. 20 Pearl Ruled p129 Rating 3 of fiveThe Publisher Says Jeet Thayil s luminous debut novel completely subverts and challenges the literary traditions for which the Indian novel is celebrated This is a book about drugs, sex, death, perversion, addiction, love, and god, and has in common in its subject matter with the work of William S Burroughs or Baudelaire than with the subcontinent s familiar literary lights Above all, it is a fantastical portrait of a beautiful and damned generation in a nation about to sell its soul Written in Thayil s poetic and affecting prose, Narcopolis charts the evolution of a great and broken metropolis.Narcopolis opens in Bombay in the late 1970s, as its narrator first arrives from New York to find himself entranced with the city s underworld, in particular an opium den and attached brothel A cast of unforgettably degenerate and magnetic characters works and patronizes the venue, including Dimple, the eunuch who makes pipes in the den Rumi, the salaryman and husband whose addiction is violence Newton Xavier, the celebrated painter who both rejects and craves adulation Mr Lee, the Chinese refugee and businessman and a cast of poets, prostitutes, pimps, and gangsters.Decades pass to reveal a changing Bombay, where opium has given way to heroin from Pakistan and the city s underbelly has become ever rawer Those in their circle still use sex for their primary release and recreation, but the violence of the city on the nod and its purveyors have moved from the fringes to the center of their lives Yet Dimple, despite the bleakness of her surroundings, continues to search for beauty at the movies, in pulp magazines, at church, and in a new burka wearing identity.After a long absence, the narrator returns in 2004 to find a very different Bombay Those he knew are almost all gone, but the passion he feels for them and for the city is revealed My Review I am really sorry I read this book immediately after The Yellow Birds wrung me out, shook me wrinkle free, and threw me in the dryer on the Sahara in the Summer setting I didn t have it to give There s a weird and wonderful book in here I am too tired to go look for it.I lost the will to live in the book s world at the end of book two, The Story of the Pipe Actually, I lost it on p125 Dimple made Rashid s pipe the way she always did, calm and silent, her hands steady, while the tai drank her tea, made her speech, and left That afternoon, Rashid took Dimple to a room on a half landing between the khana and the first floor, where his family lived There was a wooden cot, a chair and washstand, a window with a soiled curtain She knew what he wanted She took off her salvaar and folded it on the back of the chair She lay on the cot and puller her kameez up to her shoulders to show him her breasts Her legs were open, the ridged skin stretched like a ghost vagina.He said, you re like a woman She said, I am a woman, see for yourself p125, US hardcover edition ping The tolerance timer went off Dimple, you see, is a eunuch, not a woman, and I am sorry if it offends, but mens is mens and gurlz is gurlz in my universe, no matter they say they re not.Transphobic of me, I suppose I d remind those who coined that term for us ns who don t like to make that particular leap of the fact that there is no obvious link between same sex sexual attraction and gender dysphoria I am not unhappy I am a man, I am delighted by it and having experienced the very meager joys of heterosexuality out of bed, in bed s perfectly adequate if predictable and unexciting , I am rapturously homosexual I don t see how this in any conceivable way aligns me with some poor person who knows with every fiber of his her being that the genitals on the body they re in aren t the correct ones for his her inner truth.No one seems prepared to do than snort angrily at me when I say this Explanations aren t forthcoming So I steam along like the QEII, big and old fashioned and terribly behind the times.C est ma vie.So these factors combine to make this well written and most interesting story a non starter for me In another mood, perhaps I would ve gone with it and found its unique beauties positively interesting and less snort and eyeroll inducing Considering how very many books there are awaiting my attention, I suspect I won t be coming back to this one This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Shuklaji Street, In Old Bombay In Rashid S Opium Room The Air Is Thick And Potent A Beautiful Young Woman Leans To Hold A Long Stemmed Pipe Over A Flame, Her Hair Falling Across Her Dark Eyes Around Her, Men Sprawl And Mutter In The Gloom, Each One Drifting With His Own Tide Here, People Say That You Introduce Only Your Worst Enemy To OpiumOutside, Stray Dogs Lope In Packs Street Vendors Hustle Hookers Call For Custom Through The Bars Of Their Cages As Their Pimps Slouch In Doorways In The Half Light There Is An Underworld Whisper Of A New Terror The Pathar Maar, The Stone Killer, Whose Victims Are The Nameless, Invisible Poor There Are Too Many Of Them To Count In This Broken City Narcopolis Is A Rich, Chaotic, Hallucinatory Dream Of A Novel That Captures The Bombay Of The S In All Its Compelling Squalor 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 text from Latin textus style or texture of a work, literally thing woven, from past participle stem of texere to weave, An ancient metaphor thought is a thread, and the raconteur is a spinner of yarns but the true storyteller, the poet, is a weaver. From the Online Etymology Dictionary So, the storyteller spins a yarn, but the poet creates a fabric, with warp and weft, with coloured threads craftily juxtaposed to make a pattern, whether as sumptuous as damask, as regimented as tartan, as workaday as plain ticking or as dull as drugget But nevertheless something to run the fingers over, shake out, feel the heft and flow Hold up to the chin and see if the colour suits you No, I think that would be stretching this metaphor too far.What happens if the poet has quite a different concept of his writing Night time tales that vanish in sunlight like vampire dust smoke in the lungs, in the nostrils and a little something sweet for the mouth, blue smoke from pipe to blood to eye to I and out into the blue world. Writing as dreaming other people s dreams Writing as addiction.I ll tell you what happens.What happens is that the words slip in and out as soft as a down feather on the breeze, but waft away just as swiftly No patterns form, something suffuses the mind, but quite what is hard to pin down Another dressmaker s metaphor.I found myself reading great chunks of this, coming back two days later and remembering nothing, re reading chapters and wondering if someone had mischievously exchanged the pages between times, retaining the cover, even chapter headings but none of the words I read before My husband, perhaps, cunningly trying to fool me into believing I have early onset dementia, off to the care home with you my dear Saraswati and Shiva destroying and transforming My brain deliquescing The effect is obviously unsettling Get a grip, you re not concentrating So I tried really hard, and made a mental note of this guy with the wonderful name, Newton Xavier A painter whose art is Catholic guilt exploded to devastating effect He doesn t paint as much as eviscerate and disembowel Two characters look at magazine reproductions of his pictures, which are gory to say the least But then he comes to read poems at the PEN centre No wonder there s confusion An extremely detailed literary review at the South Asia Journal has Xavier down as a poet, so it s not just me, you see Anyway, having made my careful mental note of An Important Theme and An Apparently Important Character, he disappears, never to be seen again Sigh Damn, just when I thought I d spotted something that would provide some basis or other for a pattern.Haphazard is understating the case Nothing is left out Bombay, Chowpatty, riots, the pathaar maar killings gender identity, disguises, reinventions of self poverty, pain, uprootedness, flux slow afeem opium and fast garad heroin art, religion, poetry, reincarnation, spirits stories within stories within stories like Russian dolls violence, sex, corruption, blackmail, murder The narrator is proud and amazed to be able to bring Xavier, the artist, to the opium den where Dimple lovingly prepares the pipes He and Dimple have recently looked at pictures of his work in a magazine, and now here he is in person, isn t that incredible Dimple shook her head once There was nothing incredible about it, she said I thought it was so because I spoke English, because I read books, and because my parents paid for my education and my upkeep For me everything was surprising, the world was full of wonder, the most random idiotic occurrence was incredible because my luck made it so For people like her, for the poor, the only incredible thing in the whole world was money and the mysterious ways in which it worked.She s right, Xavier said Only the rich can afford surprise and or irony The rich crave meaning. There s a warning there, to those of us who speak English and read books and whose parents paid for our education We re going to find it hard to make sense of this fictional world. Narcotic NonsenseWhen Mr Thayil started working on this debut novel, he was around fifty years old, had released four collections of poetry, two decades of addiction under his belt So, it has all the intellectual questions he had or heard and almost all the things he came across in Bombay More than a novel, it is a handful of short stories and a few essays of Mumbai s dark alleys.To give credit where it is due, whenever the narration is in descriptive nature, whether it is Shuklaji Street, Opium Den, Distinct human internals reactions to Opium, Cocaine, Chemical and Heroine, Withdrawal Hallucinations, Beggars Eunuchs and other lowest of lowests in his words , or Gelding, his description is near perfect, it is as if you are experiencing them with your naked senses.It is only when his characters start to voice their thoughts, you feel that cardboard cutout, one dimensional creations of a amateur fiction writer, like puppets created with sculpture like perfection, only to echo a puppeteer s monologues.Excellent in parts, disappointing as a whole Set in the city of Bombay and spanning a time frame from 1970s to 2004 as we listen to the narrator, just back from the U.S as he goes about on Shuklaji Street, following the lives of the under belly of the the chaos that is Bombay, from the hijra Dimple Zeenat, Rashid, the khanawala, the sensational painter Xavier to Lalaji and Rumi, other lesser characters that make up the streets, the squalor, the underside of the glittering city, Narcopolis is a pastiche of vignettes that build up the picture of the Bombay I knew, but never saw.The novel starts with a 7 page sentence as we see the narrator cruising through the city, and sets the tone for the rest of the work its themes of drugs, addiction, exploitation and survival in a city where everyone fends for oneself The sheer brilliance of the one sentence that captured a myriad images of Bombay into a cohesive picture of its under belly perked up my expectations.But after the novelty fades off, well, it was quite disappointing What started as an assemblage of pictures didn t go further into anything no character development, no plot development, and though the city of Bombay itself was its protagonist, instead of the setting, there was no visible Bombay development.I didn t mind the non linear narrative or the lack of a uni directional plot What bothered me was that the vignettes revealed nothing to me I didn t know which I see as a flaw in the sense that though it portrayed Bombay very well, it hardly stepped out of its realm to examine issues surrounding its main premises, issues that had much to do with all that drug prostitution exploitation culture.I found the characters to be mere caricatures, lacking depth Often I felt I was reading the book version of the movie Slum dog Millionaire a movie that apparently had no aim apart from displaying its poverty, cruelty, filth and underworld to vicarious foreigners, but apart from that, having little value as literature.I thought he was attempting to write like Rushdie a mixture of cultural irreverence and political sarcasm delivered with a careless flourish that shocks the reader, all the while being bluntly truthful But nor did the supposedly sharp knife slash through my sensitivity, nor did it its soft edges give a worthwhile result.Too many ruminations that had nothing to do either with Bombay or with the characters, that were not poignant as observations into a city or a culture or its time frame The period he has chosen is such a vast one, with many important political events taking place that had both local and national consequences, and all the while, he simply eschewed them all, as if they didn t matter if they had been alluded to, well, the work would have been far richer After all, the novel was supposed to be about Bombay and what we get instead are sensational pictures of a part of Bombay but not alluding to real life apart from that.What do I feel at the end of the book, thenDisinterested and Disappointed . Another one from the 2012 Booker shortlist.Publisher summary Shuklaji Street, in Old Bombay In Rashid s opium room the air is thick and potent A beautiful young woman leans to hold a long stemmed pipe over a flame, her hair falling across her dark eyes Around her, men sprawl and mutter in the gloom, each one drifting with his own tide Here, people say that you introduce only your worst enemy to opium.Outside, stray dogs lope in packs Street vendors hustle Hookers call for custom through the bars of their cages as their pimps slouch in doorways in the half light There is an underworld whisper of a new terror the Pathar Maar, the stone killer, whose victims are the nameless, invisible poor There are too many of them to count in this broken city.Narcopolis is a rich, chaotic, hallucinatory dream of a novel that captures the Bombay of the 1970s in all its compelling squalor 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.When the first chapter was one seven page sentence, I wasn t sure what I had gotten myself into, exactly It turns out that was the perfect introduction to the drug riddled world of this book The writing was compelling, and I enjoyed the way the world was slowly explored, all centering around one opium den and later, heroin den , following tangents of seemingly minor characters all leading back to the central place I never knew where it would head next, and this style allowed for multiple perspectives of Rashid, who owned the place through his landlord, son, everyone except his wives, which would have been interesting and Dimple, the eunuch who prepares the pipes through her older Chinese lover, among others The story starts out in the Bombay of the 1970s, and moves all the way up through 2004 with some of the characters And I suppose if you count Mr Lee s own story, it also includes the China of his childhood The poverty of the setting is well described, with some commentary such as this Only the rich can afford surprise and or irony The rich crave meaning The poor don t ask questions, or they don t ask irrelevant questions They can t afford to All they can afford is laughter and ghosts Then there are the addicts, the hunger addicts and rage addicts and poverty addicts and power addicts, and the pure addicts who are addicted not to substances but to the oblivion and tenderness that substances engender 39 There is a direct connection between the drug culture and the poverty, made by one of the unpleasant characters How the fuck are you supposed to live here without drugs 211 Some of the characters have incredible experiences together because of the opium, and there is a very memorable scene between Rashid and Dimple that includes the line Dreams leak 184 One of the characters, after trading up the opium addiction for harder and damaging drugs, ends up in rehab She explains addiction in a different way There are so many good reasons and nobody mentions them and the main thing nobody mentions is the comfort of it, how good it is to be a slave to something, the regularity and the habit of addiction, the fact that it s an antidote to loneliness, and the way it becomes your family, gives you mother love and protection and keeps you safe It isn t the heroin that we re addicted to, it s the drama of the life, the chaos of it, that s the real addiction and we never get over it and because, when you come down to it, the high life, that is, the intoxicated life, is the best of the limited options we are offered why would we choose anything else 229 Another important element in the setting is the conflict between Muslim and Hindu, importantly how it has an impact on business relationships There are moments throughout the novel where violence traps the characters inside, although they don t really seem to mind A few other tidbits I liked This is a taxi driver who has been taking an opera singer around town I think it gives a good example of the tone and the writing That s when she tells me to open the sunroof and she starts to sing, and all of the sudden I got it, you know The function of opera, I understood that it was the true expression of grief I understood why she needed to stand and turn her face up as if she was expressing her sadness to god, who was the author of it And for a moment I understood what it was to be god, to take someone s life and ash it like a beedi I thought of her life, her useful life, and I wanted to take it from her for no reason at all 226 I also think the author has a sense of humor about his characters, considering that the following quotation and a much longer reflective passage on doubt and confidence comes from a man who is in jail, filthy, and high also possibly a murderer Doubt is another word for self hate, because if you doubt yourself and your position in the world you open yourself to failure 232 When I started writing this review, I had ranked the book at 4 stars, but honestly, I feel like this is well crafted, I hadn t read anything like it, and I look forward to reading of his work It looks like he is otherwise known as a poet.He is also guitarist, and I listened to STD by Sridhar Thayil as I read the book. Because now there s time enough not to hurry, to light the lamp and open the window to the moon and take a moment to dream of a great and broken city, because when the day starts its business I ll have to stop, these are night time tales that vanish in the sunlight like vampire dust This will be a fairly short review as I don t want to spend too much time talking about a book I disliked I stopped short of hating it just but I certainly didn t like it The writing is good in places very good, lovely prose something I always enjoy you might expect that at least I suppose in a Booker shortlisted novel, but the subject, the setting and the characters I disliked Then there are the addicts, the hunger addicts, the rage addicts, the poverty addicts , and power addicts, and the pure addicts who are addicted not to substances but to the oblivion and the tenderness the substances engender An addict, if you don t mind me saying so, is like a saint What is a saint but someone who has cut himself off, voluntarily, from the world s traffic and currency Shuklaji Street, in Old Bombay is the setting, a place of opium addicts, prostitutes and violence The novel spans many years, starting in the 1970 s with changing narrators it is chaotic and hallucinatory and really rather squalid, upon finishing it I wanted a bath The narrator of the start of the novel, a visitor to the Opium den of Rashid, where he also meets the eunuch prostitute Dimple, he returns at the end of the novel, many years later to see who is left and find out what has happened to the people he knew back then The construction of the novel is like many small stories that weave in and out of each other in a non linear way We meet Mr Lee a regular patron of Dimple s whose back story takes us to the cultural revolution of Mao s china I did find the stories of Mr Lee and Dimple to be the most interesting, and for a while after struggling with the beginning of the book I began to actually enjoy it However I found it difficult to remain interested in the characters and the construction of the novel made it hard at times to follow This construction is very clever this dream like almost hallucinatory quality is beautifully suited to these stories the narratives seem like the confused and foggy view of an opium addict might look I had looked forward to this book and judging by the reviews of it on good reads and I am something of a lone voice Most people seem to have liked it a lot so I must have missed something, it always rather annoys me if I feel I have missed what others haven t Well we can t always like the same things can we Forgetfulness was a gift, a talent to be nurtured In the war of remembering and forgetting, what side do we choose Or do we choose at all Isn t life that, which happens when we are busy planning it In the seductively opiated heavens of narrow alleyed Bombay, a membrane like life of a eunuch is stretched between her dreams and reality The prima donna of a famed whore house, Dimple regales her customers with her melancholic eyes and business like primness and efficiency Wallowing silently in the memory of her departed lover, she wilfully insulates herself from her present state and instead falls back on books for sweet mental chaos Come an unusually besotted patron one day and she switches her address in his favour But does life change Does the things worth remembering pile up and those worth forgetting, diminish Narcopolis is a stirring and disturbing account of that underbelly of Bombay that sniffs, smells, consumes and surrenders to drugs a dark side which permeates into our skins as we delve deep into the protagonist s life, her adeptness in fixing opium pipes by the day, her strangely coherent beliefs, her platonic bonds, her aggression under violation, her hope drilled eyes When sketching the life cycle of Dimple and people who walk in and out of her life pimps, clerks, doctors, painters, students, wastrels , the narrative teems with a markedly persuasive texture so much so that after a while, the professions of the characters fall asunder like dried leaves at end of a trying season, leaving bare the inner recesses of their hearts that contain the color of vigour and vulnerability, like any person we might know in our daily lives.One of the highlights of the work is its marvellous and haunting prose The book opens in a Proustian styled 2000 words sentence which undulates in tone and intensity like a man under infectious intoxication Bombay, which obliterated its own history by changing its name and surgically altering its face, is the hero or heroin of this story, and since I m the one who s telling it and you don t know who I am, let me say that we ll get to the who of it but not right now, because now there s time enough not to hurry, to light the lamp and open the window to the moon and take a moment to dream of a great and broken city, because when the day starts its business I ll have to stop, these are night time tales that vanish in sunlight, like vampire dust 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, and another for the nostrils, and a little something sweet for the mouth, and now we can begin at the beginning with the first time at Rashid s when I stitched the blue smoke from pipe to blood to eye to I and out into the blue world.. Because life is never fair and such unfairness appears even magnified when viewed from the dingy lows of a whore house, Thayil s passionate alternating first and third person voices lose a bit of a steam in the midst But closure, like opening, is his strength and he spools the lose ends into a tight bun yet again in the culminating chapters, providing a tender, poignant climax And like the prologue s beginning, the final paragraph ends with Bombay a masterful metaphoric touch to indicate, perhaps, the surreptitious phenomenon of life coming full circle despite forces at work to render it otherwise. Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil presents a vivid picture of the Bombay drug scene, and the life of the people associated with it The book reads like a collection of stories, with the narrative consistently jumping in the past to cover a character s history for instance There are instances when the character often slips out of reality and into hallucinations, thanks to the Opium High they are riding on.One thing I d like to clarify about this book is that it is not for everyone The author being a poet himself has brought in the elements of poetry, thus taking the narrative apart from the set pattern a story is supposed to be dictated in.P.S That opening sentence is dope pun intended It sets the tone which the book is going to follow throughout, along with the brilliant lyrical narrative the readers are in for.Verdict Recommended.