Reflections on Writing: Jeet Thayil

Reflections on Writing: Jeet Thayil

Thayil says, most of his books run the theme of the warp and weft of life and death and the shadow and light it casts on a man. A candid chat with Jeet Thayil on the sidelines of his new book reveals more…

'These Errors Are Correct' (2008), 'English' (2004 ), 'Apocalypso' (1997) and Gemini (1992) list as his celebrated poetry anthology. His first novel, was Narcopolis (2012), and won the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature and was also shortlisted for the 2012 Man Booker Prize and the Hindu Literary Prize, among others. Thayil is now out with his latest, Low, that documents a man's loss and time, he visits a metropolis in search of oblivion and a dangerous drug.

I jumped headlong into asking him about his writing process and of the luminescent quality of his writing, around the themes of deep love, grief, regret and loss, that bind most of his work. My first question yielded no answer, of sorts. 'Why deconstruct a writing process and spoil the magic. You'll be doing great harm to the beauty of the technique.' Said Thayil. Well, an answer but not what I was looking at digging up. An interviewer's trap that I must avoid falling into, note to self.

Warming up to my inquisitiveness further upon the question of chiselling his sentences to razor sharp finesse. 'I like to read such sentences when I am reading any other book also. Therefore, I like to work on my sentences and their construction'. The devil is indeed in the detail, where Thayil is concerned. I further enquire about not taking his reader for granted, if he believes in leaving blank spaces in interpretation as he does in most of his writings. 'I hate to take my reader for granted or talking down to a reader. I hate it myself when authors that I read, do so. I am not a believer in oversimplification, of either language or thought. I would like to think that they too are involved in the process as much I am invested in writing it.'

That for me as a reader is surely more delightfully challenging than being able to gauge all that is coming my way on the next page, or even in the next line. However, isn't there then a risk of being broad brushed an elitist writer, using a language and style, that appeals to a certain seasoned reader? Is there such a thing as losing probable readership? 'Possibly', shares a volte face Thayil, 'But that's not my target also, and the book does find readership.' There that settles it then.

Thayil admits that most of his books run the theme of the warp and weft of life and death and the shadow and light it casts on a man. 'When you experience something deeply personal with a great emotional impact its bound to surface and colour your writing. In the middle of all this is hope.'

That is a great footnote to end on!

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