Updated: January 22, 2015 12:26:52 pm
The reunion of VS Naipaul and travel writer Paul Theroux at the juggernaut of literature turned out right as the organisers had expected — a blockbuster. A houseful audience on the front lawns of Diggi Palace stood stunned as a teary-eyed Naipaul choked at a brief, “thank you”, after a panel of four authors including Theroux concurred that after A House for Mr Biswas Naipaul “burst out of the segretationist label of a Commonwealth writer.”
It is difficult to say whether it was his father’s memories or the overwhelming appreciation at the session that left Naipaul moist-eyed and tongue-tied, but the meeting sure became the biggest talking point of day one at the annual Jaipur Literature Festival. Wife Nadira Khannum Alvi too was taken aback, seeing his eyes well up, asking him twice if he would leave it at a brief, “Thank you.”
Relations between Naipaul and Theroux were embittered, it is said, after the former found signed copies of his books that were gifted to Naipaul on a rare bookseller’s catalogue. The chasm deepened after Theroux published his unflattering biography on Naipaul. However, the first signs of a thaw in relations were noticed at the Hay Festival in 2011, when both of them shook hands.
The hour-long session by authors Hanif Kureishi, Amit Chaudhuri, and Theroux, chaired by Farrukh Dhondy, had discussions on the half-century-old literary masterpiece, A House for Mr Biswas, and its post-colonial legacy. This time, Theroux did not disappoint Naipaul and heaped praises calling the novel “the most complete book after the works of Charles Dickens.” He said, “I have never read any modern writer having done such a complete work. The book is tremendously complete, revolving round a family, human nature, relationships and about becoming a man one wants to be.”
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Kureishi added that “the book could be about my father who came from a large Muslim family and was always ignored.” He said, “The novel is extremely funny and at the same time terrible because of the failures of Mr Biswas.” At the end of the session, as Naipaul was being wheeled
up the podium, he received a standing ovation.
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