Benaras to Delhi
Train to Delhi arrived on time Friday night. But we were late. As we rushed towards the coach, I thought I had no time to hire a coolie to carry my heavy bag. But I was wrong. My bag was only getting heavier, so I dragged it wherever I could, which was really exhausting. My unfinished and old books were not only heavy with words but I could actually feel their load on my shoulders and not on my head. Besides, every work that requires intense physical labour is part of my daily exercises these days. This thought revitalized my energy and sense of comfort.
Earlier that afternoon, I had the opportunity to visit Kashi ghat. Maan-Mandir Palace, built in the early 17th century, reaffirms the advancement of ancient eastern astrology. There were different strange yantras (devices) that were used to calculate height, distances and positions of planets. After roaming the ghats, soon I was searching for alleys that I’d seen in Aparajito (1956). Although I never stepped inside the Pashupatinath shrine premises in Kathmandu, here I was talking with a Nepali keto in the miniature Pashupatinath. Actually, the graffiti on the wall outside the temple read ‘Nepali temple’, so I mounted up few steps impulsively. This Silwal told me that I’d miss the great splendour of the ghats since it looked incomparably stunning only when devotees light lamps in the evening on the ghats daily. I had not talk with a Nepali for ages it seemed, so I chatted with him for a long time before finally departing after taking necessary directives to reach the Vishwanath temple. I didn’t even think about boating due to the scorching sun. I asked a number of people before arriving in Delhi, “How do people survive the heat?” (Yesterday was the hottest March 30 in the last five years. Delhi fears early summer, a paper said.)
Another Nepali priest accompanied me for awhile to the junction of the alley that ended right in front of a library of the same name. Viswanath library had a rich and valuable resource of Sanskrit books. Unfortunately, I was schooled in an era when my government and private schools no longer feel obliged to provide basic Sanskrit education at secondary levels. When someone told me that Sanskrit is taught for one or two years as an optional subject here in India, I could only repent. “Who doesn’t know Sanskrit in Benaras?” the librarian retorted pushing back the Valmiki Ramayan I had picked out of the shelf. I regretted telling him a fib that I also belonged to the holy city.
And here I was cursing my companions for not helping me carry my bag when they could actually see I needed their help. And now the train was also delaying, nothing could make me anything but only more annoying. I could have had it relaxed but I was sweating and panting due to their ‘miscalculations’. When the train finally smoked and rolled on the line, I was being stared by a pair of curious eyes of a Bangalore-ian Murali. Bipin, a MBA student from DHU, was sitting right in front of me, beside him. They turned out to be good companions for the tiresome journey. I couldn’t sleep well on the way since the cold air was hitting me directly through the window, which despite my repeated efforts, kept on opening a little. The train arrived in Delhi around 2 pm. I later called Bipin and spent quite good time with him visiting the city that Saturday evening. Perhaps, it’s a beginning of a beautiful friendship with so many good people I’ve met over the last three days here.
I was warned not to eat anything given by strangers or fellow passengers in the train. One old lady offered us fruits twice but we had to refuse. When she asked again, I felt somewhat uncomfortable and thought for once about accepting the oranges she had offered just to appease her. It was a very difficult situation. We could not trust them. Especially when you are well aware that you’d be risking your life, will you take a chance? May god bless her for her generosity !
After initial dilemma, I finally agreed to book a room at a hotel in Chandni Chowk. The owner was a Muslim. At first he thought I was a Muslim too. Salik Shah is but in fact a Muslim (Arabic) name. Later when I explained a bit, he was slightly taken aback. But when he learned that I was a Nepali, he said, “Nepalis aren’t allowed here.” Manoj told him that I came through one of his old customers, so he agreed to let me in but on one condition, “Find a room somewhere else tomorrow and move out.” For the first time, I have become religiously conscious in India. I had not found churches, mosques and shrines all within a small confined area in my country. Here I could see countless Muslims, few Sikhs, numerous Hindus all at one place. At Viswanath temple in Varanasi, the security personnel (who have been deployed there amidst fears of attack on the temple) did not even allow me to take my flash drive along with me inside the temple area. The BJP, backed by Rastriya Swemsewak Sangh (RSS) and now the Raj Thackeray led Maharastra Nawanirmaan Sena (MNS) are dividing India across ethnic and religious lines like back home the Maoists are planning to divide and rule Nepal. Strange it may seem but these politicians do have support from people?
When I saw Muslims and Sikhs the way they are here, this question came in my mind - is it really necessary to dress one’s religion to show others? For I had removed the ‘sacred thread’ from my wrist as soon as I moved out from a nearby temple in the same Viswanath temple street in Varanasi. Seeing Muslims wearing white caps and Sikhs with their turbans made me worried. It was conflicting. Then I recalled my stand on banning Hijab or any religious objects inside academic institutions in some country in west when I thought they should be permitted. But now I realized that these are those things that actually create divisions among people. They put men in categories. Are all men should be treated equally? I feel so. But when you ask a Sunni about a fellow Shia, you become aware of the great division within the Muslim community as well. Is it necessary? Is religion still valid? If I’ve to take only one stand, I’d say- NO. I believe religion is a personal thing, we should better keep it that way in order to prevent ideological and religious confrontations. Are human lives important? Study Iraq and Afghanistan.
Delhi is big. At once I felt lost and lonely. Few nice people helped me moved in a hostel for this month. I consider myself lucky to have found such good men since I took up writing for a (good) cause. There are countless people I’m thankful to for their suggestions and willingness to give me some of your valuable time to provide necessary guidance, for taking the trouble to explain few important things and finding right words to encourage me. Dhiraj, my roommate, says Delhiities are selfish. I know everyone is. But then too we can still be good at times. “Never miss a chance to help someone who needs it,” my well wisher had reminded me during my three-day stay in Benaras. And I won’t. How could I forget this?
Priyank, Dhiraj’s former roommate from a nearby hostel, first felt that my hairdo matched my media-personality. Then Indrajit bhaiya, who was kind enough to hand over his room’s key and allow me to use his computer, said that my body language was good. Today, he said the same thing about my hairstyle. Akhilesh Sukla, a BHU gold-medalist in Hindi who quit lecturing in colleges two years ago and is looking for a job in Delhi now, said I should not be like him. “Don’t let your ‘talent’ wane,” he reminded me, “Money, power and position is necessary to prove a point…” Poets are rebellious by nature, he said, as Indrajitji listened to our long but interesting conversation. Suklaji was listening to me attentively, and I felt really grateful for the honour. He made me recite some of my poems. He also recited one of his poems. It was brilliant ! Before concluding our conversation, I made a small request, “Please do not stop writing. We don’t have any other options but to write now matter what happens in life.” He was a frustrated literary figure, I could see it. “One that even you’d be if you don’t work hard and wisely,” he warned heartily. And we all laughed.
Back in Benaras, I finally got hold of Guru Dutt Sahab’s films that I could not find in any film stores in Thamel, Lamilpat, Newroad or Mahaboudhha in the Nepali capital. But even here I had to search quite a number of DVD vendors before I saw one aged DVD seller. My intuition was right, the old man had but only one film- Aar Paar. Mannan uncle said it was a good movie. And also suggested me to go to the Mosar Baer wholesaler. I’d already bought over fifty movies, all old classics of Indian cinema, but still I’d not found Pyasa and Kagaz Ke Phool that I was looking for. At Mosar Baer, I found both. I got Bhabi too. Also a few rupees’ discount on them because of this ‘memorable’ interaction with an old man who looked over the shop:
“Is this for your senior?” the old man, probably over sixty, asked me.
“For me,” I said hesitatingly, somewhat smilingly. He looked very puzzled and a little impressed and further enquired what I did.
“I write,” I replied to satisfy his curiosity.
“Oh, so you are a writer,” he said almost flattering me. I know now that there is a long way before I can be.
I had to admit, “Trying to be.”
March 31, 2008
Benaras to Delhi
March 26, 2008
Few people made the place terrific! But why I don’t miss it anymore? Missing only those who made it so. Biplov took this shot. Still partying boys? Before I joined eKantipur, my editor ‘warned’ me not to use it as a platform- a launching pad. I told him- I won’t use it as a platform. Kathmandu Speaks is my platform. I don’t need a launching pad. And I take it as a mere coincidence- here I am without even a ‘recommendation letter’ after working there for over 10 months. I thank god for this. I don’t need a certificate. But it doesn’t mean I’ve any ill feeling towards anyone. I’m grateful to Sajeev dai who taught me what is more important in life. I’m grateful to Akhil dai who taught me what it feels like to work for someone. (Most importantly- Anger Management! Online media in Nepal has a long, long, long... way to go... ) These are my achievements. Thank all of you. Take care.
And on my last day in Kathmandu, we (Sabin and Daya) went to Mudkhu (?) on foot, some two-three hours away from Trishuli. Well, I thought we could move around Nagarjuna hill ! Thought it was just like going around Swoyambhunath- but didn’t know the hill was enormous… The sight was good. And I discovered many places along the ‘highway’ where lovebirds flock to make love!
March 25, 2008
Arrived Varanasi today. Wanted to see Sarnath but couldn’t. Met few people. “My Hindi is improving.” Have to learn to read and write Urdu. This is something that I want to religiously get in. I was advised to meet someone here. “What’s wrong in that?” I know. But he was telling all this is very ‘dirty’. He said I’d better find some money and start making film on my own! Couldn’t get right words to explain that I didn’t want to do that. Another bhai sahab got my point. He said so you want to ‘master’ (he used ‘maturity’) the craft first and build some confidence before starting your own work. Obviously.
It turned out Zuhaib bhai had also pursued this ‘idea’ (don’t know if I should call it his fancy ‘dream’ because in my case it’s something that doesn’t seem like stuffs dreams are made of) some 17 years ago. He shared few firsthand Mumbai experiences. Asked me to get some roles- anything- to get started. But the other bhai sahib said- “Don’t work as a junior artist. Build your image. It matters. Don’t do everything you get.” Deserves serious thinking...
But Mannan uncle was telling me something ‘imp’ yesterday on the way to Gorakhpur from Sunauli. Amitabh once told in an interview that beggars couldn’t demand. I’m an artist, I’ll do whatever role is given... Even I share this view about acting. Getting into a theatre is on the top of my priority. Told to ‘see’ Prithvi Theatre in Delhi. Seriously, I’ve kept all ‘options’ open. Am concerned about my physique, about my face, about my accent, body language. So much to work on. So much to learn. I want to get into the skin of an actor before manipulating them.
“Are you aspiring to make films for money or satisfaction?”
“Satisfaction. I’ve never been after money…”
Soon I discovered my ‘beat’ was hard-core cinema. Art movies. But don’t want to go to Mumbai yet. Don’t have that ‘required confidence’. Delhi is fine. It doesn’t scare me.
Did I tell you its HOT HOT here!!! Didn’t find a difference between all the places I came across during the smooth journey on the train and Kathmandu.
But at one point I said, “I miss listening Nepali.” And do I feel ALONE?
Started to work on my ‘first script’ (for obvious reasons). Read few pages from Rohinton Mistry’s Family Matters. Won’t be able to update regularly now onwards. Take care guys!
March 20, 2008
When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the angry Poseidon—do not fear them:
You will never find such as these on your path
if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the fierce Poseidon you will never encounter,
if you do not carry them within your soul,
if your heart does not set them up before you.
Pray that the road is long.
That the summer mornings are many, when,
with such pleasure, with such joy
you will enter ports seen for the first time;
stop at Phoenician markets,
and purchase fine merchandise,
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensual perfumes of all kinds,
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
visit many Egyptian cities,
to learn and learn from scholars.
Always keep Ithaca in your mind.
To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better to let it last for many years;
and to anchor at the island when you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.
Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
Without her you would never have set out on the road.
She has nothing more to give you.
And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.
Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
you must already have understood what Ithacas mean.
translated by Rae Dalven
One of my favourite songs. Check this wonderful video.
March 19, 2008
Last night, it was little like a ‘farewell’ party here… Tonight it will be 'more' like one. Spent night at Apurwa’s. Took the air to Lokanthali around 2 am. Apu and Biplov talked too much, played FIFA, and then talked again. You know I never speak! Apu dozed off at 5. And an hour later we were also knocked out. Ali ali khayeka thiyaum k… When we felt sleepy, it was time for Apu’s mom to wake up and perform puja!
We took these photographs this morning.
March 18, 2008
Nazi Atrocities, Committed by Ordinary People
From doctors to opera singers, teachers to truant schoolchildren, the extermination of European Jews was the work of roughly 200,000 ordinary Germans and their helpers. Years of research -- not yet complete -- reveal how sane members of a modern society committed murder for an evil regime.
Walter Mattner, a police secretary from Vienna, was there in October 1941 when 2,273 Jews were shot to death in Mogilyov in Belarus. He later wrote to his wife: "My hand was shaking a bit with the first cars. By the tenth car, I was aiming calmly and shooting dependably at the many women, children and babies. Bearing in mind that I have two babies at home, I knew that they would suffer exactly the same treatment, if not ten times as bad, at the hands of these hordes." After World War II, it was obvious to most observers that such acts could only have been committed by sadists and psychopaths, under orders from a handful of principal war criminals surrounding Adolf Hitler. It was a comforting way of looking at things, because it meant that ordinary people were not the real perpetrators.
Read more- Der Spiegel (link)
This is Lodz in Poland, the site of an infamous Nazi ghetto. It was here that Henryk Ross along with another 164,000 Jews was incarcerated for four years until the ghetto was liquidated in 1944. But Ross was a photographer and he kept a unique record of what really happened here. The Nazis had put the running and policing of the ghetto in Jewish hands, a situation which created a system of privilege among its inhabitants. There were those who had the merest chance of survival and those who had none. Among his many duties as one of the ghetto's official photographers Ross had to document the production of goods by the inhabitants of Lodz sold to make money for their captors.
Before the liquidation of the ghetto, Ross buried all the negatives ..., hoping they might survive, even if he didn't. Amazingly, both he and the negatives did and in 1961 his most incriminating pictures helped hang war criminal Adolf Eichmann. But there were other photographs that Ross had taken that had no place in the courtroom and, until recently, no place in our image of the Holocaust. As well as his other pictures, Ross had in an unselfconscious way, photographed the everyday life of the ghetto, including marriages, religious ceremonies and parties. In these pictures we see a happy, well-fed Jewish elite and scenes that show some uncomfortable truths about the ghetto system, like a little boy dressed up like a policeman, in his own ghetto-made uniform, playing a game of 'arrest your best playmate'.
"The battle over this material partly rests in the argument that there was no joy in the ghetto and these pictures certainly do challenge that. Contrary to any thought that they might complicate the picture of German cruelty or any question about the extent about the Holocaust, they actually give a very, very clear idea of how the German war machine within that period managed the Holocaust. There's something very immediate about photography, there's something very powerful about many of these pictures. You can't look at these pictures without knowing that everyone, or almost everyone, in them was killed before the war was over." (Chris Boot, Photo-historian)
Extract from 'Right Time, Right Place', Genius of Photography (Wall to Wall) (link)
Tuesday March 18 2008
By Alistair Scrutton
KATHMANDU, March 18 (Reuters) - For Nepali businessman Shashi Kanta Agarwal, it was not just being shot that was scary. It was a threatening phone call later that symbolised how hard it was to do business in one of the world's poorest nations.
"After shooting at me I got a call -- 'This time you went to hospital, the next time you'll be dead'," said Agarwal, still nursing a bullet wound in his thigh from a February attack.
The attack was brazen. Two men on a motorcycle without helmets or masks to hide their faces drove up mid-morning on a busy street in the capital and pumped two shots through the side windows of his car before speeding off.
Agarwal says the attack came from a criminal gang trying to extort him, a problem that has mushroomed in Nepal since the end of decade-long civil war in 2006 that had brought hopes of a "peace dividend" to the Himalayan nation.
"Many people have been kidnapped, others extorted. Security is a big threat to us. It's worse day by day," Agarwal, managing director of the Maliram Shivakumar group and one of Nepal's leading businessmen, said.
"I think several of my colleagues, in Japan, India, had plans to invest. But they have pushed back their plans."
Landlocked Nepal, with a GDP per capita of under $300, is hoping an April election, the first in nine years, will bring in a pristine constitution, as well as political stability and economic growth to match its booming neighbours India and China.
But extortion and kidnapping of businessmen, which had been a speciality of Maoist insurgents in their war against Nepal's monarchy, have spread to include criminal groups from as far afield as India and Indonesia, Nepali businessmen say.
For Nepalis in business, insecurity is now worse than during the war and symptomatic of Nepal's economic pain as it tries to embrace modernity. Insecurity has combined with political protests and government neglect to discourage investors.
"The Maoists showed the way. If you have a gun in Nepal, you get your own way," said Kunda Dixit, editor of the Nepali Times.
"Now everyone is waiting for the election. The election has become synonymous with peace and they want whoever comes to power to deal with the economy, with insecurity and extortion."
Agarwal, who has eight factories in Nepal, producing a host of products from soap to dry batteries and sugar, is the kind of businessman many say Nepal needs to boost a stagnant economy.
Poverty and unemployment were among the causes of a Maoist insurgency in the 1990s. But insecurity, along with weak economic reforms, street protests and power cuts, have all conspired to rob Nepal of strong growth since peace was declared.
"Here we are, sandwiched between India and China, and we can't take advantage of it," said Agarwal, who expressed frustration that even the isolated Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan was growing at around 10 percent.
In March, businessmen even took to the streets to protest another shooting of a colleague. Nepal's Chamber of Commerce and Industry said hundreds of cases of extortion have been registered with its members.
Businessmen now regularly change mobile numbers every three days or so for security reasons.
"We are telling the government give us security, an atmosphere for industry, but it hasn't happened," said Chandi Raj Dhakal, head of the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry.
The government says Nepal may grow by around 4 percent this year. Analysts say it will be nearer 3 percent -- essentially stagnant given a rising population.
The economy has grown under 3 percent for the last seven years, but more than a year of peace has seen little improvement.
"There has been no peace dividend," said Shankar Sharma, former vice-chairman of the Nepal's National Planning Commission.
It need not be like that, many Nepalis say.
The country's tourism sector is a source of growth and Nepal has huge hydroelectric power potential to tap into the economic locomotives of energy-hungry China or India. It also has an open border with India and its trillion-dollar economy.
But despite Nepal's hydroelectric potential, industry suffers at least eight hours of power cuts a day. The U.S. government has called Nepal "one of the most electricity-starved nations in the world" and businesses say it is one of their main costs.
Many hydroelectric projects have been slow to get off the ground, in part because Nepal is traditionally wary of India, the main source of Nepal's foreign investment interest, controlling its natural resources.
The country is still hugely dependent on donor aid and remittances rather than industry and services growth.
"There is a hue and cry about a sell-out with each hydroelectric project," Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat said. "It should sell like a hot potato."
Mahat said a strike this year in the Terai region, Nepal's economic heartland, cut half a percentage point off growth. Protests by ethnic Madheshis demanding autonomy brought Kathmandu to a standstill, cutting off fuel supplies from India.
Many Nepalis blame the economic mess on political limbo. Most businesses and investors are waiting until the April elections.
The vote will probably lead to a coalition government, but many hope it will allow a credible leader to emerge with popular backing.
When it came to the election, Agarwal, sitting in his plush office over a cup of tea in the historic heart of Kathmandu, was optimistic.
"We've got hydro power, our land is so fertile. But we haven't got a political leader who can exploit this."
(Editing by Simon Denyer and Megan Goldin)
March 17, 2008
By Manuj Chaudhari
Nepal National Weekly, March 16
Even before this column writer’s remark hailing the stand taken by the seven political parties 15 days ago, that only the Constituent Assembly (CA) had right to fulfill demand for one Madhes Prades with right to self-determination, as a right ‘model’ could be published, they could not remain firm on their stance. Although they rejected the United Democratic Madhesi Front demand for ‘One Madhes, one Prades’, they accepted ‘the aspiration of Madhesi people for autonomous Madhes’.
Though the use of language is different, there is no substantial difference between the demand and the deal. The agreement gave an outlet to the difficult situation faced by a larger section of the people and provided crucial political resolution to conduct the CA election. That’s why the agreement has its own value. But like usual, while ‘celebrating’ the relief provided by the deal, we did not wish to discuss the wrong ‘model’ set by the deal, its other aspect and future consequence. Not that a few people have not raised the issue but experts and professors like Lokraj Baral too ‘just’ welcomed the agreement.
If we do not maintain unbiased position on important political questions, we would never build the required foundations for lasting stability in the nation. We have happily welcomed every new political change and every deal and agreement recently. No matter if that was 12-point deal or 23-point agreement, or the recent 8-point deal with the Madhesi Front. Not only that, we used to hail the 1990 constitution as one of the world’s best constitutions. However, none of these documents signal the sustainable welfare of the nation.
For now all our hopes lie on the CA election and we are almost certain that it would be the most effective cure to our ‘250 years old wound’. Due to the ‘special circumstances’ the thought of Constituent Assembly issue unilaterally developed in such a way resulting in a situation where none of the leading political and civic leaders could defend their arguments that Constituent Assembly was not required for this nation. At the present situation, without the Constituent Assembly election the future Nepali politics is now unimaginable. But if the situation is to be improved following the CA election, then we have to stress on setting up ‘models’ right from the very moment. Only for the sake of holding the CA election we have already ‘shattered’ many basic values of rule of law. The current situation resulted from that process will certainly weaken the state while various ethnic, regional and political groups with their narrow self-interests within the state will be strengthened.
Republic, secularism is definitely synonym for the modern, just and progressive society. However, there are prerequisites and standards to establish that. We gave republic to the country without proper procedure in the name of progress, we also gave secularism. We hurriedly fixed proportions without adopting any scientific procedure in the name of establishing inclusive society. There is not even any government or general accepted definition of which is Madhes, who is Madhesi, but we accepted ‘the aspiration of Madhesi people for autonomous Madhes’ in the official document. For what? To conduct the CA election and overthrow monarchy. If our political ‘approach’ remains the same, perhaps, the CA elections would be held, even the monarchy would be overthrown, and political parties would celebrate but the political instability would certainly remain the same. Then, what is the meaning of such extremely painful political exercise?
Madhesi Front will naturally raise the demand for the autonomous Madhes for Madhesi people as per the recent deal after the CA elections in future. Certainly, that demand will not be less than the demand for whole Madhes. Then, at that situation, what to do? Imitating the Madhesis, Rai, Limbu, Tamang, Tharu all will demand autonomous states. Then, what? Many might have thought even such a powerful Madhesi agitation was ‘curbed’, what (to think) about others. However when the Madhesi agitation turned ‘extreme’, which the people had not even anticipated until the Maoist disrupted the November polls, we cannot dismiss chances of another similar force coming out within a short period out of the current transitional phase in the country. Even if that doesn’t happen, Madhesis are themselves sufficient to ‘seize’ the nation if their demands are not met.
One of the points of the deal reached with the Madhesi Front states that proportional and ‘collective’ admission of Madhesi and other communities into the Nepali Army will be ensured. There may not be any disagreement that all organs of the government should be made inclusive but what is the meaning of ‘ensuring collective admission in the army?’
This is transitional phase, that’s why there will be mistakes. But, let’s not repeat such mistakes that will affect the future political stability again. Such mistakes can be either prevented by the political force or the people’s power. Since the political forces are focused only on their temporary vested interests, the civic power must raise its voice. The meaning of raising voice is not trying to disrupt the CA election, saving monarchy or defending extremism. Our civic leaders have been saying this that the civic society’s role is to ‘warn’. If we do not warn objectively to the scope of our mind and the politicians do not emphasise on setting up right model, then the CA would be just an important political turn alone, which would continue to invite uncertain turns ahead. Then, the country will stay as it is. And we will again continue to be entrapped in political and constitutional questions.
Translated from Nepali by Salik Shah. The text of the 8-point deal is here.
After watching As time goes by (Casablanca) few days ago, I began to read Ingrid Bergman’s profile and learned about her love affair with Roberto Rossellini, the pioneer of Italian neorealist cinema. Rossellini described realism as ‘nothing other than the artistic form of the truth.’ While Satyajit Ray said - Art wedded to truth. That’s all I know about neorealism- something that is also core to my approach to filmmaking. These three amazing films, from some of the outstanding works in cinema I’ve got chance to see, changed the meaning of cinema for me. I don’t know which film influenced my decision but it was during the ‘study’ in 2007 that I realised I could do ‘more’ through this medium.
Germania, anno zero (Germany Year Zero) (1948)
Set in the post-war Germany, Rossellini’s final film of his war trilogy (of which I’ve only seen this) completely shocked me. I’d not seen devastation of war and the aftermath. Images formed with words turned vacuous. I cannot forget the cruel circumstances which persuades the young boy to poison his father. The final scenes were very disturbing. I just watched the film not thinking too much about anything else than what I saw. I remember the boy’s remorseful face, how he walked restlessly on the deserted ruins of the building as if trying to hide from himself. It seems like a long time back. I’ve to see this film again- yes including the first two parts. (That his subsequent works all move away from strictly realistic constraints is strongly suggestive that this movie acted as a bridge between the two styles.- Jeremy Heilman)
Ladri di biciclette (The Bicycle Thief) (1948)
My favourite scenes from this Vittorio De Sica film include one shot at the eatery where the father is telling his son about the plans he had made… and the last scene when he finally breaks into tears as he walks home with his son. A bicycle (I later recalled this ‘method’ while watching Children of Heaven (1997) where Majid Majidi shows the human condition through a pair of shoes.) exposes helplessness of men forced to bear the brunt of extreme poverty resulted from war. No wonder, Ray was influenced by this film and took up filmmaking. This is certainly a masterpiece.
Pather Panchali (Song of the little Road) (1955)
Bengali cinema developed paralleling with world cinema. Ray’s debut film depicting the rural India, detached from the world outside and within, in extreme poverty progresses slowly than the later two parts of the Apu trilogy. The discovering of train by the two children is the most delightful moment.
I’ve not seen a train yet. Soon, I’ll. From New Road to New Delhi.
March 16, 2008
Pride and prejudice
He went from a family joke to the greatest writer in the English language ... and, to many of his peers, a thoroughly nasty piece of work. But is Nobel laureate VS Naipaul finally ready to make peace with the world? Robert McCrum meets the Trinidadian exile on his home turf
Sunday March 16, 2008
When, in October 2001, the telephone rang in VS Naipaul's remote Wiltshire home, it was his wife who picked up, as usual. The writer himself never answers. Horace Engdahl, head of the Swedish Academy, was on the line with some long-awaited information. The Nobel prize committee had awarded its literature prize to 'Mr Naipaul'. Could he, please, communicate this honour to the great writer? But no, the 98th Nobel literature laureate could not come to the phone. He was busy, writing, and did not wish to be disturbed.
Everyone agrees that VS Naipaul is fully alive to his own importance. A mirror to his work, his life is emblematic of an extraordinary half century, the postwar years. Let it not be said that he does not know this. 'My story is a kind of cultural history,' he remarks, in part of an overture to a long conversation. Nevertheless, he will not be reading Patrick French's forthcoming authorised biography, The World Is What it Is. 'I asked Patrick to do it, but I haven't read a word,' he emphasises, brushing past rumours of discord over the manuscript. 'I don't intend to read the book.'
This volatile mixture of pride and insecurity illuminates everything about him. 'I am the kind of writer,' he once said, 'that people think other people are reading.' That's a characteristic Naipaul formulation, ironically self-deprecating (my audience is small, but select) while at the same time breathtakingly self-confident (I am a great writer whose work deserves to be generally admired).
The light cast by this strange combustion of arrogance and modesty has often exposed the world in new and unexpected ways. At its best, Naipaul's prose is as sharp and lucid as splinters of glass. But there's a paradox here. The man himself is anything but straightforward - an enigma, wrapped in a riddle, inside a mystery: possibly, he is a bit of a puzzle even to himself.
Here, the best explanations lie in his writing. 'I am,' he says, 'the sum of my books,' adding, 'the self that writes the books is the most secret and the deepest.' What, then, does Naipaul's work tell us? The great themes of his prose are loss, identity, corruption, estrangement, oppression, and varieties of exile. So it's appropriate that to begin to find him, we must start with a journey.
Naipaul's directions to his home on the edge of Salisbury Plain are precise and simple. 'Leave London by Cromwell Road. (As though you are going to Heathrow.) But at the Hammersmith Flyover (near Fuller's Brewery) take the left fork to the southwest. You will find yourself on the A316.' The author of Guerrillas is a writer who can give even the stage directions of everyday life a kind of edgy exactitude. He is known to be a stickler, and rather elusive, but I hope to be meeting him in a rare moment of approachability. As well as the imminent biography, Naipaul has been collaborating on a BBC documentary for Arena, and seems to have reached a stage where setting the record straight has become an important project.
Sir Vidiadhar Naipaul - he was knighted for services to literature in 1990 - can sometimes seem locked away in a self-inflicted prison of controversy, misquotation and ill-feeling. Even the most cursory trawl through his cuttings throws up 'prickly', 'contradictory', 'irascible' and 'resentful'. His former editor, Diana Athill, says rather brutally: 'I simply could not allow myself not to like him.' Paul Theroux, another former friend, wrote an entire book, Sir Vidia's Shadow, painfully anatomising the secrets of their friendship in a monumental gesture of literary pique. And that's before you get to Naipaul's incendiary politics.
After a lifetime spent at the crossroads of east and west, Naipaul remains an intensely polarising figure. His study of Islam and the muslim world, Among the Believers, and its important sequel, Beyond Belief, still arouse visceral hostility. The late Edward Said accused him of 'an intellectual catastrophe', promoting 'colonial mythologies about wogs and darkies'. To the poet and fellow Caribbean Nobel laureate, Derek Walcott, he is 'VS Nightfall'. Walcott has noted: 'If Naipaul's attitude toward negroes, with its nasty little sneers... was turned on Jews, for example, how many people would praise him for his frankness?' It must be to his credit as a writer that Naipaul is a man about whom no one is neutral.
Later generations of Caribbean writers have wrestled with his legacy. Junot Diaz, author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, sees Naipaul as 'a warning and a lure. How can you not be repulsed by the nonsense that has spewed out of his mouth, and yet stunned by the power of his prose?' Caryl Phillips, whose debut novel The Final Passage nods to Naipaul, and who adapted Naipaul's own first novel The Mystic Masseur for the screen, says, 'I admire Naipaul's vision. I don't always agree with his bolder political pronouncements about people and their culture, but that never fully undermined my respect for him as a man dedicated to his craft.'
Today, the traffic on the A316 is evocative of the difficulty in making the approach to Sir Vidia: there are no clear avenues; progress is faltering. As we grind towards the southwest, I mentally review his dossier. The Observer has always been a supporter. As long ago as 1961, Colin MacInnes published a review of A House for Mr Biswas in this newspaper, hailing a 'Caribbean masterpiece, a book truthful in realism yet enriched by deeper resonances relevant to mankind'. When Naipaul won the Nobel prize for Literature in 2001, the paper saluted him as 'the finest contemporary writer of English prose fiction'. Like everyone else, we come to see him with plenty of baggage.
After about 30 miles of stop-start driving the road to the west opens up, through the pines of Berkshire, and begins to make fast running across the flinty downs of Wiltshire, a county that lies at the heart of the English imagination. Naipaul himself has described his own first appearance here: 'I was still in a kind of limbo,' he writes in The Enigma of Arrival. But now his directions are rooted in the landscape: 'Leave A303 at Amesbury. Pick your way through the very small town. After four miles ... you drive a few hundred yards through a small village, with the Avon on your right.'
This is not Shakespeare's river, but a flooding, West Country trout stream. In fact, I am early for our meeting and pull over by a low brick bridge. A light-bulb sun breaks through the mist hanging over the water meadows in front of a lovely Tudor country house and, for a moment, The Wind in the Willows comes involuntarily to mind. Scarcely has the thought popped up when a water rat scurries down the bank and flops into the icy water flowing smoothly under the pontoons.
The silent river and pale sun endorse the moment of reflection. Then I am on my way again. There's a red postbox in a hedge, a crumbling dirt lane and the solitary stone house where Naipaul lives with his second wife, Nadira. Here, you go through a five-barred gate, down a sloping gravel driveway, past a modest saloon car and arrive outside the kitchen. The only sign this might be the home of an internationally renowned writer are some weathered instructions to DHL couriers. But then Lady Naipaul, tall and brightly dressed, is throwing the back door open in her naturally warm, effusive greeting, and it's journey's end.
For years, Naipaul was married to his first wife Patricia Hale in a passionless relationship that seems to have brought out the worst in him. Diana Athill recalls Pat telling her, 'Vidia doesn't like me to come to parties because I'm such a bore.' On her death in 1996, from cancer, Naipaul astounded his friends by turning his back on his long-standing mistress, an Anglo-Argentinian named Margaret Murray, and marrying Nadira Khannum Alvi, a Pakistani journalist with family connections to the government (her brother is a general). It is said that when this vivacious divorcee first saw her future husband at a party she came up and kissed him on the lips, the beginning of an impetuous romance. For his part Naipaul seems happy to be swept along in the whirlwind of her love, and has adopted her daughter by a previous marriage as his own.
Today, Sir Vidia looks comfortable and slightly sleepy in brown corduroy trousers and tweed jacket. My first thought as I was shown into his cosy but elegant sitting-room was that I was having an audience with Mole.
In advance of our conversation, I had imagined some awkwardness, difficulty, scorn, or irritation, even anger. But he is not like that. He does not make speeches. He has a very clear, detached view of the world, and he is a world-class listener. Much of the transcript of the interview is Naipaul's repeated agreement to a question - 'Yes, yes, yes' - accompanied by a silent and vigorous nodding of the head, punctuated by the occasional, rather deft, question of his own. The real surprise, though of course it's there in the books, if not the legend, is his humour. He is a man who says he is greatly amused by the human condition. Already, my recollection of our meeting is influenced by his smiling chuckle.
Naipaul in person is soft-spoken, courteous and attentive. His eyes twinkle merrily when entertained, becoming almost lost in his features, which have a boyish smoothness beneath the grey whiskers. Here in old Wessex, he could easily pass for a guru; in this refuge, beside the Avon, there is serenity and a sense of contentment. In The Enigma of Arrival, Naipaul once wrote of his 'nervousness in a new place', and of how 'I still felt myself to be in another man's country, felt my strangeness, my solitude.' Now, aged 75, after a lifetime of wandering, he seems to have found a home, domestic, sensual, and happily secluded.
Naipaul says he has been in poor health for the past two years, and is only now recovering. Something in his manner makes you suspect he was always an instinctive valetudinarian. The elderly man who is settling himself rather fussily into a hardback chair in front of me is capable of many moods and disguises. There is the author of some 30 books. There is the provocateur. There is the literary grandee who can deliver the witty and brilliant re-buke. Addressing the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, it was Naipaul who came up with the verdict that it was 'an extreme kind of literary criticism'. And, of course, there is the lifelong exile, for whom 'limbo' is a leitmotif.
On both sides of his family, the Naipauls were 'only about 40 or 50 years out of India'. In the merciless flux of empire they had been sent first to East Africa and then to Trinidad to make 'an immigrant Asian community in a small plantation island in the New World'. He has described this as being 'unlikely and exotic, and also a little fraudulent'.
'Fraudulent?' I enquire.
He leans forward thoughtfully: 'Well, it really means that you're not really Indian. You know, Indians don't accept that people who've grown up abroad are Indians. Now they accept the Green Card folk from the United States - that's something to cling on to - but they don't accept the other people like myself.'
I remind him that Salim, the hero of A Bend in The River, describes himself as 'a man without a side', and suggest some self-identification there.
'Yes, yes, it is true, it is true.' He repeats the phrase as if he'd just written it, '"A man without a side." It is true.'
He was born in Trinidad in 1932, but Port of Spain and the Caribbean would never become home: the fastidious and ambitious young man found his extended Indian family unbearable. 'I had to get away,' he says. So he arrived in England a triple exile: from India, from Trinidad, and from his flesh and blood. 'It was a pretty awful childhood,' he remembers. 'The Trinidad side was nice, but the family I was born into ... terrible, terrible. It was very large, with too many people. There was no beauty. It was full of malice. No thought, no beauty. These are things that mattered a lot to me, even when I was young.'
Then there was the unresolved business of his literary ambition. Naipaul has never made any secret of the fact that, from the age of 11, 'the wish came to me to be a writer', a wish that was soon 'a settled ambition', even if, as he now says, it was also 'a kind of sham'. In books and writing, he could master the chaos of his inheritance, soothe the raucous interruptions of the familial past - and find an identity.
But here was another obstacle in the writer's path to himself. 'I wished to be a writer,' he remarks in one of his essays. 'But together with the wish there had come the knowledge that the literature that had given me the wish came from another world, far away from our own.' Naipaul somehow had to find his voice in English, and to find it in an idiom that did not mimic the imperial masters or compromise his authenticity. Summarising his 50-year search for literary truth, he has expressed it as 'disorder within, disorder without'.
The English books of his school, the best years of his childhood, he says, offered the powerful fantasy of a remote and mysterious world, Dickens's London or Wordsworth's Lakeland, for example. But to a thoughtful and sensitive young man, for whom literature was a salvation, English both worked and did not work. 'I couldn't understand the settings,' he says. Dickens's 'rain' was never a tropical downpour, his 'snow' was unimaginable, and how could Naipaul relate to daffodils he had never seen?
For the 'fraudulent' Indian, uniquely sensitive to his place in the world, the jux-taposition of a full-blown imperial English culture with the 'formless, unmade society' of a small Caribbean island was only a source of panic and uncertainty, especially if it was your deepest ambition to use this language to write about, and make sense of, the world in which you were growing up. 'I might adapt Dickens to Trinidad,' Naipaul has written, 'but it seemed impossible that the life I knew in Trinidad could be turned into a book.'
Enter Naipaul's father. Seepersad Naipaul was a shadowy figure in his eldest son's childhood. 'The man himself remained vague,' is how Naipaul puts it. But his story is as terrible and vivid as anything found in the pages of English literature. A Trinidadian Indian, Seepersad was 26 when Naipaul was born, and had recently become the local correspondent of the Trinidad Guardian in Chaguanas, the heart of the sugar industry. Seepersad was so bursting with literary ambition that he wrote under many names - as Naipaul (or Naipal) and also as Paul Nye and even Paul Prye. His son remembers he took him to see the Ramlila, a pageant-play based on the Ramayana, and also 'read everything' aloud - Charles Kingsley, Charles Dickens, HG Wells, Gulliver's Travels, high and low culture, snippets and stories from newspapers and magazines. 'It was little pieces, but enough,' he remembers. 'Without it, I would have been a dead man.'
But there was one story Naipaul senior could not tell his son. As a Trinidad Guardian reporter, Seepersad, who had a horror of Indian cult magic, possibly linked to a conflict with his wife's primitive beliefs, had written a number of articles exposing the use of Kali cult practices to fight diseases in cattle. His reports had aroused intense local hostility and finally death threats from the devotees of the goddess Kali, who now declared that unless Seepersad made a conciliatory gesture, he would become poisoned and die. In June 1933, when little Vidia was barely a year old, his father was forced publicly to sacrifice a goat to atone for his journalism. It was a terrible humiliation. His career was ruined, he had a breakdown, lost his way in the world and died of a heart attack in 1953, before his son had published a word. When Naipaul later asked his mother about his father's insanity, she replied, 'He looked in the mirror one day and couldn't see himself. And he began to scream.'
Today, Naipaul venerates his father's memory and recognises that his reporting, the plantation violence, the tribal magic, the incessant storytelling must have seeded Naipaul's own ambitions. Naipaul cannot be drawn on this, however, because to him the craft of writing must be shrouded in mystery.
'I think I've got to believe in the mystery of creativity,' he says. 'I have no big idea about fiction. When I was very young - we're going back to the starting of things now, it's all getting very faint - if something worked out, I thought I had been a vessel for it. When it worked, I thought some other thing had been present there.'
And if things were bad?
'If things were bad and didn't work out, I felt responsible.'
Either way, it was a harsh and unforgiving world, in which he had to stand alone, a credo expressed in the very first line of A Bend in the River, a line to which his biographer pays homage: 'The world is what it is: men who are nothing, who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it.'
Naipaul's self-protective response to what he saw as a young man was a mixture of the comic and the absurd, and he still insists that his vision always was, and remains, comic. 'It has never vanished,' he repeats. 'The comedy is there. Not the verbal comedy of the early books, not the jokes. But a larger kind of comedy, a comic sense of the world.'
In 1950, the young VS Naipaul who arrived in Oxford knew all about comic ridicule. He came on a scholarship, but, as he says proudly, it was an award given not by the university but by the colonial government, one of three granted annually. 'I had to get away,' he repeats, 'I had to get away.' His family looked on his literary ambition with disbelief. 'They would ask you,' he remembers, '"What are you going to do afterwards?" "Oh, I think I'll try to write." And this would be a joke, yes, a joke.'
His undergraduate years at University College, Oxford, were a perplexing time for the young man. 'No magic happened in my three years there,' he says, 'I continued to fret over the idea of fiction as something made up.' Fiction as something artificial would not be good enough. For Naipaul, fiction has a serious job to do, it must 'elucidate a situation'. He says, 'If there's no situation to elucidate, I wouldn't write. I wouldn't do the work. I hate the idea of narrative just for the sake of narrative.' But then he takes that back, in apparent contradiction, repeating three times 'Everything is narrative'. Here, momentarily, you glimpse the way in which, for Naipaul, the novel has been the balm to the confusions of his inheritance.
When you look at the young man's situation in those immediate postwar years, it was astoundingly unpromising. To his family, he was 'a joke'. Trinidad, his country, was scarcely better off, a marginal community in a society (the Caribbean) whose place in English life was not even acknowledged. But Naipaul was so focused on the prize, he says he did not experience any racism. 'I'm sure I did,' he repeats, 'I'm sure I did, but I wasn't looking for it. If you're not looking for those things, you don't see them.'
On top of everything, the England to which he had come was threadbare and depressed in the aftermath of the Second World War. He now says the years 1954 and 1955 were 'very, very hard'. After Oxford, he was 'nearly destitute'. He got a job at the BBC editing and presenting a weekly literary programme for the Caribbean service. There, in a scene he has often described, in the 'freelance's room' on the second floor of the Langham Hotel, he wrote the first sentence of a story set in Port of Spain, and completed it in a single afternoon.
In those days he wrote fast. And all the time he was finding his voice in fiction, accumulating pages on filched 'non-rustle' BBC paper, which in another superstition, he never numbered. Now he says, 'I feel blessed and very lucky. There's no vanity in this attitude to one's work. It's just a statement that one's work has been snatched out of the darkness, grabbing it while you could do it. You've got to do it. You can't just sit and wait for the beautiful idea to form and to be complete in your mind before writing. You've got to go out and meet it.'
Naipaul betrays a mild defensiveness about the intensely personal nature of this rendezvous with the world. 'The thing about writing about myself is that it doesn't end with that. One does it for a purpose. It isn't just adoration of the self. One is making some other point about the world at the time.'
That would come later. Naipaul's first books, what he calls 'the stories of the street', The Mystic Masseur (1957), The Suffrage of Elvira (1958) and Miguel Street (1959), all rooted in the Trinidad of his youth, are so full of confidence and comic energy that it is disconcerting to listen to his recollections of adversity in the mid-Fifties.
'In addition to being able to pay the rent, it was the struggle with the material. A struggle with how to move on, and what to do creatively. To find my voice.'
He was sustained in this struggle by his remarkable self-belief, a quality that would later manifest itself as an unbearable arrogance, the source of his reputation as a monster. 'When I did something good,' he says, 'I never had any doubt what would happen to it, regardless of what the early reception was. No doubt at all.'
Once he had begun to find his voice, the work flowed, a succession of books that accumulated prizes, readers and admirers. Then came his breakthrough, A House for Mr Biswas (1961), the novel inspired by his father. Now there was the growing recognition of journalists like Colin MacInnes who, writing in The Observer in 1961, exclaimed: 'A new English tongue has been created in the islands: a fresh, rich speech which is a transformation of the old, tired primal tongue into a flexible, vivid, terse vocabulary: poetic, witty and sardonic.'
His reputation was spreading. India's greatest living writer came to call. 'A man I knew at the BBC Indian Service brought RK Narayan to see me one day.' Naipaul was in the midst of A House for Mr Biswas. 'I was living in Streatham Hill, and he brought this old man - not so old really - to see me. I was very moved by his modesty. I would have thought I should have been the one to go and see him. He was very shy, very charming.'
Naipaul says that A House for Mr Biswas is 'of all my books, the one that is closest to me'. Its success marked the climax of his youthful career, and he believes that its two years' gestation were 'the most consuming, the most fulfilled, the happiest years of my life. They were my Eden.'
After Biswas, the well of childhood experience was dry. 'In the early days,' he says, 'you examine your mind, and you examine what you know, and you do something out of that, and it took some doing. But it was soon exhausted because it was a limited experience, a child's experience, an adolescent experience.' After that, he says, 'this other thing began to happen, going out'.
'Going out' is Naipaul-speak for travelling and journalism, a recipe for 'my way of looking', first in the Caribbean for a book entitled The Middle Passage, and then into that other area of darkness, his ancestral India. Now he was not just a clever young novelist, he was a journalist engaging with developing world politics, and his habit of looking unflinchingly at what he found did not serve him well. 'That was my entry into the world,' he remarks with laconic understatement. 'It was possible in those days. Magazines would take long articles. I would go and spend six weeks on a piece. I was lucky at that time.'
The conversation turns briefly to Zadie Smith. Naipaul has not read White Teeth, but sympathises with the author's predicament: 'The problem for someone like that is: where do you go, how do you move? If you've consumed your material in your first book, what do you do?' He shakes his head. 'All those stages are full of anguish.'
Elsewhere, in the past, he has spoken contemptuously of multiculturalism as 'a kind of racket'. Today, in another mood, he recognises that his strange inheritance has been to his advantage. 'From the point of view of writing, it's been a blessing, because I saw the possibilities. I arrived at the possibilities. I worked towards the possibilities.' Then, in a typical burst of melancholy, he says, 'In every other way, it's been a kind of curse. People don't know how to approach my work. They don't know what to look for.'
During this difficult period in his life, feeling his way forward after his youthful debut, Naipaul relied on a few stalwart supporters - above all his British editor, Diana Athill, who finally broke with her author on the publication of Guerrillas in 1975. In her acclaimed recent memoir Stet, Athill has several sharp things to say about Naipaul. Her most wounding line came after Naipaul's departure from his publisher: 'It was as though the sun came out. I didn't have to like Vidia any more.'
So now, when Athill's name comes up, I anticipate some lethal counter-punch. But no, the old curmudgeon of literary legend is all generosity, wreathed in smiles. 'Diana was very good to me, and I was very fortunate because my kind of writing would have had very few takers in those days. Except with her.' He reiterates his primitive belief in his charmed life: 'That again is part of my luck, you see. She would read my books immediately. And she would write a letter the same day, and the letter could almost act as jacket copy. She was very talented. In those days,' he continues, recalling the book world of the Sixties, 'we didn't have these interviews and public relations exercises. The books were just published. You stayed at home, and you went on doing your work.'
This incessant work is another key to Naipaul. Many writers will claim to hate writing, and will do anything to postpone the moment of truth. Not Naipaul. 'It's what one lives for,' he says intensely. 'My idea of bliss,' he goes on in a rare moment of rhapsody, 'is to be in the middle of a work which you know is good, to write well all day, and to go to a dinner party in the evening, and have nice wine.' To this day, Sir Vidia and Lady Naipaul are inveterate diners-out.
Such moments of joy were probably trumped by the darker aces of Naipaul's literary self. His extraordinary gifts combined with the inward horror at his Caribbean origins (a mixture, if you like, of arrogance and rage) combined to make a man permanently ill at ease in the literary world, tormented by his own high standards and the fear of failure and, worse, non-recognition or indifference.
I think there is plenty of evidence that he was long troubled by this self. In a revealing essay on Christopher Columbus, in The Overcrowded Barracoon, he writes 'in all his actions his [Columbus's] egoism is like an exposed deformity; he condemns himself.' Today, speaking of the Nobel Prize, he remarks, 'It gave me a lift, but that was internal.' And then the inevitable regret: 'The prize came so late that it hasn't altered anything. Probably if it had come when I was 50 it would have been different. But I'd offended too many people.'
It would be typical of Naipaul to think he had somehow offended too many Nobel committee members, but he is also acutely aware of the offence he has given through his writing to countless readers across the world. After he won the Nobel prize in 2001, and possibly in acknowledgement of this painful personal story, he found a passage in Proust's essay Against Sainte-Beuve to elucidate his deepest self, using his Nobel speech to headline it.
It's an interesting passage, and worth quoting, because it goes to the heart of what Naipaul is about: 'Proust has written with great penetration of the difference between the writer as writer and the writer as social being... a book is the product of a different self from the self we manifest in our habits, in our social life, in our vices... I will go further now. I will say I am the sum of my books ... it's been like this because of my background. My background is at once exceedingly simple and exceedingly confused.'
In conversation today, Naipaul alludes to this sustaining insight. 'I think Proust was right: the self that writes the books is the most secret and deepest. One doesn't understand that. It isn't a self that is revealed in the letters one wrote to a publisher or something. All that's external. It's a mystery. It can't be explained. This is true of all creative people.'
By 1971, the year in which he won the Booker Prize for In A Free State, Naipaul's literary self was fully at large in the world and would fuel three decades in which he travelled a long way from the comedy of his early fiction to the more sinister images of A Bend in the River, his masterpiece, and the later, more personal fictions, The Enigma of Arrival and A Way in the World. His journalism and incessant travelling took him into the muslim world of Among the Believers and Beyond Belief and made him enemies among bien pensant western liberals as well as muslims. Today, he exudes the satisfaction of one who has been proved substantially right about Islam. He says he does not like some of the controversy he has aroused, but affects insouciance. 'When I read those things, I am immensely amused. They don't wound me at all.'
This seems a good moment to bring up Paul Theroux's account of his friendship with Naipaul, Sir Vidia's Shadow: A Friendship Across Five Continents. Friends with Theroux for many years, Naipaul had been a kind of mentor to the younger novelist. But when Theroux found through a bookseller's catalogue that one of his own books, inscribed to Naipaul and his first wife, was being offered for sale, he demanded an explanation, by fax. Piqued by Nadira's reply and by Naipaul's advice in a chance encounter on the street ('Take it on the chin, and move on'), Theroux's bewilderment and anger found expression in Sir Vidia's Shadow. This merciless, ill-tempered anatomy of Naipaul in his prime exposed a snobbish, bitterly racist, misogynistic monster at odds with the world, and contemptuous towards the tradition, from Austen to Hardy, of which he was now a part. A close friendship is probably as mysterious as a marriage. Who can say what the truth of it might be? But the hateful misanthrope who stalks through the pages of Sir Vidia's Shadow throwing off asides about 'Mr Woggy', 'infies', and 'bow-and-arrow men' seems to have morphed into someone much more mellow.
'I wonder why he did it,' Naipaul muses. 'I don't know the book. I wouldn't read it.' There's a pause, then he says, 'Theroux was very witty when I met him in East Africa, full of jokes. I liked the chap. I think the wish to be a writer, an American writer, corrupted him. And then he had a kind of modest success, which corrupted him even more.'
Naipaul still has no trouble dismissing other writers. His most recent book, A Writer's People, a collection of essays, ignited some embarrassing controversy over his contempt for, among others, Hardy, Austen and Dickens.
'I don't dismiss them,' he says, resisting this interpretation, and placing the argument in the context of his younger self's struggle to assert a distinctive voice. 'What I'm saying is that they're not for me. My comments seem harsh,' he goes on, 'but that wasn't intended. I wouldn't want to upset people.'
Oh, really? 'Dickens is becoming increas-ingly difficult for me.'
I point out that, once upon a time, he had written admiringly of Dickens and that much of Biswas is unimaginable without Dickens.
'Probably,' he replies. 'But you see, one has to move on. One has to change. One can't be the same kind of person all the time.'
Still on the subject of other writers, Naipaul questions me eagerly, and quite closely, about Philip Roth and Salman Rushdie, affecting to know little of their recent work. He says he does not enjoy meeting fellow writers. 'Every serious writer has his own way of looking. I think to run into somebody with another way of looking at the same event, the same world, which is not like yours, is very unsettling.'
Maybe, I suggest, there's an element of competition, too? Naipaul denies this. 'No, I've never had any feeling of competition. I really feel that X's readers may not be my readers.' Naipaul reveres his readers. To him, they are like the acolytes of a very special faith. Loyal, lifelong Naipaul readers are 'pure gold' to him. If there's a choice between life and work, he is certain that it will be in the work where 'things are going to be evened out'.
He's amused by the ephemeral world of celebrity. 'Somebody wrote a story that I had children. It's not true.'
Did he ever want children?
'No, the opposite. I'm quite content with myself as I am. I don't wish anyone to carry on my name or my genes. No, not at all.'
So it's the work that still drives him. Soon, he will go to Uganda to research his next book, accompanied by Nadira. Then, he will travel on, alone, to the Congo. Even now, in his twilight years, it seems he cannot escape Conrad's influence, though typically he has said he believes A Bend in the River to be superior to Heart of Darkness
When he's not travelling, I wonder what he reads for relaxation.
'I read the classics a lot. It sounds very learned, but it isn't. I'm trying to understand Suetonius. I'm reading him in the original. There's something strange about him, something unfinished.'
Looking back over 50 years of literary endeavour, much of it hard-fought, he reckons he has come 'an unimaginable distance'. Even now, after all that he has achieved, he cannot quite answer the question about whether, in the end, he feels at home here, with his lovely green and white garden, his dense shrubbery and the timeless Avon flowing peacefully at the end of the sloping lawn.
'I don't think like that,' he answers. 'I don't have a side, remember? I'm here, but it's all right. People are nice. It's provisional; it's provisional. Only age is beginning to make me feel perhaps I should settle down somewhere, call it a day, you know.'
· Arena's The Strange Luck of VS Naipaul will be shown on BBC4 on 10 April
I asked him to send that poem to the editor of the kathmandu post. But he remained indifferent. I thought he nodded. But the next day, he would always forget. Perhaps, he is like me since I also pretend to have forgotten than to write to the editor.
He is a poet. A poet in search of an identity. Handing over sheets of paper which would have a beautiful handwriting, he has asked me so many times to get it printed. “I can never send it”, I would tell myself quietly.
He doesn’t see what is there in my smile. He talks so much about ‘beauty’ around him. There was a group of people protesting and police charging lathis to stop them yesterday in Newroad. Now routine work of people who work for different political parties- shouting slogans against ‘them’. What he was doing, you can’t think. He was showing me the ‘beautiful’ girl (his first girlfriend) who was also looking at him. Amidst the so-called ‘movement against regression’, he was launching his ‘revolution for passion’. That’s why I call him a poet of ‘beauty’. (And two years later, he finally understood what real beauty is.)
One day, we went to a publisher. I was going to tell him why we were there. But he dragged me out of the house. He said his poems are still childish. What that publisher will say? So better we keep it. What could I do to help him to cope with his inferiority complex?
On lonely roads, he walks all by himself. He just forgets that I’m accompanying him. He sings in his husky voice (which I find sweet) those songs of himself. He makes so many ‘minds’. He tells me so many poems. Still he thinks he’s alone, sad and one of that unknown crowd. I also get frustrated when I look in his eyes.
I’ll not live more than thirty years. I see my future in his eyes. I never write any poems. Because the shadow of his handwriting never falls on this paper. I am in search for ‘someone’ to live that time I have. So I know his misery. I’m with him, yet we feel so lonely. A shadow-- I’m in search for an identity. A name is all I want from him. Will you tell him this? It is what I want for him. (The shadow of a man can never desert that man.)
I stand and I stare
Amidst such chaos
I’m still indifferent
Wires and bricks
on broken glasses
of those jeeps
I look here and there
I search everywhere
to find a name
for my frame.
Maoists have continued to violate the Code of Conduct for the April polls. They manhandle and obstruct activists and leaders of other political parties from campaigning for the polls. Why isn’t the government doing anything? I doubt if people even know about such things or they think the Young Criminal League should continue to avenge their personal wars, teach these ‘corrupt politicians’ some good lessons?
The Maoist minister, who recruited lal-dogs to control the state media, have finally started to ‘disseminate biased news about political parties and their views’. But we do report factual information. We report their excesses. Everyone knows. But why can’t EC do anything other than ‘urging’ and issuing press statements? Everyone’s reiterating free and fair elections, peaceful and terror free elections—but I don’t see anyone doing anything to create that kind of environment. Even the armed groups in Terai have stopped making news recently but Maoists continue to.
I was wrong to think that Maoists won’t win. Now I’m damn sure Nepali Hitler will become our next President. I was very young when the last elections took place. But now I see how these kinds of people get into our system. Someday, someone will even leave these Maoists behind (in terms of violence and abuse). The revolution is incomplete. But the next revolution will be against the Maoists. Let them win. I’m waiting for the next revolution to completely wipe them off. Maowaadi Jindabaad. Prachandapath Jindabaad. Can I get a ticket please? I won’t thrash, I won’t give threats, yes sir I’m ready to kill.
NC protests code breach by govt media
KATHMANDU, March 16 - The Nepali Congress (NC), a major constituent of the ruling seven-party alliance, on Saturday urged the Election Commission (EC) to issue bold directives to the government and to state-owned radio, television and newspapers to adhere to the election code of conduct while disseminating news about political parties and their views.
Issuing a statement the NC said that state-owned Radio Nepal, Nepal Television, the Gorkhapatra Daily and The Rising Nepal have been blatantly violating the election code of conduct through the dissemination of biased news and views.
Even after drawing the EC’s attention thrice in the past, these media have not stopped favoring a particular political party and its leaders and spreading rumors against the others to tarnish their image.
The EC has already asked the officials of these media outlets to adhere sincerely to the election code of conduct and give equal access to all political parties and their leaders in the coverage of the election campaign.
Similarly, denouncing the ongoing highhandedness by Maoist cadres against other political leaders and cadres as reported by the media, the NC has urged the government to ensure law and order and take stern action against the perpetrators.
It has also asked the Maoist leadership not to repeat such activities that assault the spirit of the multi-party democratic exercise.
On Friday, NC leader Shiva Raj Joshi, who is contesting the election from Surkhet-3, was reportedly mistreated by Maoists cadres.
March 15, 2008
Nat King Cole’s Monalisa won my heart. I’ve always loved listening him since then. His voice, his music is magical and reaches my soul.
When I fall in love it will be forever
Or I'll never fall in love
In a restless world like this is
Love is ended before it's begun
And too many moonlight kisses
Seem to cool in the warmth of the sun
When I give my heart it will be completely
Or I'll never give my heart
And the moment I can feel that you feel that way too
Is when I fall in love with you.
And the moment I can feel that you feel that way too
Is when I fall in love with you.
When I fall in love (link)
By Khumaansin Tamang,
Kantipur Online, March 15, 2008
Altogether 28 young girls were vaccinated for cancer of the cervix at the first vaccine programme organised in the country on Saturday.
Nepal Network for Cancer Treatment and Research Center Australian Cervix Cancer Foundation (NNCTRC) with the support from the Australian Cervical Cancer Foundation (ACCF), provided the vaccine to a total of 28 girls belonging to the 12-14 age group in Banepa today.
NNCTRC, a non-governmental oraganisation is planning to provide the vaccine to a total of 100 girls at a subsidised price with aid from the Australian Cervical Cancer Foundation.
NNCTRC Chairman Dr Surendra Bahadur Shrestha informed that they were providing the vaccine, which originally costs at least 25,000 rupees, at the affordable price of 975 rupees to encourage local participation.
Four Nepalese women were the first to receive the vaccine at the launch of the campaign, an Australian initiative, to provide the cervical cancer vaccine free to developing nations, which kicked off in Kathmandu on March 9. The world's first cervical cancer vaccine, the Gardasil vaccine, which protects against the strains of the human papilloma virus that causes 70 per cent of cervical cancer was developed by Professor Frazer and the late Dr Jian Zhou.
After six months, the NNCTRC with the help from ACCF is planning to provide the vaccine to 1,000 Nepali women from the 9-26 age group.
“A lot of women are affected by cancer of the cervix. However since they don’t disclose it, it gets worse,” Dr Shrestha added.
Gynecologist and a cervix cancer expert Dr Shila Burma said, “It is best to give the vaccine to women even before they start to have sex.” She added the disease was widespread in Nepali women. “We are very encouraged with the launch of the anti-cervix cancer vaccine campaign in Nepal.”
Dr Burma had brought along her daughter Luna to get her vaccinated at the programme.
“The vaccine must be given three times in a span of six months,” she added.
“(Cervix) Cancer can be avoided at the first place by getting a medical checkup of the mouth of the cervix,” she informed, “However, the cancer has not been under control since most of the patients come (for medical treatment) only after the disease reaches its final stage.”
If the vaccine is given to all teenage girls across the country, she said cervical cancer could be eliminated. “If one can’t afford the vaccine, at least by getting the checkup of the cervix’s mouth, they can prevent cancer,” she added.
NNCTRC also screened nearly 150 women today. The organization, which has been conducting various cancer related programmes for the last six years, has already screened nearly 1,500 women for cervical cancer.
Australian Ambassador Graeme Lade and ACCF chief Michael Wille were also present during the vaccine and screening progarmme today.
According to the Australian Queensland Government website, under the $300 million Smart State Innovation Fund program, the Queensland Government is providing Professor Frazer, who is also a Smart State Ambassador, $250,000 a year over five years to translate the immunotherapy success of his cervical cancer vaccine to other diseases.
The Brisbane-based Australian Cervical Cancer Foundation is sponsoring the programme.