2012 Man Booker Prize: Narcopolis

Narcopolis, by Jeet Thayil

This chooth country, cunt country, how the fuck are you supposed to live here without drugs? Look at the Gujaratis, chooths, we all know this, kem cho choothiyas. Human calculators, you can’t even talk to them without giving them cash, they’re such accomplished chooths. And the Kashmiris, complete chooths, offer them your hand, they’ll take your ass. It’s their nature; they can’t help it. And what about the Madrasis, all those Keralites and Kannadigas and so on? Chooths, undu gundu choothiyas, idli dosa choothiyas, nothing personal, but it’s true, you know it and I know it. And Punjabis, do I even have to mention Punjabis? Number one chooths, the Punjus. They’ll eat and drink with you and all the while they’re measuring you for a coffin. Bengalis? Bengalis are beyond your average category of choothiyadom, they’re chooths of the highest order, first-quality bhodrolok choothiyos, who invent new levels of choothiyaness daily. Followed closely, as in everything, by the Oriyas, who are more in the league of chooth wannabes. But none of them approach the level of choothiyahood perfected by the Sindhis, who are the world’s most sophisticated chooths, inventors and tweakers of the choothiya’s guidebook, in short, chooth perfectionists, true masters of the genre. As for the Christians, the Anglos and Goans, chooths, as you know, unquestionably chooths, though they’ll act as if the word has never left their lips or entered their brains. And the UPites and APites, they’re criminals to a man, born criminals, you can’t trust them with a pencil. Then there are the chooths in waiting and the chooths by association, such as the Parsis and the tribals. Now that may seem like an odd chooth combo, but it’s not. They are exactly alike in at least one way, they act like they aren’t chooths, but they are, deep inside they are utter chooths. The only non-chooths in the entire country are Maharashtrians. I grant you there’s been some degrading of the rule in recent times but at least with Maharashtrians what you see is what you get: islands of sanity in a sea of chooths.

Always more than slightly objectified, the ugliest side of India is a virtual bottomless source of inspiration for literatures through ages. We’d seen it through a myriad of magnifying glasses, from colonial A Passage to India to comedial Q & A. From In a Free State to The White Tiger.
Now author Jeet Thayil offers us yet another angle. We’re invited to experience this dizzying pothead portrait of pre-Mumbai Bombay’s outlandish artists, frustrating cultures, intricate traditions and religions, serial killers, exotic foods and beverages, gender-altered prostitutes, dirty beggars, Bollywood, dirty brothels and opium dens, opium pipes, pipes makers, pipes owners; including a not-so-short, not-so-psychedelic history of the pipes–yes, the opium pipes, from great eunuch admiral Zheng He to China communist era; and of course, the usual saris and burkhas, Muslims vs Hindus. And flood. And stanza. Opium is better than heroin and other chemical junks. Point taken. Lesson learned.
So what is wrong with Bombay? What is the worst face of India? Thayil gives us a concise answer: it’s a city, a nation, with an incurable addiction to suffering.

Check out my other 2012 Man Booker Prize longlist review:
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

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