Naipaul Unfit For Such an Honour
By Girish Karnad
Nov 7, 2012
LET me make it clear, I have nothing against V S Naipaul. I was objecting to the Lifetime Achievement Award that was given to him at the Mumbai LifFest. I wanted the organisers to explain how they relate themselves to the rabidly anti- Muslim statements made by him including those in an article in the New Yorker and on BBC. How do the organisers justify those statements or do they accept them? I know Faroukh Dhondy has been defending him all through and the organisers also speak of Naipaul’s wife and children being Muslim. I am glad he is a happy father and husband. Commenting on his family immediately gets one into tasteless territories. The temptation has been offered to walk in, but I do not want to talk about it at all. I am only going by what he has written and what I’ve heard him say in lectures, in life and in meeting.
I am not claiming to be a savant.
My questions are aimed only at the organisers.
My point was very simple, which they tried to obfuscate. It is an Indian award, given at a Mumbai festival. How can they give it to someone who has attacked a whole section of Indian society? Naipaul is a foreigner, he is a journalist.
He came here, he felt, he wrote. I have no grouse at all against him. If he is tone deaf to Indian music and cannot respond to the beauties of the Taj Mahal, that is his right. He has a right to his thought and I am not censuring him.
I am just giving my objections as a thinker. How can a Lifetime Achievement Award be given without any explanation of what he has written and said about Muslims and their ancestors? I have heard and seen him spout poison.
Anyone can find his statements in the archives of the New Yorker where he is writing about the Indian writer. Even that turns into a tirade against Muslims and how they destroyed Indian culture! This is the white man’s view of Indian history, an Orientalist stance and view that is also echoed by the RSS. Naipaul’s writing is vibrant, but a lot of his thought, though it sounds original, is something he has just inherited. In the 18th century, musicologist William Jones wrote — look at India, marvellous, pristine.. the Hindu culture was laid low.. who did it? The Muslim. Naipaul says the same thing.
In all his writings, no one person is being attacked. Instead he attacks a whole community and 500 years of Indian history. There is not even an attempt to understand history, he just holds forth. He should at least struggle to read that history. But Naipaul himself has said he doesn’t do any homework.
He just gets what he wants to get, he doesn’t prepare. It is very evident in his writing that he has no sense of history.
And this whole anti- Muslim thing reflects ready- made prejudices. He makes the situation yield the answers he wants.
Take, for example, his stand that the Vijayanagara empire was the last bastion of native Hindu civilisation. It was not like that at all. Aliya Rama Raya, the son in law of Krishna Deva Raya was carried in his palanquin into the middle of the battle, to spur his army on. The elephant dropped him and he was surrounded by Muslim soldiers. Someone shouted, don’t kill him, he is the king of Vijayanagara. He was taken to the tent of Nizamshah of Ahmednagar who asked him: how did you land up here? Aliya Rama Raya indicted the line on his forehead and said fate.
Nizamshah said sorry, and beheaded him.
There were many personally wrong decisions made around that period, there was no grand Muslim design of destroying the Hindu kingdom.
Aliya Rama Raya’s brother Tirumala didn’t even try to defend the city. He collected 300 elephants, loaded them with gold and left Hampi. The looting of the city started long before the Muslim army came there. It was not a great confrontation.
The RSS and Naipaul both have taken that entire story and concept from a book called Vijayanagar, A Forgotten Empire written by Robert Sewell in 1900.
So I am just saying Naipaul doesn’t know what he is talking about.
I was the director of Nehru Centre, in London, in 2002, when I heard his interview by anchor Nisha Pillai on BBC. I was very upset as Naipaul was talking rubbish and he said Muslims have destroyed Indian history and ravished the country. I heard him spout venom against Muslims all through the interview.
But I was a government servant then and I was not free to say what I wanted to. So when I got to speak at the fest where he was given a Lifetime Achievement Award, I did my homework and raised all the points that he has been making against Muslims.
He is a great master of language and I have enjoyed his works. I like his facility, his crispness and lack of pomposity in writing. I have read works like that in Kannada, not so much in English. I really enjoyed reading his early novels, especially A House for Mr Biswas. I am not questioning the Nobel Committee’s decision to give him the prize, I think he deserves it for his novels, he is a marvellous writer. I am not squabbling about it.
However, the timing of his Nobel Prize makes you wonder. A friend told me Naipaul wanted it desperately. He was considered each time, but it kept getting postponed, as the humanism that is required of a Nobel Prize winner was not there in his writings. The Nobel Committee has been accused of giving the prize for other reasons, even in the case of Orhan Pamuk, who is a very good writer.
But when Naipaul got the Nobel the year after 9/ 11 happened, a lot of Indians saw the connection. Cartoonist Maya Kamat did a cartoon saying “Congratulations Mr Naipaul, at last your anti- Islamic stand has borne fruit.’’ Many of us saw it as a result of his being a nice brown face spouting venom against Muslims.
(As told to Sowmya Aji)
Source: Mail Today