An irascible literary giant

Nobel literature laureate Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul may not have been as venerated in the land of his ancestors’ origin as he was in Britain and the West, though his writing was deserving of all honours until time seemed to rob it of its touching irony and playful humour. To place Sir Vidia in perspective, one must see him as a British Conservative. He deprecated the lives of Indians and West Indians in his writings as much as he criticised Islam. As a writer, he moved on from light comedy to outright pathos at the sight of the plight of people less fortunate than those living in the First World during his youth. Naipaul’s gloomy descriptions of India — such as his take on the “whole of India” turning up near the railway tracks as if to greet him early morning while they were there to answer nature’s call — were unlikely to make him popular, despite all the literary acclaim.

Critics marvelled at Naipaul’s splendid contradictions and how he was as cheerless and shocking as funny and hilarious; disdainful or sardonic, and equally kind and delicate. His sympathies lay more with the Hindu right, and his study of history and civilisations and conclusion on “suppressed history” were criticised for seeing things through “Victorian spectacles”. Honours sat lightly on him and criticism passed him by. His run-ins with Paul Theroux, Ian McEwan and Salman Rushdie were intellectually interesting, but added to the image of an irascible man. He didn’t endear himself to the world and to women in confessing to misogynistic violence on his first wife and a mistress, if not for which the words “critical but humane” may have summed him up.


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