Author(s): Jeet Thayil
A rich and hallucinatory novel, set around a Bombay opium den, that follows a fascinating cast of flawed characters as the city transforms itself over three decades.
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.
I found this to be a strange and compelling novel about the drug trade in India and the lives of those who weave through it; including Rashid the owner of an opium house and Dimple the eunuch, who carefully prepares the pipes. Thayil has claimed to have lost 20 years to opium addiction, and there is a validity to the book’s hazy, hallucinogenic path from 1970’s opium dens to the harsher world of heroin addiction in present times. This is a confronting and sometimes uncomfortable insight into a world seldom so artfully expressed. Long listed for the Booker Prize in 2012. - Maclean
Man Booker Shortlist 2012
Jeet Thayil was born in Kerala, India, in 1959 and educated in Hong Kong, New York and Mumbai. He is a performance poet, songwriter and guitarist as well as a writer and has published four collections of poetry. He is the editor of The Bloodaxe Book of Contemporary Indian Poets (2008). He currently lives in Bangalore.