VS Naipaul. (File Photo)
V.S. Naipaul, known for his timeless books and unsparing views, made his last public appearance in India in January 2015 at the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF), where he spoke at length and was even moved to tears at the overwhelming reception he got. Recalling his maiden visit to India, the Nobel laureate had said in 2015: “I came to India first because of curiosity about my ancestral land. My publisher agreed to pay me an advance for anything I would write on India.”
But after writing two celebrated books on India, “An Area of Darkness” and “A Wounded Civilization”, his mother asked him to leave India.
“The only Hindi word my mother carried from India was ‘beta’ and she said ‘Beta, leave India to the Indians’,” he quipped. Naipaul took part in two sessions — “A House for Mr Biswas”, which revolved around his masterpiece by the same name, and “The Writer and the World”, in which he talked about his literary journey.
Naipaul was in conversation with Farrukh Dhondy, who asked him about his life in Trinidad, the journey as a writer, his memories of India and his writings about the country.
Dhondi asked him how come he was born in Trinidad despite his deep Indian roots. Naipaul said that it had nothing to do with him. “It had to do with my family and my parents,” he said, pointing out that there was a massive migration from India to the Caribbean islands during the middle of the 19th century and that he and his relatives “had to live with the result of that migration”. When Dhondy proclaimed that the session would be like “a conversation between two old friends sitting with a glass of wine and looking at the sunset”, an emotional Naipaul retracted humbly: “I do not like talking about the sunset. It can be used against me to infer that I am in the sunset of my life. Unhappy metaphor.”
His wife, Lady Nadira, sat on a chair behind him, taking notes, holding the microphone when he became too tired to hold it and prompting the words when he forgot what he was saying or ran out of steam. Naipaul also recalled the hardships during the initial days of writing.
“I was one of those people who desperately wanted to be a writer but had nothing to write about,” he said and advised young writers not be repetitive. “Even Dickens went wrong when he began to repeat. An author should avoid doing that.”
He recognised that during the course of his long and illustrious literary journey, there had been works that he was not very proud of. “A writer has to make a living and has to write a book. Don’t forget that.”
The last words of Naipaul on stage was a reply to a question from veteran lawyer Ram Jethmalani, who asked him the reason for calling India “An Area of Darkness” and suggested that it (India) was instead an area of light.
A humble Naipaul left a witty remark to conclude the session: “Ram is a friend and he left a very friendly comment.” Jethmalani was later seen kissing his hands and showing his reverance to the Nobel laureate.
As it turned out, Naipaul had attracted more crowd for his session than anyone else JLF hosted till 2015, more than even Amitabh Bachchan and Oprah Winfrey. Naipual’s last visit to India will also be cherished and remembered fondly by the writing fraternity for his public reunion with Paul Theroux, with whom Naipaul shared a full-blown feud since 1996.