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Fruits, Indians – and Naipaul

In the twilight of his life, Vidia wants to come back to the home of his ancestors. Should India be so petty?

Naipaul has “given” India … three books —An Area of Darkness 1964, India: A Wounded Civilization 1977, and India: A Million Mutinies Now 1990.

And so what? Those are thought-provoking books, with some good insights, but also some facile, exasperating conclusions. India of the 1960s and 1970s was static in many ways, but Naipaul can’t see the humanity and dynamism of the millions around him. Looking at people emerging from the Churchgate station he feels intimidated. In his pithy essay, “Naipaul’s India and Mine,” the late Nissim Ezekiel’s review of An Area of Darkness, the leitmotif was: “Rubbish, Mr. Naipaul.” In India: A Wounded Civilization Naipaul revealed fundamental weaknesses of India’s “borrowed institutions”, which succumbed so easily during the emergency of 1975-77. But unlike Ved Mehta’s The New India 1978, Naipaul stays gloomy. In contrast, the night of Indira Gandhi’s defeat, Mehta is out on the streets, celebrating with his family. And in India: A Million Mutinies Now, Naipaul notes the rise of Hindu militancy, but is profoundly flawed in seeing that development as positive. (via An Indian called Naipaul – Columns – livemint.com).

Jamun fruit. The tree has lossy leaves and the jamun tree yields cheap hardwood, good for railway sleepers.

Jamun fruit. The tree has lossy leaves and the jamun tree yields cheap hardwood, good for railway sleepers.

Food as people

Coconuts are a pretentious fruit.

Brown outside and White inside. A ‘hard’ Brown exterior hides a thin Brown skin inside. But the flesh, seed, blood, is all White. One hard smash and they break into pieces – and show their true colours. I can eat coconuts for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I also like it at temples, where the ‘true’ colors of the coconut are exposed.


I wonder why coconuts remind me of people like Jagdish Bhagwati, Lord Meghnad Desai, Bobby Jindal, Nikki Haley, Dinesh DeSouza, etc. when I think of coconuts. Did you know that coconuts can’t stand fresh air? They go all soft, smelly, gooey, if fresh air reaches leaks into a cracked coconut.

Eggs I dislike. White outside, yellow inside, can cause acute infections (like salmonella) and full of cholesterol. Bad all round. I am not surprised when admirers describe Churchill as a good egg. Rice I like. White throughout. Unpolished rice is red on the outside.

Indian sapota - or sapodilla in English.

Indian sapota - or sapodilla in English.

The fruit I can recommend easily is jamun. No real name in English – except sometimes called a black plum. It’s sweet-sour taste can make you gorge on it. Lovely Purple colour, a large seed inside and full of hidden qualities – especially the medicinal benefits.

The fruit that is usually good is the sapota (also chikoo, or sapodilla in English). Rough, brown skin, Brown through out. Simple, and unpretentious. Sapotas have a big seed inside – which helps us get many more sapotas. I like the idea – though some may see that as a waste! But you got to be careful.

Some sapotas have worms inside.

Vidia Naipaul wants to come to India more often

Vidia S. Naipaul, somehow reminds me of a sapota. I have read his India trilogy, listed above. I also read his Among the Believers!

I love Vidia! He has his history all wrong. But you can’t hold him guilty for that. Descendant of an indentured labour family, transplanted to an alien land (West Indies), immigrated into a smug and racist British society of the 1950’s, for him to become a coconut would have been easy.

That he has never become.

India, A Wounded Civilization V.S. Naipaul, originally published in 1975 is my favorite.

India, A Wounded Civilization V.S. Naipaul, originally published in 1975 is my favorite.

Vidia on India

Vidia’s diagnosis is right about India’s ‘borrowed’ institutions, and how they don’t serve India well. From a pessimistic view in the early sixties (in Area of Darkness – Book I) to his rather concerned view (in India – A Wounded Civilization– Book II) to his optimistic book (India – A Million Mutinies Now – Book III), Vidia carefully tracks India’s struggle to throw off the ‘borrowed’ institutions. Naipaul’s theme in Book II, about Indian ‘retreat’ is right – though again, his history, derived from a colonial narrative, has gaping holes.

He carefully tracks, for instance, in Book II, how the Shiv Sena became a force by forming small self-help groups and cooperative institutions in Mumbai. Recently the Sena did a huge blood donation camp. They came up due to such campaigns – and they lose votes with their rabid talk and extortionate activities. Vidia’s books demonstrate how Shiv Sena’s marginalisation has happened with their marginal activities.

His trenchant journalism is good at diagnosis, bad at history, useless at prescription. Vidia’s fault is his history and his confused politics. Dimly, in the recesses of his mind, Vidia remains a sapota. Living in Britain, brought up in West Indies is not the best way to discover his Indic past. To his credit, he tries. Very hard.

He is bothered about the country of his ancestors.

VS Naipaul and his mistress, Margaret Murray, in the early 1970s. Photo from the Washington Post.

VS Naipaul and his mistress, Margaret Murray, in the early 1970s. Photo from the Washington Post.

A son wants to come home – more often

In the twilight of his life, Vidia wants to come back to the home of his ancestors. More often.

To someone who has kept a long and lonely vigil, frequently shouting सावधान saavdhaan, we should be more welcoming! We shouldn’t resent him for waking us up or disturbing our sleep. Everything said, Vidia has never been spiteful.

Vidia, any time you want to come to the home of your ancestor’s, there will be at least one man who will welcome you.

And many Indians who will welcome you, even though they don’t know you or your writing. Or your Nobel prize.

  1. A Fan of your blog
    July 10, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    I really like your analogy of fruits. It is very accurate. I would like to argue that most people, much like Naipul, have their hearts in the right place. What makes the difference is their education and upbringing. The ideologies we grow up with make a huge difference in our outlook. From that perspective, history is so very important. Knowing who you are comes from knowing who our ancestors were and what positions in took in their lives. You look at any person in history who made a difference (good or bad) and you will see how this has influenced them. Examples would be Gandhi and Nehru. Two Indian boys exposed to the British lifestyle early in their lives, believed in the British sense of justice and ways of life, which hugely influenced how they fought for independence. Contrast that with a Subhashbabu and the ways and means he sought. He neither came from a military family nor ever served in one. Yet, he took a very different path of resistance.

    I like how you continue to educate us about our history, our lives and our times. Keep up the great work. We need many more people like you who can continue to throw light on these issues and help us claim our position and our time in the warped history we continue to be bombarded with. This is a more noble cause than anything else.

  2. samadhyayi
    November 4, 2010 at 3:10 pm

    get lost naipaul

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