Vidia Naipaul -- rising from 'nothing' Analysis by Rickey Singh
Guyana Chronicle
October 16, 2001

THE day after it was announced that Vidia Naipaul had won the Nobel Prize for Literature and brought such a breath of fresh air in Trinidad and Tobago amid its obnoxious political wranglings, I had a quick survey on how the major newspapers of the Caribbean Community covered the historic event.

Poor, was my conclusion, except for coverage in his native land.

Save for the 'Guyana Chronicle', there were no editorials. Few provided page one coverage, mainly blurbs based on extra-regional reporting.

Others made use on inside pages of an article circulated by the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) highlighting comments by George Lamming, probably the most political of our English-speaking Caribbean novelists.

In its editorial, `A well-deserved honour for an oracle of our time', the 'Guyana Chronicle' said that the announcement of the award of the Nobel Prize to V.S. Naipaul "is probably the best news disseminated in the Caribbean over the last few months..."

And from a Guyana-born West Indian economist living in London came an e-mail note to me that said:

"What delightful news for Naipaul and the Caribbean. I doubt, however, there would be in the region the usual euphoria. What makes it worse, he did not mention the Caribbean in his statement today (October 11). This will be used against him with some justification...

"Whatever one may think of some of his views and his frank expression of them, he remains the leading Caribbean literary figure".

For me, it was not surprising.

Consistent in an arrogance some find rather repulsive, Naipaul, frequently hailed as a "British author born in Trinidad and Tobago", had no mention of his native country in welcoming his elevation to Nobel Laureate status.

In a brief statement by his publishing agency in Britain he said: "It is a great tribute to both England, my home, and to India, home of my ancestors".

The Trinidad and Tobago he left for England at the age of 18 and that gave him its highest national honour, the Trinity Cross, was poignantly ignored, much less any reference to the Caribbean where, like other authors of the region, he is lionised by many.

Yet, for all his aversion to the West Indies, as noted by the literary critic, Derek Bowe, Naipaul is deeply indebted to it, since the mass of his writings revolves around the region.

For Lamming, another internationally renowned literary icon of the Caribbean region, the Nobel Prize was long in coming for the now 69-year-old Naipaul. It should have happened over ten years ago.

Perhaps, as Lamming said, even before the much revered and deserving Derek Walcott who became the first West Indian to be crowned by the Swedish Academy with the Nobel Prize for Literature back in 1992.

Naipaul was first nominated for the Nobel Prize 20 years before.

Now it is finally a reality -- after years of efforts by the prolific writer's own contingent of strong lobbyists and when, as he was to admit on learning the good news, he had given up hope of ever being awarded the internationally coveted prize.

The joyful celebration of this pinnacle achievement by this son of Trinidad and Tobago, over whom there has long been a love-hate relationship, is shared by the diverse peoples of the Caribbean.

There is not the euphoria evident when Derek Walcott first won this prize to become the second Nobel Laureate of the Caribbean in 13 years -- the first being the legendary Arthur Lewis in Economics.

Nevertheless, there is unmistakable joy for a Trinidad and Tobago product that the Caribbean as a whole has offered the world. Yes, this very region from which that Naipaulian perversity felt "nothing was created" (see his 1962 `The Middle Passage').

Rex Nettleford, that very articulate exponent of West Indian culture, said to me in a telephone conversation on Friday from the St. Augustine campus of the University of the West Indies:

"I have never taken Naipaul seriously on his oft quoted view that we in the Caribbean have created nothing. By a strange bit of irony he is, of course, one of our proud creations".

But acting in his capacity as Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies, Nettleford despatched a letter on that same day addressed, fondly to "My dear Sir Vidia:

"I write on behalf of the fellowship of the University of the West Indies to extend sincere congratulations to you on the Nobel Prize for Literature which the Academy of Stockholm has made for your: 'having united perceptive narrative and incorruptible scrutiny in works that compel us to see the presence of suppressed histories...'"

"The University", Nettleford said, "takes particular pride in having recognised such attributes of the Naipaul creative intellect and imagination in its early award of a 'Doctorate honoris causa' and we now join with all West Indians and the rest of the world in celebrating this magnificent, if somewhat belated recognition of one of the Planet's great writers".

`Area of Darkness'
I am among the avid readers of Naipaul's books, one who is also aware of the controversies, the raw anger his writings have also provoked among writers and commentators in Africa, India and Islamic states.

I happened to be in Port-of-Spain when Eric Williams, the historian of 'Capitalism and Slavery', launched a blistering attack on Naipaul's `An Area of Darkness' (published in 1964) as a woeful denigration of India.

It made no difference to the celebrated author of the seminal work, `A House for Mr Biswas', viewed by Lamming as perhaps his most profound literary contribution.

Naipaul has always seemed impervious to criticisms -- from any quarter.

His critics in the Caribbean, though forgiving, find it difficult to ignore the contempt he has so often shown for this region in his writings.

Professor Ken Ramchand of the UWI, author of `The West Indian Novel and its Background', in praising Naipaul on his winning the Nobel Prize, noted that in Naipaul's 40 years of dedication to his "craft and calling", he has been constantly "forcing us to question our values and beliefs, someone who is able to shatter our complacencies and make us abandon many of our half-truths..."

Perhaps. Those in Africa and India angered over his caustic views about the "backward races", may not be so understanding.

But now the Caribbean, which Naipaul had so rudely claimed back in his `Middle Passage' of 39 years ago, "that nothing was created in the West Indies", has produced three Nobel laureates in 22 years between 1979 and 2001 -- Arthur Lewis, Derek Walcott and Sir Vidia Naipaul.

The late William Demas, that towering Caribbean icon, who had so often pointed to the very impressive intellectual capital of this comparatively small Third World region of poor and developing states, would have been pleased to know that a fellow Trinity Cross recipient is the Caribbean's newest Nobel Laureate.