Vidia playing the ‘S’
MAHENDRA Singh Dhoni, the Indian cricket captain and inventor of the “helicopter” shot (a full rotation of the arms before hitting the ball) is known to everyone as “M.S.”. His Indian team colleague Vangipurappu Venkata Sai Laxman is known as “V.V.S.”. I told my son Zubin Shankar, an aspiring cricketer, that if he keeps on doing well and makes the West Indies team he may become known as “Z.S”.
Winston Churchill, whose middle name was “Spencer”, would have been “W.S.”; novelist Pearl Sydenstricker Buck and JFK’s speechwriter Pierre Salinger are both “P.S.”; and the poet Thomas Sterns Eliot is known as “T.S.”
You might well be asking where the “S” I am going with this, but if you had come across a recent PBS quote from an article in The Guardian in the UK, you would have found a story about V.S. talking absolute B.S. (and that is neither Bruce Springsteen nor Bernard Shaw). The article is headlined Nobel Laureate V.S. Naipaul Says No Woman Is His Literary ‘Equal’.
So what is Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul up to now? The Guardian reported: “In an interview at the Royal Geographic Society on Tuesday about his career, Naipaul . . . was asked if he considered any woman writer his literary match. He replied: “I don’t think so.”
“Of [Jane] Austen he said he “couldn’t possibly share her sentimental ambitions, her sentimental sense of the world”. He felt that women writers were “quite different”. He said: “I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not. I think [it is] unequal to me.”
The author, who was born in Trinidad, said this was because of women’s “sentimentality, the narrow view of the world”.
Interestingly, Naipaul’s controversial comments on women writers came as soon as he ended what was a 15-year feud with novelist and writer Paul Theroux, who had published “a scathing account about their friendship”. Theroux was especially harsh on Naipaul and his treatment of women.
Eyder Peralta, commenting on a Sunday Times piece on Naipaul written by Theroux in 2008, noted that Theroux lamented that “he had been forced to be kind in his book”.
What Theroux said was: “I wanted to write about his cruelty to his wife, his crazed domination of his mistress that lasted almost 25 years, his screaming fits, his depressions, his absurd contention that he was the greatest writer in the English language . . . .
‘I am a new man,’ he assured me once, ‘as Montaigne was a new man’. But did Montaigne frequent prostitutes, insult waiters and beat his mistress? Slash, change; slash, change.”
The response to Naipaul has been swift. The Telegraph said: “His latest comments were criticized as showing he was out of touch with the modern world. Alex Clark, a literary journalist, said, ‘It’s absurd. I suspect V.S. Naipaul thinks that there isn’t anyone who is his equal. Is he really saying that writers such as Hilary Mantel, A. S. Byatt, Iris Murdoch are sentimental or write feminine tosh?’”
Helen Brown, literary critic for The Daily Telegraph, said: “It certainly would be difficult to find a woman writer whose ego was equal to that
of Naipaul. I’m sure his arrogant, attention-seeking views make many male writers cringe too. He should heed the words of George Eliot – a female writer – whose works have had a far more profound impact on world culture than his. She wrote, ‘Blessed is the man, who having nothing to say, abstains from giving wordy evidence of the fact’.”
The Guardian also did a quiz to see if anyone could tell from reading a paragraph whether a piece was written by a man or woman. Try this: “At once, though it was night and the way was lonely, she left the hut and walked to the next village, where there was a hedge of cactus. She brought back leaves of cactus, cut them into strips and hung a strip over every door, every window, every aperture through which an evil spirit might enter the hut. But the midwife said, ‘Whatever you do, this boy will eat up his own mother and father’.”
The writer is male. His name is Naipaul (V.S.).
The piece of writing from A House For Mr Biswas might even be considered prophetic.
• Tony Deyal, who is not among the believers, was last seen exploring the middle passage of Miguel Street and wondering whether it is Naipaul’s “Magic Seeds” that make him feel superior to women.