Jeet Thayil’s Narcopolis: A Testimony to Life in the Margins


Subin T. Daniel, Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee, India
Binod Mishra, Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee, India
Email: [email protected]
Published: February 4, 2022

Citation: Daniel, S. T., & Mishra, B. (2021). Jeet Thayil’s Narcopolis: A Testimony to Life in the Margins. IAFOR Journal of Arts & Humanities, 8(2).


Jeet Thayil’s Narcopolis focuses an expository spotlight on the marginalized voices that proliferate in large metropolises and that have been, to a large extent, imperceptible to mainstream academe. Thayil depicts the history of a section of Bombay’s underbelly that was an important nerve center in the drug business before the city’s name change to Mumbai. Although the great variety of drugs described in the novel helps set the overall tone, its diagnostic focus is on the people and on the motives behind their particular life choices. Thayil presents the haunting reality of the life of marginalized and oppressed individuals through the use of raw, grotesque imagery. Given Thayil’s approach to his subject, this paper aims to analyze Narcopolis’ composition and characters with the objective of locating Bakhtinian tropes of carnivalesque and grotesque realism. Another point of inquiry is Thayil’s use of an experimental language that mixes words from diverse vernaculars spoken in Bombay, a practice that adds a charge of authenticity to the narrative’s realist complexion. With Thayil’s debut novel becoming a voice for the voiceless, this paper explores his rendition of how people survive in the margins, largely concealed from critical scrutiny.


carnivalesque, experimental Grotesque Realism, History, language, marginalization