Nobel laureate V S Naipaul, who died at his home in London on Saturday, was a conflicted person, conflicted about the land of his own and his grandparents’ birth at one level, and between the two and the place he adopted as home for much of his writing career. He seemed not to be at peace with himself and never really embraced fully the cultures and traditions of the countries of his roots and adoption. Yet, he produced the most enchanting literary works of fiction and non-fiction, reflecting his keen eye for human and physical detail and his trenchant criticisms of these societies.
He was particularly harsh on India and Indians, mostly deservedly, though he was harsher on the culture of his native Trinidad. His writing style could not be simpler — short, crisp sentences yet suffused with profound meaning and thought. He seemed to be unhappy with what he saw in India, the backdrop to several of his prized works, though in later years he seemed to have identified himself with the right-wing pro-Mandir aspirations of the majority community. He could be notoriously cantankerous with fellow literary figures but his innate love for the land of his ancestors remained undiminished. Typically, Indians unhesitatingly owned him up as their own, especially after he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2001, with the citation correctly sizing up the winner as one who, though, “a literary circumnavigator, (was) only ever really at home in himself, in his inimitable voice.” He died six days short of what would have been his 86th birthday.