We have no literary culture in India: Jeet Thayil

Jeet Thayil

Quite and suave, author Jeet Thayil is all zen despite the hullabaloo created by Rahul Dravid's appearance for a session on Saturday evening at Jaipur's Diggi Palace. Even as we scuffle for a place for ourselves, the 50-something Kerala-born author calmly sits down with absolutely no expression on his face. On Friday, the announcement of DSC Prize for South Asian Literature had everyone in an anticipatory frenzy. "I am grateful and gratified," is all that the writer says with a straight face, when he is congratulated for being the first Indian recipient of the award (it is also his first award) for his book, Narcopolis (Penguin Books), which was also nominated for the 2012 Man Booker Prize.

The sprawling seven-page prologue of the book ó beginning with the words "Bombay, which obliterated its own history by changing its name and surgically altering its face, is the hero or heroine of this story..." ó is made up of exactly one sentence (lots of punctuations but no full stop until the very end). Well-known as an exceptional poet, Thayil's debut book delves into the fast-disappearing "Old Bombay" of the '70s, its underbelly and its opium.

Despite having lived in several places in India, Hong Kong and New York, it was only Mumbai that caught his imagination. "It's a city I know very well. If you've lived in Bombay at all, you'll see that the city blends in itself all the creative endeavours in such a way that many cities don't. It is a kind of a muse, even if it's demanding and perverse," he says.

While receiving the award on Friday evening, Thayil didn't hide his joy. "Writers like money. We don't have a job, but we have bills to pay," he said, after accepting the $50,000 (Rs 27.50 lakh) prize purse. The prize, however, was followed by his expectations of bad reviews in the country.

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