Tuesday, July 11, 2017

An Area of Darkness - V.S. Naipaul

This book comes with a tag "his discovery of India'. I have not read Naipaul's works before and for long I have been telling my good friend Vinod Ekbote to lend me the 'House of Mr. Biswas'. Then when Shobha gifted me this book I was glad I could read a Naipaul. On the inside cover Mr. Naipaul stands with a cat, a reluctant smile on his face. The kind that says, I have to smile to sell, so I will, else you guys don't even deserve my smile. Something about the picture and the smile, not forgetting the title gives an idea of the impression he leaves.
Picador, 290 p

I could dwell a bit on how he structured the book etc but I frankly don't care enough. From the first page his intense dislike for all that is India oozes out of his pen. The crowds, the people, their constant seeking of his money, the corruption, the bureaucracy, the red tape, the people defecating in the open, people trying to live life like Europeans, people who rented out their houses to him, everyone and everything repulses him. There is not one good hing he can see about this area of darkness. Reluctantly he says he likes R.K. Narayan but he hates Munshi and other writers who he thinks are too romantic about poverty etc. He cannot understand how Indians cannot see how bad India is - he seems to believe that Indians delude themselves from reality. It was an effort to read through, pages and pages of his labored indulgence. The characters he meets are all caricatures and he uses them to write his books - but not one good word escapes his writing. The moment he moves away from India, to the West, you can see the words changing. Randomly I can browse through the book and I'd find words like 'Unhappy', 'ridiculous', 'craze for foreign', 'squalid', 'mimicry of the west', 'despair' etc. The mood lightens only in the last two pages when he boards a flight out of India. He sees the uniform of the airhostess, the elegance of Madrid and you can see he is back home.

If there was one book I would have willingly not read it was this. But it gave me a peek into Naipaul's mind. And that smile of his. This is a version of India that he labored through perhaps only to write about it. I cannot for the life of me think that there could only be so much dismay, distress about this word. Why then, was he suffering it? The only plausible reason would be that he wanted to write about it. So he uses every single character he meets, makes a caricature of them, and fills up a book with his prose.   

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