
Q: Is this book a tribute of sorts to Mumbai?
A: Definitely. It is also the opposite of a tribute. I don’t think it would be possible to write that kind of a portrait without feeling deeply for the city, feeling love for the city. But there is also a very ugly side to the city that you can see in the pages of the book, and the future that it points at, it is clear there is more ugliness is coming. It is horrifying. It is still a city where you get a sense of brotherhood and community, but also there is more and more a feeling of fearfulness and the kind of communication that happens between people is based on which community you belong to. People want to know that the first thing, and then tailor their speech accordingly. That’s why they always ask what your name is – your complete name.