Being a writer is a terrible profession, especially for one
from the West Indies.Being Indian only complicates the issue more.
The news of Sir Vidia Naipaul being awarded the 2001 Noble Prize
for Literature is probably one of the most unsurprising events in
the history of 20C literature—for obvious reasons. While the prize
is being awarded for much of what the man has written, I think it
is his ability to transform himself through an art form not readily
accepted in the West Indies, scaling the poverty and confines of
a Hindu Trinidad community, to becoming the world’s foremost writer
of English prose and travel observations, that is his grandest accomplishment.
as it has been said, Naipaul does not consider the West Indies as his
home (no mention of it or Trinidad in his statement
upon hearing the good news), it should also be
Naipaul in Guyana, 1990, on a return trip to assess the
situation after his previous trip in the sixties. Guyana was the
first country that he visited, when he began his travel writings.
His journey through the West Indies is documented in his
controversial Middle Passage.
said that the West Indies has never been ready
to truly accept Naipaul as West Indian. This may very well have
stemmed from his brutally truthful critique of the West Indies documented
in the Middle Passage,
in which he noted; “History is built around achievement and creation;
and nothing was created in the West Indies.” And that middle-class
Blacks mimicked European attitudes, regarding themselves more “European”
than African. Naturally, we fussed for 40 years and…truthfully,
we have produced but how much has been produced is another matter.
More than his unparalleled prose skill that links
him to literary giants like E.M. Forester, it is his sense of righteousness,
his uncompromising refusal to serve causes because causes “corrupt,”
that sets him in a category from which most West Indians cannot
claim to share. Underlying his major works is a puritanical streak
of the truth to be found even in the description of filth and ruin
that makes him, on a small note, similar to Gandhi, for whom he
allegedly once wept out of respect. A soft spot emanating from a
hard man reputed for chasing reporters from interviews. This sense
of truth, which we West Indians claim to have but which has eluded
our daily tendencies is, in Naipaul, never compromised for art or
public opinion. This does not mean that his books are not questionable,
but the writer in Naipaul never gets the better of Naipaul the man.
Naipaul, one may say, could never have been an executive member
of the PPP.
the West Indies is struggling against itself from becoming a series
of territories straddled by dereliction and lack of creativity.
Poverty, the HIV epidemic, corruption, crime, weak leadership, and
racial and tribal politics have left the region a mere sandbank
on which its own integrity is in the process of being shipwrecked.
In world affairs, we’re not even trivial. Whatever we produced has
been purloined or misused; it has failed to save us from ourselves.
And in this midst sits the East Indian identity question that Naipaul
confronted decades ago, and which contributed to his making England
his home. Very little
has changed for this East Indian Identity; the East Indian, more
than anyone else, is being asked to identify his place of belonging,
and required to remind others of his importance.
East Indian accomplishment can be summarized, it may be divided
between Jagan, Kanhai, and Naipaul. Together, they represent the
best in East/West Indian politics, cricket, and literature. Kanhai
has ventured into territories whose horizons were made invisible
to Jagan and Naipaul. What Kanhai did with a piece of willow, has
not been done by Naipaul with a pen, not because he is incapable
but because 20C English literature offered little new room for similar
exploration and explosion of the human spirit. Jagan, always the
relentless, credible leader, survived his politics but at a price
too costly for his supporters. Sir Vidia, over time, remained steadfast
in his integrity as our severest critic of the social consciousness
of the postcolonial figure.
am happy to hear that Naipaul’s home in Trinidad will become a museum,
et cetera, more than I was over the news of the Noble award. The
prize was destined, but a museum to honor an East Indian artist
in the West Indies, is a welcoming stepping stone in the right direction
of recognition. Jagan may have not received the number of accolades
garnished upon him, had he not become president again and Kanhai,
despite his artistic dexterity, is still an abscurity in his Guyana.
Already, there are some who haven’t heard about the legend. In Trinidad,
Chutney music’s most enduring figure, Sundar Popo, died an impoverished
man. His legacy is still to be inscribed in a substantial manner
Parents of VS Naipaul
is how a people die…little by little…but such is the ignored state
of an ignored people in an ignored region which has less a problem
producing, than it does honoring those who have dared to produced
in extraordinary ways.<