Anosh Irani stands just beyond Bombay's red light district, which figures in his latest novel, The Parcel.

Faculty and Staff

SFU writer-in-residence Anosh Irani shortlisted for prestigious literary awards

October 17, 2016

By Diane Luckow

Visiting professor Anosh Irani’s latest novel, The Parcel, has been shortlisted for a Governor General’s 2016 Literary Award and a Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize.

Irani, writer-in-residence with SFU’s World Literature Program, has written three critically acclaimed novels—two of them bestsellers—along with award-winning plays and a screenplay.

Anosh, what is The Parcel about?

The Parcel is set in Bombay’s red light district and is the story of a retired transgendered sex worker who is asked to look after a parcel, which is code for girl who has been trafficked into the district. It’s about two broken, lost souls who find each other.

What was your inspiration for writing this novel?

I grew up very close to the red light district. From the time I was born to when I was around seven or eight years old, I lived in a small compound, and from where I lived I could see a convent school where the sex workers lined up every evening.  Over the years, as I learned more about their world, I was both inspired and at the same time quite haunted by it, and so I felt compelled to write this story.

How do you hope this story will affect readers?

I hope that this story will displace the reader (in a good way) because the story deals with both the horror of the district and the humanity in it, side by side.

How does this book differ from your others?

Every book is a departure, and it should be. My first book, The Cripple and His Talismans, is a magic realist fable about a man who goes looking for his lost arm in the underbelly of Bombay. The second book, The Song of Kahunsha, is about Bombay’s street children and how one boy gets caught up in the riots that took place between the Hindus and Muslims in the early ’90s. The third book, Dahanu Road, is a love story.  So every book has been different.

Did you write The Parcel during your residency at SFU?

The Parcel has been on my mind for about 10 years now. For a long time, I tried very hard not to write this book because I knew it was going to be difficult.  I did a residency at McGill University and wrote part of it there and part of it while at SFU. The book has taken shape over many, many years.

It must have taken a lot of research?

Yes. Part of the research was just being an observer in the red light district and seeing things that were quite disturbing, at times. I also interviewed sex workers and pimps.  One transgendered person was very generous—she really opened up her life to me and that gave me insight into her inner life, so to speak.  I also interviewed real estate agents because the brothels are being displaced by small factories and highrises. The district is dissolving, just as my main character feels like her body is dissolving. The disappearance of her identity and the disappearance of the red light district were what I wanted to talk about.  I don’t think the red light district should exist at all, but that’s wishful thinking. All I can do is hold a mirror to the place and reflect it as truthfully and honestly as I can.

Are you working on another book now?

There’s a new play of mine, “The Men in White,” opening at the Arts Club Theater in February, so I’m doing revisions for that. I’m also busy with teaching and travelling and promoting The Parcel, so there’s not much time to write, but I look forward to finding that space again.