Indian thugs in a new light

"The Thing about Thugs" by Khair explores the underbelly of Victorian London which he says resembles in a way the disparity of wealth in contemporary India as well as tells a story through an Indian perspective rather than relying on one sided British representation of oriental backwardness and barbarity.

"The book is a bit of a crime thriller which is an attempt on how to tell people (outside India) stories about us. It is a 19th century idea about how people connect across distance and space,"  Khair told PTI during his visit here recently.

Delving into the nineteenth century literature ranging from Charles Dickens to P M Taylor's "Confessions of a Thug" and Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness", Khair writes the fictional tale of  Amir Ali a thug who leaves his village in Bihar to travel to London with an English captain, William Meadows, to whom he narrates the story of his life – the story of a murderous thug.

While Meadows tries to analyse the strange cult of the Indian Thug, a group of Englishmen sets out to prove the inherent difference between cultures and people by examining their skulls – with bizarre consequences.

The author who grew up listening to various stories about bandits and thugs in his native Bihar holds the view that literature enables him to engage with the world in a creative way.  "There are the writing by Hanif Quereshi, Monica Ali etc which are all set in contemporary London but very few have attempted to view it through an Indian perspective," he says.

The 41-year-old author, who has attempted alienation in English novels with his 2001 book "Babu fictions" tries to steer away from labels such as diasporic and multiculturalism in his new book.

For his latest novel published by Harper Collins, Khair says he has quoted texts that actually do not exist. "I wanted to tell a story and for that I have I've actually quoted some texts which don't exist, along with those that do. This I have done so that certain stereotypes existing in the minds of European readers about Indians are destroyed."

"I would consider myself as a thinking writer and if I had a character in my mind I am always searching for the right words, I keep thinking about what would I say in that particular situation," says the author who is presently an associate professor at the University of Aarhus in Denmark.

Tabish Khair's previous book "Filming: A love story" an exploration of the Mumbai film industry has been translated into Danish last year. "Both 'Filming' and 'The Bus Stopped' (published earlier) were multicultural in a different way. When I write I do not think about Indian readers but the text of what I am writing. I want my reader to understand the essence and also I try not to repeat myself," he says.

Khair who also writes poetry has after a gap of 10 years produced a slim volume of poems " Man of Glass" where he takes the works of three writers from different eras — Kalidas, Mirza Ghalib and Danish writer HC Anderson — to create contemporary poems.

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