Part of the Caribbean establishment has always been hostile to Naipaul
Stabroek News
December 19, 2001

Dear Editor,

Mr. Bakr's letter captioned "Naipaul has become the stubborn incarnation of the worst of a past generation" (2.12.2001) took the local discourse on Naipaul to a new level one to which I hesitated to sink, even though Mr. Bakr had taken a pot shot at ROAR. Can you take someone seriously who fulminates about Naipaul's "maledictions" then sneers that the latter's Nobel was greeted with "disgust", that he is "intellectually inadequate" and a "good minor talent" to whom the Caribbean had just wished "good riddance"? I had decided to shrug off Mr. Bakr's jaundice as an idiosyncratic "De Gustibus..." and all that, until I saw him being congratulated by Mr. Frederick Kissoon (Faculty of Social Sciences, UG) and Mr. Dave Martins (Big Bamboo, Merrymen).

Now this is quite a spread of support, to say the least, and I realized that Mr. Bakr's profuse use of the royal "we" to authorize his anti Naipaul loathing was not a mere affectation absorbed while in exile in the land of Louis IX, but possibly the signification of a wider Caribbean orientation. This possibility certainly deserves a response, if for nothing else than when Naipaul is identified finally as "this East Indian" who is fortunately pass? and over the hill, the "we" receives the cryptic valedictory warning: "there are others among us".


Mr. Bakr announces that coming "after Garvey, or CLR James or Jean Price Mars and Aime Cesaire", Naipaul could not possibly be "offering any original insights" in his critique of Caribbean society. So why all the brouhaha and gnashing of teeth on Naipaul? Mr. Bakr reveals that while "we (there's that word again) were offered hope and redemption" by the afore mentioned gentlemen, Naipaul cynically proposed " flight". Now it's of more than passing interest that Mr. Bakr chose those particular four Caribbean pioneers, whose social commentaries are deemed so profound and all encompassing as to have preempted any modification or elaboration much less refutation by one such as Naipaul.

Each of these stalwarts were focused throughout their lives on the definition and deliverance of the souls of African folk: Garvey with his "Back to Africa Movement", James struggling with his Trotskyite Black Power oxymoron, Mars and Cesaire with Negritude. Whether through a lapse of omission or a sin of commission, one finds in their emancipatory musings nary a concern for the other peoples inhabiting our winsome islands. Where was the Indian content, say, in the message of " redemption and hope" for "us"? Not so coincidentally all of these giants are now being deconstructed for their exclusivist and essentialist formulations. Even Cesaire has come under severe fire from his fellow Martiniquean and young lion Chamoiseau for (among other transgressions) ignoring Indians (yes, Martinique has Indians from India, and yes they are also in "delusional flight") in his Negritude notes of blood and soul. And more to the point, isn't this what Naipaul bitterly protested in The Middle Passage (1962), when he quoted the Jamaican writer John Hearne to reject "the sentimental camaraderie of skin which provides the cheap thrill of being African"? But of course Naipaul is unqualified and incapable of "offering any original insights".

As he mentioned in his Nobel speech, Naipaul is not enamoured of giving lectures, but in 1975 (seventy five years after the first Pan African Congress) he delivered one to the First Conference of East Indians in the Caribbean. He warned Indians against any easy essentialism: "I don't think there is any magic in any racial inheritance" and "the problems of the Indians are no different from the problems of everybody else here. I don't think it is possible for any one here, of any community, to seek the camouflage of some larger cultural entity, because that again is only a form of 'dropping out'". Wasn't the retreat into Negritude a form of "flight"? One can always create hope but how lasting has been the redemption?


While Naipaul has spoken candidly of his desire to escape from Trinidad because it did not provide the environment to sustain what he wanted to be since he was ten a full time writer he has never advocated "flight" for anyone else. He proposed that we create our own culture and not live in a borrowed one which forces us to play the "Bongo Man" role (sorry Mr. Martins, ting a ling a ling). In 1962 he had advocated the devolution of real responsibility to the people in positions and their measurement by the standard of efficiency, "to bring political organization to the picaroon society". We still have not heeded that advice and we are still paying the price in cons and scams.

In 1975, in the lecture mentioned above, Naipaul emphasized that we have to "arrive at some understanding of all the strands of our upbringing. And we have so many strands here, on this island in the New World. We have to acknowledge them all." He quotes Mommsen, the German historian of republican Rome: "The history of every nation... is a vast system of incorporation." Naipaul's "we" incorporated all the peoples of the Caribbean, not just one master race. In his Nobel speech, Naipaul confirmed what I had written earlier in this discourse, that he traveled to Africa, to India, to the non Arab Muslim world and South America to better "understand... all the strands of our upbringing."

I have been reading Naipaul since I was a boy in the sixties and I have never ceased to be amazed at the hostility directed at him from the Caribbean establishment. Several worthies even lobbied assiduously through the seventies and eighties to deny him the Nobel. My conclusion is that some resented his refusal to subsume his writings to the mélange of ideologies which swept the region in this century anti colonialism, Black Power/Negritude and Marxism, all of which ignored the Indian as a subject and his insistence on including the Indian as a Caribbean subject. There is an element of racism in this view since Naipaul's success on the world stage ensured that a more authentic, inclusive Caribbean was presented one that included all the peoples but was yet rejected. Some of the outpourings after Naipaul's Nobel, including Mr. Bakr's effort, led me to believe that this tendency is alive and well.

Others, I feel, did not appreciate the distinction that Proust makes, and Naipaul quotes approvingly in his Nobel speech, between the writer's innermost self, the secretions of which goes into his books, and the social self that engages in interviews and conversations. Naipaul has written that the Trinidadian "is a natural eccentric, if by eccentricity is meant the expression of one's personality, unhampered by fear of ridicule or the discipline of a class". Naipaul is a real "Trini" by this definition and, as Lamming suggested, he sometimes plays an Ole Mas in his social life.

Let us not get too caught up with the Ole Mas, let us reflect on the secretions of the ferocious and disciplined self that has dared to write back to the Empire and the world about all of "us" subalterns, as subjects and not objects. Let us eschew "maledictions" as we work to build a just and equitable society out of our picaroon beginnings.

Yours faithfully,

Ravi Dev, MP, Leader of ROAR