A writer with strong interest in his ancestry
Guyana Chronicle
December 15, 2001

I refer to a letter [ please note: link provided by LOSP web site ] by Mr. Shaun M. Samaroo (11/30), in which he singled me out ("Rakesh Rampertab used this East Indian-Naipaul peg to hang his criticism that East Indian writers are under-represented in chronicles of West Indian literature.") for making Naipaul (VSN) merely as some kind of East Indian writer. The themes of Samaroo's response were; (a) we are "One Nation" born of the "English," thus, let's reduce our emphasis of ancestries; (b) Naipaul (VSN) is very "English" and is least concerned with his ancestry. He cited Naipaul's "Enigma of Arrival." His interpretation is biased; one point is absolutely incorrect.

Samaroo wrote; "Later in the novel, Naipaul meets his landlord, an Indian who writes poems about Hindu gods. But there is no real tribal connection between the two. And Naipaul himself wrote in the novel that 'generations of a new kind of education had separated us from our past; and travel; and history. ... we couldn't go back. There was no ship of antique shape now to take us back. We had come out of the nightmare; and there was nowhere else to go' ".

A: The landlord is not Indian, but English. There could not be any "tribal connection" between them. B: His use of extracts/ellipses (...) is misleading. This extract is about Trinidadian (TT) Indians and English education that, with oil money (p. 351), has destroyed the Indian past. By inserting it right after his claim of VSN-landlord relation, Samaroo forces the reader to believe it relates to VSN/the landlord.

C: The "Enigma" did not win the Noble. D: To say that VSN's Indian past means "less" to him than being "English" writer is a bit far-fetched; the book is filled with Indian/TT references. According to VSN, the "writer was just a part (if a major impelling part)" of the man. This man (himself), was "in the profoundest way, a social being" that lived "close to the village ways of his Asian-Indian community" with "instinctive of and sympathy for its rituals..." The food he takes on his trip reflected "some genuine Hindu distrust of the food that might be offered on the plane," and his Indian past is seen as a world of "sanctities handed down to us as children," and of "sacred places" which were "doubly and trebly sacred to me because far away in England I had lived in them imaginatively over many books..." pg.353).

He rejected religious proselytization (noting the pundit officiating the post-funeral ceremony [13th day work?] of his dead sister, Sati); "Indeed the pundit said at one stage, talking indirectly to us as though we were a Trinidad public assembly...that the Gita was like the Koran and the Bible.

It was the pundit's way of saying that we too had a Book; it was his way, in a changed Trinidad, of defending our faith and ways" (p.348). Other Indian/Eastern influences/mannerism are that "Enigma" originated as a "Mediterranean fantasy" and VSN's use of meditation to "honor" his dead sister.

E: Contrary to Samaroo's view, VSN is "out of sorts" in England. A young VSN wanted to be "free of London" (p.174) while the older VSN felt he contributed to the decline of imperial England; meeting an old woman once, he felt like an "intruder who destroyed or spoilt the past" for her (p.318).

There are more examples, also.

But to write about Turgenev independent of his grandfather's past, is to write of Satyajit Ray's films free of Bengali culture, the result is an inherently fractured undertaking, because the writer assumes that what came before has been obliterated by what came after. The "roti" has not been displaced by fish-and-chips. Thus, It is unimaginable to view VSN independent of his ancestral links, considering its heavy influence in his writings and personal searches. It has never been my intention to categorise VSN as an "East Indian" writer, but he happens to be East Indian with a strong interest in his ancestry. For this reason, I find Mr. Samaroo's reading of "Enigma" to support his Naipaul-is-English view suspicious.

Finally, as a free man, I need no peg upon which to hang my views, especially one that indicates blatant discrimination in our regional literature. This isn't "rehashing of the past" as some believe, but a rectifying of the future. While I admire the idea of "One Nation," I also regard it apprehensively because I have not been provided with assurances of its credibility. And while I endorse Mr. Samaroo's rhetoric of humanism, I prefer real, mutual respect between peoples and faiths and bodies; I hope his concept of "maturity" means that writers/artists will be recognized/documented with equal reference, despite any existing handicaps.

As a starter, I think it is vital that letter writers be honest with their audience.
Rakesh Rampertab