So many loyalties, says Naipaul

Sir Vidia naipaul

By Kevin Baldeosingh

“Trinidad was mentioned.” This was the response of VS Naipaul yesterday to a question as to why he had mentioned only England and India in his first public statement after copping the 2001 Nobel Prize for Literature.

Naipaul was speaking in Washington DC at the headquarters of the Inter-American Development Bank for the launch of his latest novel Half a Life. The address was beamed to Trinidad via the teleconferencing facilities at the Port of Spain IDB.

Questioned by a Trinidadian, who described himself as a fellow QRC old boy, at the Washington end, Naipaul said, “One has so many loyalties, it’s quite a Carnival.” He said he had to thank England, the place that allowed him to be a writer, and India, which had occupied his mind, and his agent, “and last but not least, the place where I was born”. He admitted, however, that it may have slipped him because the list was so long.

He said the Nobel Committee had been instructed to describe him as a Trinidad-born British writer. “What more can one do?” he said.
Questions fielded by Naipaul’s wife, Nadera, were written and sent to the author after his 30-minute reading from Half a Life. Asked his opinion on the US response to the events of September 11, Naipaul said he wished their war on terrorism could be restated as “a war on ALL terrorism”.

“I’m not sure that it is,” he said, arguing that since the US had allies who supplied money and soldiers to terrorist organisations, “the whole thing has already been compromised.” He admitted to being surprised and horrified at the September 11 attack and said that, although he thought the British government’s response was good, he felt the British people “are being rather craven about it. Their idea is that, if we do nothing it will go away and, if we do something, it will anger them”.
Questioned about the possibility of democracy taking root in Islamic countries, Naipaul said that Islam and democracy were not compatible. “It would be like what they once said about African countries: one man, one vote, once.”

Asked if he was contemptuous of Third World countries, Naipaul said that when he began travelling and writing in the 1960s, “People wanted you to support their heroes and ideas and, when you didn’t, they accused you of being negative.” He pointed out that his books had lasted for 40 years. “I don’t think books can survive that long unless there is truth in them.”