15 June, 2021

V.S. Naipaul: Bounty Of Barbs

The writer and the man were ­inextricably intertwined. Both not made for the faint-hearted.

Photograph by Getty Images
V.S. Naipaul: Bounty Of Barbs

Curiously, when history looks back on him, perhaps the thing we will be most grateful for is that Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul was not built for the faint-hearted.

As a man, he was famously short on skin and fanatically intolerant of fools. Talking to him was like tap-dancing on a minefield. You were always surrounded by imminent detonation.

Over the past few days, since his passing, tributes and assessments alike have been awash with anecdotes of his sonorous assassinations. Writers he savaged. People he disdained. Self-perceptions he chopped for supper. All of it executed with his peculiar brand of music: phrases uttered in triplicates. As he told a hapless writer he once gave an award to: “You must promise never to write again. You must promise, you must promise, you must promise.”

The year of his Nobel Prize, at a grand literary gathering in Neemrana Fort, he immortally dismissed writers Shashi Deshpande and Nayantara Sahgal for their banality, told the American ambassador’s wife she must leave, then retreated in a huff into a...

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