Narcopolis is unlike any novel I have read so far. It is a loosely structured story of a group of addicts in Bombay over two decades. But calling it just a story of addicts doesn't do justice to the novel. It is an engrossing book about a side of Bombay that most of us rarely ever interact with.
Through the opium dens and red light districts, Jeet Thayil paints a portrait of Bombay and how it changes over the decades from1970s to 1990s. Bombay is an important character in the novel, along with Rashid the opium den owner, Dimple the eunuch, Mr. Lee the China man and Rumi the man with a hammer.
Narcopolis isn't an easy read. The reader has to put in effort, to follow the meandering sentences, to overcome the revulsion of graphic description of sex and violence, to keep oneself sober in the opium filled pages of the novel. However difficult it is, the book doesn't let you abandon it half way through. There is a strange pull that defies explanation.
Right in the middle of all the violence one is treated to a passage that is poetic. The excursions of Mr. Lee and Dimple to Chowpatty beach is one example. Humor strikes out where it is least expected. The crowd waiting in a queue for the African drug courier was particularly hilarious. Rumi reflects "not even in LA, where, believe me, weird things happen on a daily basis, not even there did I wait in line for a Negro to shit"
Narcopolis is a good roller coaster ride, if you are adventurous enough to get on to it.