Vancouver-based Anosh Irani, who was in Chennai last month for The Hindu Lit for Life, talks to Naveena Vijayan on why he switched countries, his work and his favourite pick.

“Books helped me realise what literature was; my family helped me realise what storytelling was,” says Anosh Irani, as he makes the audience realise the craft which he used to weave his works — The Cripple and His Talismans, Dahanu Road, The Song of Kahunsha to name a few.

Bridging the gap

Away from the spotlight, he sports a smile as he signs his books. “Without Bombay and India, I wouldn’t be a writer,” he says when asked about his days in India, where he spent the first 24 years of his life before moving to Canada to pursue a career in writing. “I wouldn’t have any stories to tell,” he adds. His works come out mainly as snapshots of his childhood spent in Bombay .

“What Canada gave me was the distance — not only geographical, but also the perspective of being away from Bombay.”

According to Irani, place should matter the least for a storyteller. “It’s all about writing a good story and how good a novelist you are,” he says.

“When I open the album I see pictures of coffins — finger coffins, arm coffins, toe coffins. It surprises me how much I do not know about this city. Tomorrow I might meet a midget who is ten feet tall, a butcher who sells newborn babies, a boxer who works as an anaesthetist in a hospital by knocking patients senseless.”

These lines from his novel, The Cripple and his Craftsmen, seem to portray a gruesome picture of Bombay. Irani waves off such thoughts with a careless smile as he says, “It’s a work of fiction. There is no question of portraying Bombay in a good or bad light.” This takes one back to the comment he made during an earlier session. He had said, “Books that make you feel good are bad.” Not surprising that his description attracts readers in vast numbers today.

His take

Having received several awards and been nominated for many others, he holds dear the idea of award ceremonies for literary fiction. “Visibility,” he says pointing at the shelves full of books short-listed for The Hindu Literary Prize, “is vital for any writer. Awards are important to get audience.” However, when asked about his favourite pick from the shortlist, he dodges the question with a smile and instead says, “When one writer wins, four others don’t and your heart goes out to them.”