Remembering a literally behemoth

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VENICE, ITALY - APRIL 14: Trinidadian-British writer and 2001 Nobel Prize winner Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul poses for a portrait session during 'Incroci di Civilta', Venice Literary Festival on April 14, 2011 in Venice, Italy. (Photo by Barbara Zanon/Getty Images)
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By Emeka-Mayaka Gekara

When Mohun Biswas, the protagonist in VS Naipaul’s A House for Mr Biswas,  moves his family to their new abode, he is concerned about the his wife’s nagging.

He regards his wife Shama and the children as “alien growths, alien affections, which fed on him and called him away from that part of him which yet remained purely himself, that part which had for long been submerged and was now to disappear.”

Despite his poor education, he becomes a journalist, has four children with Shama, and attempts several times to build a house that he can call his own. He feels that only by having his own house he can overcome his feelings of rootlessness and alienation.

He makes multiple attempts to build a house for himself but each is a disaster. The first house collapses in a storm. The second is sold for lumber. The third is over-priced, rickety and beyond his modest means. Biswas who was born is born in rural Trinidad and Tobago to Hindu Indian parents and whose father is a Brahmin, finally attains his dream when he moves the his family to The Shade—the new family house – but dies soon after, as they settle, at the age of 36.  A House for Mr Biswas is believed to have mirrored Naipul’s father, who was a journalist in Trinidad.

Alienation, rootlessness, dislocation, self-awareness and arrival are dominant themes in Nobel Laureate Naipaul’s works. He died on August 12 at the age of 85. Naipul is also acclaimed for fiction and autographical works that reflect on entanglement and the post-colonial condition.

Born into an Indo-Trinidadian family in Trinidad and Tobago in 1932, the author’s earlier, comic novels were often set in the Caribbean nation.

He is the author of more than twenty works of fiction and nonfiction, including The Mystic Masseur, Miguel Street, Mr. Stone and the Knights Companion, Guerrillas, A Bend in the River, Among the Believers, A Turn in the South, and Between Father and Son.

Naipaul was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001 for “having united perceptive narrative and incorruptible scrutiny in works that compel us to see the presence of suppressed histories”. His other honours included the Booker Prize in 1971, the David Cohen Literature Prize, and a knighthood in 1990.

When he was awarded the 2001 Nobel Prize for literature, the Swedish Academy described him as a “literary circumnavigator, only ever really at home in himself, in his inimitable voice.” It described him as “the annalist of the destinies of empires in the moral sense: what they do to human beings… whose authority as a narrator is grounded in his memory of what others have forgotten, the history of the vanquished.”

A controversial author, Naipaul is criticised for a tinge of racial overtones in A Bend in the River, as well denigration of women. The writer could not hide his disdain for “sentimental” female novelists, which caused them to project a “narrow view of the world.”

Naipaul had a reputation for cutting people out of his life, and once retorted, “My life is short. I can’t listen to banalities.” In a letter he once wrote to his father, he explains that literature boils down to writing “from the belly rather than from the cheek.” He remarked:

“If the semi-illiterate criminal wrote a letter ordinarily to his sweetheart, it would be what most letters of such people generally are. If the criminal wrote this letter just before his execution, it would be literature; it’d be poetry.”

He wrote from the belly. 

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