Trinidad-born Indian-origin author V S Naipaul passed away at the age of 85 on Saturday. Known for his critical commentary on colonialism, religion, and politics, Naipual won the Booker Prize for his novel In a Free State in 1971. In 2001, he won the Nobel Prize Nobel Prize in Literature. In his lifetime, Naipaul also won several other accolades and earned praises even from the most staunch critics. Evelyn Waugh had once famously said,”Mr Naipaul is an ‘East’ Indian Trinidadian with an exquisite mastery of the English language which should put to shame his British contemporaries.” Not the one to mince words, Naipaul had often been scathing not only against his peers but also against the place he belonged to.
He had been called a racist by Derek Walcott, as the latter who had initially dedicated poems to Naipaul wrote, “You spit on your people/ your people applaud”. Naipaul had been accused of withholding Western prejudices, as he compared the effect of Islam on the world to colonialism, and had a public fall out with author Paul Theroux. Theroux had picked out a rare book’s catalogue and found out that the seller was offering copies of his books that were dedicated to Naipaul and his wife. Subsequently, the authors refused to acknowledge each other until they buried the hatchet in 2011.
Naipaul’s life had been mired in controversies, dividing critics and readers alike. His staggering brilliance as well as the problematic statements made by him, unapologetically so, can be infuriating.
Here are some of the controversial remarks made by him.
In an interview at the Royal Geographic Society in 2011, Naipaul had lashed out at women writers. According to a report in The Guardian, when asked if any woman writer was his literary match, Naipaul had said a prompt no.
“I don’t think so…I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not. I think [it is] unequal to me.”
In response to this, literary journalist Alex Clark had said, “Is he really saying that writers such as Hilary Mantel, AS Byatt, Iris Murdoch are sentimental or write feminine tosh?”
Although born in Trinidad, the author had never really hidden his hostility towards the place. In 1980, he had made some caustic comment about the place as quoted in a report in The Guardian.
“I can’t see a Monkey – you can use a capital M, that’s an affectionate word for the generality reading my work… These people [Trinidadians] live purely physical lives, which I find contemptible… It makes them only interesting to chaps in universities who want to do compassionate studies about brutes.”
In an interview way back in 1979 with the The New York Times, Naipaul’s had made some bitter comments about Africa. The author, who had been often accused of being racist, when asked about the future of Africa, had said:
“Africa has no future.”
He had also said, “Africans need to be kicked, that’s the only thing they understand.”
In 2001, the Nobel laureate had launched an attack against Islam. According to a report in The Guardian, he had compared the “calamitous effect” Islam has in the world with colonialism.
“It [Islam] has had a calamitous effect on converted peoples. To be converted you have to destroy your past, destroy your history. You have to stamp on it, you have to say ‘my ancestral culture does not exist, it doesn’t matter’.”
“The story of Pakistan is a terror story actually. It started with a poet who thought that Muslims were so highly evolved that they should have a special place in India for themselves.”
Girish Karnad who was speaking at the Mumbai LitFest in 2012 had lashed out at the Nobel laureate for his views.
Naipaul had famously said, “If a writer doesn’t generate hostility, he is dead.” True to his words, he did generate a lot of hostility in his lifetime, but none of this can take away the sheen from his brilliance. If his words stung, they also soothed.
Here are some memorable lines from his novels.
* “The only lies for which we are truly punished are those we tell ourselves.”
– In a Free State
* “After all, we make ourselves according to the ideas we have of our possibilities.”
– A Bend in the River
* “Small things start us in new ways of thinking”
– A Bend in the River
* “How ridiculous were the attention the weak paid one another in the shadow of the strong!”
– A House for Mr Biswas