The kowtowing and the courage were two faces of the same man
Stabroek News
January 6, 2002

Dear Editor,

Annan Boodram's letter captioned "Naipaul does not believe in the superficiality of political correctness" (28.l2.200l) occupies itself with the context in which Naipaul's life and works should be judged, and responds to proven arguments against the writer with a plea in mitigation.

His defence of Naipaul is valid only if we accept the premise that fame and fortune may be had in a Faustian bargain with what Mailer called "the bitch goddess of success," at the price of one's soul, perhaps one's self respect, and certainly the dignity of those one is to betray.

Mr Boodram urges us to show sympathy and understanding at the fact that Naipaul's donning of livery and motley (after "throwing off his Indian and West Indian clothes") was "necessary in the context of the time and place" and essential to his success. He apparently yields to our point that the pandering was a key element in this success. But, he then states, Naipaul, in a later act of stagemanship would change back into native costume and that "both the writer and the man have travelled full circle" and are now reconciled to their Indianness and to the millstone that is the West Indian identity.

Mr Boodram goes on to say that "Hindu philosophy speaks of constant change as positive when it is evolutionary," and that Naipaul has "exemplified that evolutionary change." As evidence he offers only the local colour that Naipaul wove into his acceptance speech. For Mr Boodram, evidently, this "wistful" mention of us in Naipaul's laureate's discourse should suffice to efface all the previous lies and calumnies to which we were subjected. He offers no comment on the morality of such a life and performance, apart from his statement that for Hindus this was all right. Evolutionary.

Mr Boodram then pleads that Naipaul's denigration of the third world was but a demonstration of the courage of one boldly rejecting "the superficiality of political correctness."

So what becomes an act of compromise and even calculation or cowardice in the first part of his argument, is in the second part given the contradictory aspect of an act of courage. At first sight Mr Boodram confuses himself. But upon reflection we realise that the kowtowing and the courage were but the two faces of the same man. One turned with a sneer at the Third World and the other with a fawning smile to the West. So the two could have been simultaneous.The argument is consistent again when we realise that Naipaul was being politically correct in the context of his time, in the eyes of the people that mattered, not to us. He was being both cowardly and courageous, and both politically correct and incorrect at the same time, all depending on which face the observer chose to watch. A horrifying duality, like the two aspects of Mother Kali

Our conviction is that writers such as Martin Carter, who had the courage to be politically incorrect in the face of the powerful, and to disdain the lure of success at the risk of imprisonment, are our true heroes, and that the generations to come should honour them. Mr Naipaul perhaps will remain an example to those who believe in success at any price. Our conviction is that he has paid a terrible price for his fifteen minutes of fame. His antics have also deprived the Indian community of the unalloyed joy the prize should bring. There is the arbitrament of history.

Mr Boodram's letter accuses afro Caribbean people of "blatant racism" in what he sees as their refusal to extend a due respect to the Indan cultural presence in the Caribbean.

While we cannot deny the fact that the cultural superiority that blacks feel has often taken racist overtones, a deeper reading of the social psychology of blacks by Mr Boodram should relieve him of his apprehensions.

But the discussion on Naipaul seems to be drifting into an "area of darkness" where the racial sensitivities of our Indian community have come to replace the author's life and work at the center of our attention.It has also become evident that the attribution of the Nobel will be a defining event in that community's construction of an image of itself - of an identity. And that Ravi Dev is of course right, most Indians will feel they can share in the prize.

We understand that this is inevitable and that the eight Nobel prizes given over the past decades to people of African descent (Dr M L King, Bishop Tutu, Nelson Mandela, Kofi Annan and writers Chinua Achebe, Toni Morrison, Derek Walcott) were important in the same way to blacks.

We do understand that the emotional stakes for most Indians are too high to permit a purely rational discussion of the issues and we do feel that all the viewpoints have been adequately presented, often with force and sometimes with impatience.

We really are convinced that a talented writer, who may perhaps have been worthy of the prize had it not been for his weaknesses, has robbed his many admirers and the Indian community as well as the entire West Indian community (all races) of the real feeling of shared accomplishment that the event could have signified.

But we see in this no lasting tragedy, conscious that there is enough talent and courage and intelligence in the Indian, and East Indian/West Indian community to win again the Nobel prize in better circumstances, as they have won accolades for achievements in many fields in the Caribbean and worldwide over the last years.

Yours faithfully,

Abu Bakr