Jeet Thayil was born in the federal state of Kerala in India’s south-west, the son of T. J. S. George, a respected author, columnist and editor. Because of many periods of stay in countries like China and the USA, Thayil attended schools in Hong Kong, New York and Mumbai, and then completed his Master’s in fine arts at the renowned Sarah Lawrence College in Westchester County north of New York City.
Thayil already began writing poems as an adolescent and published four volumes of poetry, among these »Gemini« (1992), »Apocalypso« (1997) and »These Errors Are Correct« (2008). His atmospheric and autobiographically influenced poetry picks up on both classic motifs and contemporary events. As such, in the narrative cycle of poems, »English« (2004), he deals with his direct experience of the 9/11 attacks. What sets Thayil apart from the majority of contemporary Indian authors in particular is that he does not shy away from taboo subjects like drugs, sex, death and urban decadence. His debut novel »Narcopolis« (2012) refers back to Thayil’s own experiences with drug and alcohol addiction. At the same time hallucinatory and sobering, he portrays very different figures from the seventies until today and, not least, the city of Mumbai through a thick fog of opium, the numbing effects of which also spread into his prose. This led some to compare the book to De Quincey’s »Confessions of an English Opium Eater«, as well as drawing comparisons between Thayil and other writers like William S. Burroughs or the feverish prose of Hubert Selby Jr. and Roberto Bolaño. He shows the reader – far removed from nostalgically glossed over clichés – the sprawling metropolises which, according to Thayil, it is anyway better to approach via the grotesque and ambivalent. In addition, he wrote the libretto for the opera »Babur in London«, which premiered in 2012 and which deals with the members of a terrorist cell in a London suburb who are visited by the spirit of Babur, founder of the Mughal Empire, and enter into a dialogue with him. Besides his activities as a poet, journalist and musician, he has published several anthologies of Indian poetry, among these »The Bloodaxe Book of Contemporary Indian Poets« (2008) and »60 Indian Poets« (2008).
For »Narcopolis«, Thayil was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2012, the Man Asian Literary Prize 2012 as well as the Hindu Literature Prize 2013 (and others) and he was the first Indian author (in 2012) to receive the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, which comes with a prize sum of 50,000 USD. He has also received several grants and awards for his artistic work, among others from the Rockefeller Foundation, the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Swiss Arts Council and the British Council. Thayil lives in Bangalore.