Jeet Thayil was nearly born in the middle of the Muhattapuzha River. The current has kept him ever since. (‘Who among us will escape the hand of water?’) His given passages, from Kerala to Hong Kong to Bombay to New York to New Delhi, were pilgrimages to ports of influence, though he traces his initial poetic impetus to the shrine to Baudelaire (‘I am over you at last . . . your big talk and wolf’s heart’) that was his uncle’s study, adorned with said uncle’s published Malayalam translations from the flâneur’s French. (‘We’ll see what the streets understand of water.’)
His is in any case consistent with the paradoxical net of what is called ‘Good Poetry’ – what is captured is freed; what is severed is fused more perfectly. Thayil’s filaments are adamant and fine, some wrapped in glass like kite thread (‘They were fighting fish, no question about it’), their lattice possessed of a gravity that lets them settle on the very bed of the mind and spread, bright welding fires at their ends and edges, catalysts of synaptic anabranches and anastomosis. (‘Every tributary led to her, to water.’)
Little wonder his first solo collection was named Apocalypso – ‘to uncover’. In Thayil’s poems, the gesture of encounter is submergence – think of weight in water, how swimming opens a third dimension of autonomous movement (‘Start with fish’). This imperative of revelation through submersion is evident throughout his Collected Poems: the need to persistently immerse ourselves in the real of our lives (‘He found himself drowned’) in order to save them.
‘Forget the sea, let it fade’, he writes, and on the adjacent page, ‘By the river in this room and the way it returns, / I swear, if I forget you, let everything die’.
Collected Poems. Aleph Book Company, New Delhi, 2015
These Errors Are Correct, Tranquebar Books (EastWest and Westland), Delhi, 2008
English, Penguin, Delhi and Rattapallax Press, New York, 2004. ISBN 1-892494-59-0
Apocalypso , Aark Arts, London, 1997, ISBN 1-89917901-1
Gemini-2, Penguin-Viking, New Delhi, 1992. (two-poet volume )
The Bloodaxe Book of Contemporary Indian Poets: Bloodaxe, U.K, 2008, Penguin India, forthcoming.
Divided Time: India and the End of Diaspora, Routledge, 2006
Give the Sea Change and It Shall Change: 56 Indian Poets, Fulcrum, 2005
Vox2: Seven Stories, Sterling Newspapers, India, 1997
Narcopolis. Faber & Faber, London; Penguin, New York and New Delhi; 2012
Sahitya Akademi Award for English 2012, for These Errors Are Correct
DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2013, for Narcopolis
Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2012, for Narcopolis
The Hindu Literary Prize 2013, for Narcopolis
MySpace: music of Jeet Thayil and Suman Sridhar
Softblow, Varnamala, Saltpublishing: websites featuring Jeet Thayil’s poems
Book Post: Jeet Thayil interviewedy by Hemant Sareen