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No Stranger To Controversy

V S Naipaul, who has earned a Knighthood and a Nobel, finds no woman writer his literary match…

V. S. Naipaul (or to give his full name and title, Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul) was in news recently - as usual for wrong reasons. It has been known for some time that Naipaul is not very fond of the human race, especially if they happen to be writers or women. In fact, it is obvious Naipaul does not like anyone much, perfectly understandable in a man who is himself not much liked by others, including, apparently, his own mother, and maybe his wife.

I had no idea about all this until I met his mother, Draupadi Naipaul, in Delhi one summer. She was in India on a visit and papers said that she would be going to a village near Ayodhya in UP from where her ancestors had nailed to Trinidad over a hundred years ago as indentured labourers a fancy word for coolies. I ran into her by an accident in a government hotel, sitting alone in the lobby, waiting for her guide. She wore a red sari with a zari border and was reading a book. It was not a book by Naipaul.

Her family had done very well since coming to Trinidad and she was now the boss of a bauxite mine near Port of Spain, which her father had done purchased for her. She was about to tell me more about the mine and her family, when I popped the question: had she seen Naipaul lately?
She looked at me as if she had seen a ghost. Her eyes went pale, her hands limbs and her cup of tea she was holding began clattering. It was as if I had asked her if she was going to marry again - she was a wealthy widow - and who the lucky man was.

Just at that moment, her guide appeared in the lobby and she said she had to leave. I did not see her again. Year later, I ran into Naipaul himself at a seminar or meeting, also in Delhi, at a time when the Ayodhya movement was all rage. Since Naipaul’s ancestors hailed form Ayodhya, or a place nearby. I asked him if he was planning a visit there himself. His mother had visited it when she was here last, I told him.

That did it. Naipaul is not a nice man at the best of time, and certainly not between breakfast and lunch. He was obviously in a nasty mood that day, or perhaps it was his usual mood. With his unkempt beard and ill-fitting cloths, he looked like one of those swamis in Haridwar he tends to be very hard on. The mention of his mother - who was dead by then - was apparently enough to raise his temperature and his voice.

After he had calmed down a bit, Naipaul said that he was writing a book-or may be an article - and was in India to collect material, and, of course, interview people. And would we, please, keep his family out of it? But, of course, some of those attending the seminar did not keep his family out of it. The whole thing made very good “copy” though it was not something he had asked for.

I have never saw Naipaul again, though I did visit London once or twice after that and had a mind to call him up. That was after he had received his Nobel, which I thought, would have mellowed him, perhaps sufficiently not to go berserk at the mere mention of his mother.

I have a feeling that writers like Naipaul, who are always running down other writers, particularly if they happen to be women, just don’t fancy other human beings, period. Human beings, especially if they happen to be women and won Nobels, are a nuisance. They have views, they have ideas, they tend to argue with you, and if they dislike you, they tell you so, particularly if she is your mother. She is apt to tell you, in so many words, who and what you are, and, of course, who and what you were, and don’t you forget it. Naipaul dislikes, or pretends to dislike, women, because he is afraid of them; I don’t blame him. Anybody with a mother like Draupadi Naipaul, would be running scared from pillar to post.
I have not seen Naipaul for a long time and am not keen to see him either. After all this writing and fighting over a lifetime, he must be an exhausted man - and, like a lion in winter, a very dangerous man in his lonely den.