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Can’t take mind off the music: Thayil


Booker shortlisted author’s focus is on music


New Delhi: Noted as a poet and shortlisted for a Booker Prize, Jeet Thayil finds himself repeatedly drawn to music and performance with the writer-musician planning on cutting a music album next.

The author wrapped up a “hectic and fruitful” 3-city tour recently, which saw him read from his 2012 Booker-nominated and DSC Prize winning debut novel “Narcopolis”. Accompanied by musician friends, the readings were in nonconformist 1960s Beat poetry style, a different arrangement in each city.

“I am planning to make the tour into a full-fledged project under the title ‘Still Dirty’. I plan on doing more concerts under that name and across a lot more cities and also to record a solo album,” Thayil told PTI in an interview.

Thayil, jammed with Tony Guinard on the bass and Nikhil Vasudevan on drums for a “spoken word” reading in Delhi. In Mumbai he teamed up with Suman Sridhar, with whom he already has a band called ST while in Banglore the author gave a 45 minute-long performance with Abhijeet Thambe and Rahul Giri.

‘Still Dirty’, says Thayil, is so named because each time he does a performance it is “still dirty”, the musicians and the gig itself “a work in progress” adapting and improvising every single time.

“All of them are friends and we have jammed together before. Each of the shows was very different from the other. While with Nikhil and Tony we did a spontaneous traditional beat poetry style, with Suman Sridhar it wasn’t ST style at all. Similarily, with Thambe it was a different improvisation. There was no rehearsal we did soundchecks and plunged in,” says Thayil.

The author who plays the guitar is a recognized name in the indie music world for his teamwork with vocalist Suman Sridhar with whom he has performed live a mish-mash of Indian classical, spoken word, blues, jazz, ’60s rock and roll, psychedelia and electro-pop and also brought out an album titled STD.

While the ‘Still Dirty’ tour formed part of the USD 50,000 DSC Prize winner’s obligations, he says the idea of a musical “book reading” was a natural progression from his shows.

“It seemed like a natural progression of things because I was already taking part in open mic nights and readings where music mixed with literature. I have performed in Vancouver, London and Brisbane,” says the author who has also lived in Hong Kong and New York and now divides time between Delhi and Bangalore.

Thayil has also played with bands across the world in New York, Hong Kong, Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai.

With the DSC tour wrapped up, Thayil, now doing a teaching stint at the Goa University says he plans to stick to the syllabus,” and talk 20th century Indian and American poetry with his students.

The poet has to his credit four published collections of poems. “These Errors Are Correct” (2008), “English” (2004), “Apocalypso” (1997) and “Gemini” (1992).

Now, after the success of his debut novel set in Mumbai of the 70s and 80s that explores the city’s drug underbelly, Thayil is working on a new fiction but says he simply can’t take his mind off the music.

“There is just too much music happening now,” says the 53-year-old author.


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