Kissoon has dragged the debate on Naipaul down
Stabroek News
December 10, 2001

Dear Editor,

Mr Freddie Kissoon has been truly stung. There is no other explanation for his letter captioned "Naipaul is himself a mimic man" [ please note: link provided by LOSP web site ] (7.l2.200l) which reflects an inability to deal with criticism other than to spew personal invective at his critics, and to regurgitate the very arguments that have already been discredited and found wanting. For all his credentials that he so loftily annotates for us - a mimic man of epic proportions - he also seems unable to understand not only what he writes but what others are saying.

I remind Kissoon that he was the first of all the critics in the newspapers to drag the discourse on V.S. Naipaul down to a racist level, a truly denigrating thing to have done. His statements on race could not go unchallenged. Did he expect that they would?

If Kissoon is placing himself onto the lofty heights of being a political commentator then he must begin to learn that intelligent criticism presented in a civilised manner raises the level of discourse. However, Kissoon's letter displays all the hooliganism that many of us are forced to accept as a way of dealing with issues in Guyana, a hooliganism that denies civilised discourse wherein various points of view can be discussed intelligently, and without descent into personal attacks as he has done, based on his perceptions of us. He even wants an apology! Pomposity can be a truly entertaining delight. And all this from a University of Guyana lecturer! How far we have slid downward.

I contemplated a lengthier reply but that would only give substance to Kissoon's venom and to his gratuitous and inverse racism. I will say, however, that I am not part of "a subordinate Indian flock". No self-respecting Indian anywhere sees himself or herself in this way. This key statement of Kissoon's explains, however, his zealous pursuit to try to diminish Naipaul's work, talent and achievements. Naipaul's Nobel Prize upsets his view of us, and of himself, as "subordinate" people who should remain voiceless and have no recorded presence. The Caribbean Creole culture as promoted by Rex Nettleford is a place where Euro-African voices such as Derek Walcott's are the norm and anyone else's, "the other". For Naipaul to have given Indians a voice and a presence in the Caribbean is Naipaul's unforgivable sin. I assure Kissoon that though he may perceive himself to be subordinate that none of us hold this view of ourselves.

And what ashes have we risen from? This is only one of the wild statements that Kissoon makes to try to forward, at best, a puerile argument that can be so easily discredited that it is beneath one's intelligence and dignity to do so. It is all, as Naipaul wrote way, way back in "The Mimic Men", nothing but an "acclamation of words", an acclamation which Kissoon mistakes for truth and power.

I hope and expect that this is the last time I shall be writing to say that I enjoy Naipaul's writing and that I take particular delight in the work of an author who writes from an Indian Caribbean sensibility since it is one that I can share at a personal level, as I can do with no other writer to date.

Allow me to close with Naipaul's own words about himself and his writing. The book "Finding the Centre" is comprised of two first-person narratives. It was published in 1984 and in it, Naipaul writes of "my literary beginnings and the imaginative promptings of my many-sided background."

From the book's Foreword: "I recognised my own instincts as a traveller, and was content to be myself, to be what I had always been, a looker. And I learned to look in my own way."

From the narrative 'The Crocodiles of Yamoussoukro": "The intellectual adventure is also a human one: I can move only according to my sympathy. I don't force anything: there is no spokesman I have to see, no one I absolutely must interview. The kind of understanding I am looking for comes through people I get to like."

From "Prologue to an Autobiography": "To write was to learn. Beginning a book, I always felt I was in possession of all the facts about myself; at the end I was always surprised. The book before always turned out to be written by a man with incomplete knowledge."

From the same narrative: "To become a writer, that noble thing, I had thought it necessary to leave. Actually, to write, it was necessary to go back. It was the beginning of self-knowledge."

It is very evident that Kissoon is yet to embark on a journey of self-knowledge. The pity is, I don't believe he ever will. He is content, as Naipaul has never been, to accept the post-colonial wasteland as his lot.

Yours faithfully,

Ryhaan Shah