UBC Reports | Vol. 50 | No. 7 | Jul.
MAking the Fantastic Matter-of-Fact
Anosh Irani takes readers and playgoers on magic-realist
By Erica Smishek
Anosh Irani has always loved to tell stories. But only in
recent years did he realize that writing them down was what
he wanted to do with his life.
“I was not one of those kids who knew they wanted to
be a writer,” says Irani, who holds a BFA in creative
writing from UBC and will complete his master’s degree
in the program this fall. “I didn’t know what
I wanted to do. Ever since I was little, I was good at telling
stories, I was good at invention, making things up on the
“I remember being in school and if we had some free
time during class, the teacher would ask me to tell a story.
I had no idea what I would say but by the time I got up from
my chair and went to the head of the class, that’s when
I would start making a story up.”
While Irani’s audience was once limited to his pet
cockatoo, classmates and instructors, his stories are now
making their way to a broader audience.
His first full-length play, The Matka King,
premiered in October 2003 at the Arts Club Theatre in Vancouver
while his first novel, The Cripple and His Talismans,
was published in Canada earlier this year to critical acclaim.
It will be published in the U.S. in 2005.
Born and brought up in Bombay, Irani steeps his fiction in
the city’s suffering and strangely beautiful chaos.
The Cripple and His Talismans takes readers
on a magic-realist journey in search of the narrator’s
severed arm. The novel alternates between darkness and light,
violence and tenderness, humour and horror, and is infused
with fascinating characters -- a leper who bites off his own
finger and gives it to the cripple, a woman who sells rainbows,
a blind man who cannot defecate unless he hears the sound
of a train, a beggar who lives under an egg cart.
The work originated with a horrible, albeit absurd, picture
that came to the personable and playful 30-year-old’s
mind while he was writing the end to a short story.
“I had an image of just amputated limbs hanging from
the ceiling in a dark place,” he says. “I had
no idea what that meant. But I just decided to make a note
of it. I wrote the first sentence and I just didn’t
stop writing for four hours. And then the image refused to
go away, the story refused to go away.
“I think that’s the biggest lesson for a writer.
When something refuses to go away, when it keeps coming back,
it eventually has to be written.”
Irani came to writing after he “wasted five years”
earning a business degree.
“Initially I thought I’d take science because
that’s what men do in India. They try to become doctors
or engineers,” he explains. “But I had no interest
in becoming anything. I just took it to make my parents happy
and within two days I realized it was a complete disaster.
So I shifted to commerce because it wasn’t science.
It’s not that I liked commerce either. I hated it.”
He wowed the creative director of an advertising agency with
his rather imaginative application -- “I had nothing
to put on my resume obviously so I made a very funny resume.
For skills, I wrote ‘marbles’ and ‘kite
flying,’ which would be of no use at all.” Irani
spent a year writing ad copy before following friends to Vancouver
While he misses his extended family and friends, and admits
to brutal bouts of loneliness, the move has given him a fresh
start and time to write every day.
“I think the separation has helped me. When you have
distance, both physical and in terms of time, it helps you
look at a place from a distance and you can be more objective.
What’s also interesting is as vivid as my memories are
sometimes, I don’t remember places. They’re hazy.
In this novel, that’s what I’ve used for the character.
He’s someone who hallucinates. He’s not entirely
sure, he does not have a good sense of place. He’s disoriented.”
Irani’s talent, charm and ability to mix realism with
pure invention have caught the eye of many, including UBC
creative writing professor George McWhirter, who offered guidance
and encouragement throughout the writing of the book (done
for McWhirter’s novel class).
“Anosh is very, very intelligent,” McWhirter
says. “He identifies problems with his work ahead of
time. He’s usually the one with the questions. He’ll
be able to be his own questioner and answerer some day.”
Asked about Irani’s penchant for succinctness, his
instructor says, “It’s so extravagant what he
writes concisely about. He writes about fantastic things yet
they seem so matter-of-fact. You know, he’s also a terrific
poet. He uses gorgeous, gorgeous images. He’s got a
gift for the image.”
Irani graciously acknowledges the support and experience
of his teachers at UBC as well as Arts Club Theatre artistic
director Bill Millerd, who introduced him to playwriting during
a summer internship.
Playwriting has given him a particular love for and skill
with dialogue, which is evident in his fiction.
“Dialogue gives you a sense of what the people are
like. And it gives you a chance to be humourous. I love listening
to the way people speak; especially in Bombay, they have great
one-liners. People just have that dry wit or they’re
completely ridiculous in the way they speak. I love that.”
Still submitting assignments for his master’s, Irani
is working on a fourth draft of Manja’s Circus, a play
commissioned by the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, and writing
notes for a new novel and for Bombay Talkie, a commission
from Toronto dramaturgical company Nightswimming which shops
scripts around to potential producers.
When asked about his achievements, Irani replies modestly,
“I’m getting there. It’s a good start. It’s
a good start.”
Irani's Recommended Reads
Too busy playing football and cricket to read much as a child,
the adult Anosh Irani has become a voracious reader.
He chooses books based on the quality of the writing, perspective
of the writer, voice, whether there is a story and whether
he cares about the characters. He prefers to read writers
from many countries and cultures to “get a sense of
what different landscapes are doing in terms of the voice,
of what kind of stories they’re telling, what kind of
His suggested reads include:
- Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski
- Diary of a Mad Old Man by Junichiro Tanizaki
- The Key by Junichiro Tanizaki
- Thirst for Love by Yukio Mishima
- The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea
by Yukio Mishima
- The Outsider by Albert Camus
- My Name is Aram by William Saroyan
- A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry