Jeet Thayil’s Debut Novel “Nacropolis”
Jeet Thayil’s 2012 Man Booker Prize nominated debut novel, “Nacropolis”, is a book that centers on Bombay city, Drugs and a set of interesting characters. “Nacropolis” the book starts in Bombay of 1970s and ends in the Bombay (or Mumbai) of the mid 2000s. “Nacropolis” is divided into 4 books.
“Nacropolis” Book 1: “The Story of O”
Dom Ullis, a young middle class Christian from Kerala arrives in Bombay in the late 1970s. Dom starts to frequent the opium den owned by Rashid in Shuklaji Street, which is situated in Kamathipura, Asia’s second largest Red Light area. At Rashid’s opium den, Dom meets characters such as the eunuch (“hijra’) Dimple, who prepares the opium pipes, Newton Xavier Francis, an expatriate artist, Rumi, a violent, sadistic and racist businessman, “Bengali”, Rashid’s money manager.
Book 1 explores the background story of Dimple, who has the largest and most sympathetic role in the book. Book 1 deals with Dimple’s castration at age 9, and her child-surrogate father relationship with a Chinese refugee and opium dealer, Mr Lee. Dimple is named after the 70s Hindi film actress Dimple Kapadia. Later in the story, Rashid gives her a new name, Zeenat, after Zeenat Aman, another popular Bollywood actress from the 70s.
In the beginning of Book 1, Dom is the first person narrator of the story after which he disappears and reappears in the middle and the end of the book.
“Nacropolis” Book 2: “The Story of the Pipe”
This section of the book is about a dying Mr Lee and his life story that he narrates to Dimple. Mr Lee’s father used to be a writer in China until the Maoist government took offense to a book he wrote in 1957. On fleeing China, Mr Lee takes refuge in Bombay, a city he does not particularly like. This section of the book tells the story of Lee’s father, Lee’s love, his time in the army and his exile in Bombay. On his death, Mr Lee bequeaths his beautiful opium pipes to Dimple, who in turn takes them to Rashid and gains employment with him.
“Nacropolis” Book 3: “The Intoxicated”
This part of the book unfolds from the 1980s to the early 1990s. Addicts are switching from Opium to Heroin (“Garad”), which is now freely available. Rashid is forced to close his Opium den, but he makes an unsuccessful attempt to restart it. In 1993, communal riots break out between Hindus and Muslims. At this point Dom Ullis re-enters the narrative. He is now a Heroin addict and is planning on leaving Bombay. Before leaving he takes the destitute Dimple, who too is hooked to Heroin, to a Rehab center.
“Nacropolis” Book 4: “Some Uses of Reincarnation”
It is the year 2004 and Dom Ullis, who works as a proof reader for a pharmaceutical company, has returned to Bombay, which is now called Mumbai. Dom goes to meet Rashid and is surprised to find that Shuklaji Street has been transformed with new buildings, shops, restaurants. Rashid’s den has been transformed into an office used by his son Jamal. Jamal is a peddler of cocaine and ecstasy, the new drugs of choice. There is also a scene where Jamal takes his fiancé Farheen to a club. The book closes with Dom going through Dimple’s belongings and finding the opium pipes handed to her by Mr Lee.
The book starts and ends with the word “Bombay”.
In an interview, Jeet mentioned that he was influenced by Dostoyevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov” while writing “Nacropolis”. The characters of Dimple and Rashid are based on (to some extent) real life characters that Jeet met in Bombay’s opium den in the early 1980s.
Jeet Thayil’s “Nacropolis” has been shortlisted for the 2012 Man Booker Prize. The 5 other books shortlisted for the 2012 Booker are “Swimming Home” by Deborah Levy, “The Garden of Evening Mists” by Tan Twan Eng, “Bring up the Bodies” by Hilary Mantel, “The Lighthouse” by Alison Moore and “Umbrella” by Will Self.
Jeet Thayil Profile
- Jeet Thayil was born in a Christian family in Kerala in 1959. His father, T J S George, is a recipient of the “Padma Bhushan”, India’s third highest civilian honor. T J S George is a writer, biographer and political columnist. He was the founding editor of Asiaweek (Hong Kong). Jeet’s sister Sheeba Thayil is also a journalist.
- Jeet grew up in Hong Kong, Bombay, and New York City.
- Jeet spent 12 years as a journalist in Hong Kong, followed by 10 years in Bombay. He moved to New York from 1998 to 2004. In 2004, Jeet Thayil and his wife, Shakti Bhatt, returned to India and settled in New Delhi.
- Shakti Bhatt, Jeet Thayil’s wife, passed away on 31 March, 2007 in New Delhi, after a brief illness. She was only 27 when she died. Shakti Bhatt was an editor and a popular blogger.
- In addition to writing novels, Jeet is a published poet, a performance poet, a poetry editor and a songwriter.
- In addition to writing, Jeet Tayil is also a musician. He has performed with singer and songwriter, Suman Sridhar.
- Jeet struggled with alcohol and drug addiction for 20 years, before finally regaining control over it in 2002. Jeet has firsthand experience of Bombay’s opium dens.
- Jeet Thayil was one of four writers who read from “The Satanic Verses” at the Jaipur Literary festival in 2011, because Salman Rushdie could not attend the festival. “The Satanic Verses” is banned in India. Salman Rushdie was unable to attend because the Indian government could not guarantee his safety. Legal charges have been levied against Jeet for this incident.
- Jeet Thayil’s second novel is titled “Saint X“. The main character in this book is the artist from “Nacropolis”, Newton Pinter Xavier. The new book is set in New Delhi, New York, Bangalore and Paris.
- Jeet edited a collection of 56 Indian poets from different parts of the world for Fulcrum magazine. This has translated into a book called “60 Indian Poets: 1952-2007”.
- Jeet did his Bachelor of Arts (BA) from Bombay and did his Master of Fine Arts (MFA) from Sarah Lawrence College in New York.
Jeet Thayil Bibliography
Jeet Thayil Poetry Collection and Books
- These Errors Are Correct (2008)
- English (2004)
- Apocalypso (1997)
- Gemini (1992)
Jeet Thayil Fiction
Jeet Thayil, The Editor
- The Bloodaxe Book of Contemporary Indian Poets (2008)
- 60 Indian Poets (2008)
- Divided Time: India and the End of Diaspora (2006)
- Give the Sea Change and It Shall Change: 56 Indian Poets, Fulcrum (2005)
- Vox2: Seven Stories (1997)