Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul’s name brings to our mind an image of an immensely successful writer. Born to an immigrant family of Indian origin in Trinidad (West Indies) on 17 August 1932, V S Naipaul moved to England in 1950 when he won the scholarship to study at Oxford.
He started writing in early ’50s and over the years has won almost every prestigious award in the field of writing including
- The John Llewellyn Rhys Prize (1958),
- The Somerset Maugham Award (1960),
- The Hawthornden Prize (1964),
- The W.H. Smith Literary Award (1968),
- The Booker Prize (1971),
- The Jerusalem Prize (1983)
- The David Cohen Prize for a lifetime’s achievement in British Literature (1993)
- The Nobel Prize for Literature in 2008.
When one reads a list as impressive as this, one definitely feels an awe and assumes that the man must have been born with extraordinary talent to reach a stage where he is called “a master of modern English Prose“.
But what is it that the man himself feels about his writing talent and abilities?
Did writing come to him like a divine light out of nowhere?
Or was it a long, dark journey before he found his calling and the tools to fulfill the same?
Sir V S Naipaul answers this question in “Reading and Writing“, which can be termed as his literary autobiography.
Starting from his childhood, he explains to us the colonial setting in which he grew up and the impressions created on his mind by the books read to him by his father. Like every immigrant family, his family also struggled to keep alive the India that they had left and at the same time find their place in the colonial life of the new world. The third important part of this life was the prominent presence of the patron country (England in this case) on the social, educational and cultural environment of the colony. In this essay, V S Naipaul explains how he struggled to connect to the India of their origin that he had never seen, to visualize the characters and environment described in the English literature that he read as part of curriculum and which did not fit-in with his surroundings.
It was through the reading sessions with his father that he started dreaming about becoming a writer. But, the realization of this dream was not easy. In the early 1950’s, with no internet and digital media, the audience for literary works was very limited. As he was in England that time, he would be practically writing for the English audience. But his stay in England had been for a very short time until then and he could not see himself writing about English characters. As to India, though the works of Rudyard Kipling and R K Narayan were popular, to V S Naipaul it was an unfamiliar land known to him only through the memoirs of his parents and grandparents.
He takes us on this personal journey with him to explore how he finally started writing fiction that was set in the colonial atmosphere of Trinidad capturing the characters, culture, dialect and experiences that he had grown up with and moved on to write travel books after his visit to colonial countries. With time, he developed his own style of writing prose which is so rightly admired by critics as well as public.
The book gives us glimpses of the young, vulnerable, intelligent boy who grew into a wonderful writer over time. A must read to know the man who carved his own niche by combining the multiple cultural influences he had received as a child with the sharp analysis of political and humane aspects of various countries that he visited later in his life and achieved tremendous success as a writer.