“There is an element of truth and that is what you look for in writing. Language and style and voice and all of that is fine but it all has to lead to some truth. That’s what you’re looking for in literature.”
Anosh Irani’s work speaks profoundly for the passion he carries for writing and storytelling. But that passion is rooted in his love for the city that raised him, Bombay, known in its present day form as Mumbai. This bestselling author’s work has circulated discussion on integral issues, deservingly garnering him several recognitions including being shortlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize, Canada Reads, and the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize. His journey has been a fascinating alliance of the vibrancy of India and the tranquility of Vancouver, beautifully weaved into four novels – The Parcel, Dahanu Road, The Song of Kahunsha, and The Cripple and His Talismans.
Raised in the Bombay, Irani says he was surrounded by storytellers as kid. “In India, oral story telling is really something that goes back… centuries almost. Everyone is a storyteller and in my family, my father is a great storyteller, my grandparents [and] my cousins [are also storytellers]. I grew up with some great oral story tellers around me and so the need to tell stories became even more apparent as I grew up,” Irani tells me while describing his early years.
In 1998, Irani moved to Vancouver to study literature and writing and laid the foundation of a career spanning over several years. But like other newcomers, it wasn’t easy for Irani to transition into a foreign environment without any hiccups. In his case, the serenity of Vancouver was luring but shortly after his arrival, Irani got hit by homesickness and a sense of isolation. “When I left India in 1998, I didn’t realize how connected I was to the country and especially to Bombay because you don’t actually think about these things when you are actually in a place.”
In a way, this deep sense of nostalgia was a motivating force behind Irani’s major characters and plots and Bombay was where the inspiration streamed in from. “I remember watching TV one day and there was a documentary on India. Suddenly I felt like I had lost something. It was a very strange feeling; I was just watching a documentary and there were these two guys on motorcycles travelling through India and suddenly I had this incredible wave of sadness come over me and that’s when I realized that I had left. That was when I realized how much India is inside me and since then I’ve wanted to tell stories that are set in Bombay,” Irani explains.
For a writer, Bombay is a treasure box of inspiration. The complexity intersecting with paradoxes within the city makes for a great learning place of the myriad human experiences. Irani’s latest novel The Parcel based on the life of Madhu, an eunuch living in the red-light district of Bombay, clearly reflects this. In fact, Irani identifies this novel and the character of Madhu, as one of the most influential ones in his life. While researching the narrative, Irani would spend days and hours in the red-light district of Bombay, making notes, talking to people, observing them and hearing their stories. “It is a very sensitive subject so I had to handle it carefully.”
And this is not the first time, Irani has put the spotlight on a strong subject. As a playwright, his works, The Men in White, Bombay Black, and The Matka King have shed light on strong subject matters. His latest play, The Men in White, centers around two brothers residing in two different parts of the world, India and Canada. Abdul, an illegal immigrant in Canada wants Hasan, an expert in cricket, to join the team but not everyone in the team agrees, thus causes a rift that traces roots in the 1992 Hindu-Muslim riots in Bombay. The script is light yet impactful with the characters and setting perfectly depicting the vibe and beat of Bombay. The play has been very well received by theatre lovers in Vancouver.
Before parting, I ask Irani about what exactly makes a great novel; what is it that builds that connection with the reader. And very humbly, he replies back saying, “There is an element of truth and that is what you look for in writing. Language and style and voice and all of that is fine but it all has to lead to some truth. That’s what you’re looking for in literature.”