Jeet Thayil signs a book at the SIBF 2019. Kamal Kassim / Gulf Today
Imran Mojib, Special Correspondent
Noted Indian poet, novelist and musician Jeet Thayil asserted that the grand jury erred in their decision in splitting the 2019 Booker Prize between two authors. He stressed that the prize should have gone to Bernardine Evaristo and not to be jointly shared with Margaret Atwood.
Participating in a lively interaction at the SIBF 2019, Thayil said, “I was shocked and appalled when they split that prize because it’s actually against the rules. The jury this year actually broke the rules and insisted that the prize should go to two people, because they didn’t have the courage to give it to the writer that it should have gone to.”
“It should have gone to Bernadine. That is what I think. I think the jury failed in their job. They had one job and that was to give one winner the prize. They had 10 months to do it, they failed in their job and I think there is no excuse for it,” he added.
From questioning the reasoning behind the much believed ‘writer’s block’ to discussing the fine line between poetry and prose, the literary spoke his mind out at a lively interaction at the SIBF.
“I never face a writer’s block, I think it is an excuse that writers use when they are feeling lazy,” said the famed author whose first novel ‘Narcopolis’ was shortlisted for the 2012 Man Booker Prize for Fiction.
“I think it is a great thing to tell non-writers. The only people who believe this kind of lie, this great fiction are non-writers. How come there is no carpenter’s block, how come there is no tailor’s block. Take any profession, how come they don’t have blocks?”.
“Writing is a profession, you turn up every day at your desk and you get to work. That’s all there is to it. Don’t mystify it, don’t romanticise, don’t fictionalise it, don’t come up with stories like writer’s block,” the suavely dressed Thayil told a young poet in the audience, before elaborating on his migration from a journalist to a poet to a writer.
“I wrote five books of poetry throughout my teens, twenties and thirties and then at around the age of 40 I finally saw the light. I realised I can never make a living out of poetry, so that is when I began to write novels.”
Is there a marked difference between penning a poem and writing a novel? “I don’t make a huge difference between different kinds of writing. I don’t think of poetry as one thing and fiction something else and that there can be no overlap between those things.”
“So I hope there is some poetry in the fiction and I know that there is fiction in poetry,” said 60-year-old. “There is a lot of poetry in the novels I sometimes write poems and weave it into the novels and I work as a musician and write song lyrics which are often similar to poems. Been there don’t that really,” he said, adding that his father had a tremendous influence.
The author disclosed that Booker shortlist piled pressure on him while writing his second novel ‘The Book of Chocolate Saints’.
“The ‘Book of Chocolate Saints’ took six years to write because I had so much to prove. I set out to write an epic, a masterpiece and that is really the way of shooting yourself in the foot, because its loading yourself with so much pressure, a terrible to do something like this to yourself,” he said.
Like his earlier works, Mumbai will once again be the settings of his next novel, but he said, “It possibly will be his last Bombay-centric novel.”
“The whole novel is about two nights in the city and it is really a portrait of self-destruction and grief. But I really don’t want this to sound grim because actually it is a kind of a black comedy. It is a comedy, really,” said Jeet.
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