Anosh Irani speaks about literature as disturbance

Anosh Irani
Anosh Irani

On Oct. 3, York’s Canadian Writers in Person course presented Anosh Irani reading from his book The Parcel. York teaching assistant Dana Patrascu-Kingsley sent the following report to YFile.

Canadian author Anosh Irani visited York to talk about his new novel, The Parcel, as part of the Canadian Writers in Person series. Irani visited York University on Oct. 3.

The Parcel is Irani’s fourth novel and was a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award, the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, and the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize.

After having moved to Canada from India at 24 years of age, Irani was haunted by images of his childhood. “I write about the things that haunt me. I want the same things to haunt you,” said Irani. In his novel The Parcel, he returns to the figure of the hijra, whom he describes as “constantly migrating, trying to find a home within their own body.” Transwomen who are part of the hijra community have served three main social functions in Indian society for centuries: as soothsayers and dancers, and as beggars, they are both feared and revered, but as sex workers, they are looked down upon.

Cover of Anosh Irani’s book

The Parcel is set in Bombay’s red light district, Kamathipura, and follows a hijra’s complicated relationship with a young girl who’d been trafficked into a brothel. “I did not write out of fascination,” said Irani, “I wrote as a witness.”

This is a novel that reveals the humanity of its characters. As the Quill and Quire Review points out, “the various episodes in the novel are deeply affecting, giving the reader ample reason to agonize over the fact that such a place exists at all, and that its hourly miseries are an ordinary aspect of people’s lives. Irani’s compassion for these discarded souls, and the assertion of their essential dignity, renders them simultaneously touching and distressing.”

The writer told the audience at York that what he sees as the role of literature is “to create a disturbance in you. It is only when you are disturbed that you will go on a search…. What you want from literature is the ability to open up a whole world.” And his novel certainly does that for us: it opens up a world that is harsh and disturbing at times, but also capable of kindness and humour.

On Oct. 17, poet Phoebe Wang will visit York to talk about her debut collection of poetry entitled Admission Requirements.

Readings are free and open to any member of the public. All readings are held Tuesdays from 7 to 9pm in 206 Accolade West Building, Keele campus.

For more information, contact Professor Leslie Sanders at or Professor Gail Vanstone at