Friday September 09, 2016

Author Anosh Irani explores 'harsh reality' of Mumbai's child sex workers in The Parcel

Acclaimed Vancouver novelist Anosh Irani grew up near Mumbai's red light district. His latest novel The Parcel shines a light on one of the darkest aspects of that world — child sexual slavery.
Listen 23:15

Read story transcript

It's taken almost 10 years before Vancouver-based Anosh Irani felt ready to write his latest novel. 

The Parcel takes on weighty, difficult content involving extensive research, and including fascinating, complicated characters —  like Madhu, a seasoned sex worker who identifies herself as a hijra, a person belonging to the third sex, neither man nor woman.

In the book, 40-year-old Madhu is forced to prepare a "parcel" — a young girl betrayed and trafficked by her aunt — for "the harsh reality that is to come."

'The idea for me when I write a novel is to find what is human in the worst kind of existence.' - Author Anosh Irani

Irani grew up near Mumbai's bustling red light district where the book is set. He tells The Current's Friday host Piya Chattopadhyay that growing up he had a longing to help and understand the people in the area.

"You had these sex workers who wore lots of colourful clothing, but at the same time they had some odd black base around their lips. I always wondered why they used to have that. And it was so that men don't kiss them," says Irani, explaining how sex workers reserved kissing for people they cared about.

Irani thought about writing The Parcel for almost 10 years. His research involved interviewing sex workers and speaking to people from NGOs.

Irani says he gained people's trust, by not having an agenda, being open and not judging — even when that involved interviewing a pimp.

"The idea for me when I write a novel is to find what is human in the worst kind of existence," says Irani.

He says there's "absolutely no humanity in trafficking," but tells Chattopadhyay it was important for him to find a way to get to know his characters.

'[Literature] should cause a shift in our consciousness because only when we are disturbed will we go in search of something.'

Regardless of the extensive research that went into The Parcel, it was important to Irani that this story be presented as fiction because he believes "fiction is a beautiful way to get to the higher ground of truth."

"I had to tell the truth. For me that was the most important thing. Tell it in the form of a story but make it as truthful as possible."

Feeling uncomfortable is what great novels should do — they should displace you, says Irani.

"[Literature] should cause a shift in our consciousness because only when we are disturbed will we go in search of something."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Howard Goldenthal and CBC's Lisa Rundle.