Monday, 1 October 2012

V.S. Naipaul- A writer of Indian Diaspora

Ruby Chaudhary

When Sunita Williams soared into space with a container full of Samosas, the term Indian Diaspora acquired a new meaning altogether, with Samosas to munch on and the holy book Gita to read Williams was to add one more territory in the long list of Indian Diasporas which already has spread across 110 countries of the world. The Indian Diaspora is considered to be one of the most vibrant and significant social force of global significance, there is hardly any single country in this world that does not have a powerful Indian community.
            The word "diaspora" derived from the Greek word "diasperia" literally means scattering or dispersion of people from their homeland. The term was originally used for the Jewish externment from its homeland but is now applied as a "metaphoric designation" for refugees, exiles and immigrants. Diaspora literature involves an idea of a homeland, a place from where the displacement occurs and narratives of harsh journeys undertaken on account of economic compulsion. The Indian diaspora is a generic term to describe the people who migrated from territories that are currently within the borders of the Republic of India. It also refers to their descendants. This diaspora is composed of NRIs (non resident Indian) and PIOs (Person of Indian Origin) who have acquired the citizenship of some other country. These diasporic Indians have conquered high peaks in their chosen field by their sheer hard work and single minded dedication. Though physically distancing themselves from their motherland, these overseas Indians maintain a strong social, emotional and economic bond with their mother country as Prof. Dipesh Chakroborty of University of Chicago says…'we used to think that in order to find Indian culture you had to go to India…' and now increasingly you know that Indian culture is both inside and outside as people have become diasporic, as cultures cease to be rooted in particular places …… and that I think is a very exciting possibility’.
            The Indian diaspora shares a common identity with the country of origin, a consciousness of their cultural heritage. It is an interesting paradox that a great deal of Indian writing is published not in India but in various parts of the world significantly enough this creative literature from and about the diaspora holds a distinctive and distinguished place in the world's literary imagination. There are numerous writers of Indian diaspora who have made their presence strongly felt in the realm of world literature. The list is unending and includes great luminaries like V.S. Naipaul, Salman Rushdie, Kiran Desai, A.K. Ramanujan, Agha Shahid Ali, Vikram Seth, Vikas Swarup etc. These writers differ not only in socio-cultural background and literary ancestries but also in their thematic preoccupations and styles. The responses and narratives also vary from one artist to another artist, some idolize, others became sentimental and nostalgic while there are some who condemn their land of origin as an area of darkness but whatever their diasporic condition, their sense of exile and alienation, they try to seek replenishment by making symbolic returns to their origins and this is what binds all their writing into a unity.
            One of the gigantic and enduring figure in the literary field is Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul- a Nobel Laureate whose grand parents had also readily joined the bandwagon of the indentured labourers to Trinidad with some hope of a better job prospect, but the devastating consequences of it were soon realized by them. They found themselves alienated in a land with strange culture. They were brahmins of India but social and political systems of the alien land had compelled them to alter their social and the religious rituals. Though financially their status had become elevated but emotionally they felt desperate and rootless. Naipaul writes feelingly about the Indian diaspora in Trinidad and Tobago- about a feeling a suffering- a crisis of identity. They had come in search of better life or El Dorado and remained there as aliens only.
            Naipaul never uses the word "diaspora" but it is clear that diasporic experience the experience of rootlessness, displacement and migrancy. The special incompleteness of the Indian child, grandson of immigrant whose past suddenly broke off, suddenly fell away into the chasm between Antilles and India is behind the rawness of nerves, the neurosis that gives his prose the special quality of panic and this prose carries the pair of the original departure, the pain of plantation life in the very interstics of language in the aesthetic design of the work of art.
            The expatriate sensibility of Naipaul haunts him throughout his literary works - fictions, non fictions etc. He becomes a spokesman of emigrants. He chooses Miguel Street, an Indian dominated locality as the background of his first fiction. His first Major fiction 'A House for Mr. Biswas' evolves out of his emigrant feelings. In this novel, Naipaul writes about the diaspora's familiar temporariness- the ambivalence of becoming part of the landscape and yet something beyond or beside it experiencing an uneasiness "not be at home feeling". The failure of Mohan Biswas of not having built the house on solid foundation- the house where he takes his last breath is infact the failure which is part of the totality of the diasporic experience.
            Vijay Mishra in his book "The Literature of the Indian diaspora- theorizing the diasporic imaginary" suggests that "A House for Mr. Biswas" is actually the 'absent epic' of the diaspora akin to a sort of diasporic Ramayan. The story of the exile of Lord Rama, to Mishra speaks directly to the heart of the diasporic experience because the latter too is characterized by loss and trauma. Naipaul's literary works need to be seen as allegories not of nation but of diaspora.
            V.S. Naipaul seems not only as the foremost writer of Indian diaspora but in several ways, the archetypal one. His ancestral heritage feeds and nourishes his literary works, India and Indians are part and parcel of Naipaul's works. Even after years of separation, he could not break his ties with India, the land of his ancestors continued to appeal to him, Pigments of Indianess and Hinduism still survive in his cells, western culture and exiled life could not wipe out the basic Indian in Naipaul. India was part of his unconscious. He had formed a picture of India on the basis of what he learned and imbibed at home in Trinidad.
            Naipaul writes in his travelogue "An Area of Darkness", India lay about us in things- in a string bed or two grimy tattered in plaited straw mats;  in innumerable brass vessels; in wooden printing blocks; in books in drums and one ruined harmonium; in brightly coloured pictures of deities on pink lotus or radiant against Himalayan snow; and in all the paraphernalia of the prayer room; the brass bells and gongs and camphor burners like Roman lamps-- the images, the smooth pebbles, the stick of sandalwood….In its artifacts India existed whole in Trinidad. In the Indian travelogues Naipaul evokes (Area 29) ideas of homeland, rootlessness and his own personal feelings. He shares a unique love-hate relationship with the country. In 1962 when Naipaul lands in India for the first time, he feels dejected humiliated and laments that India of his imagination did not square with India of reality, he regrets making the journey and says.
            It was a journey that ought not to have been made. It has broken my life into two (Area 215).
            The last sentence alone is sufficient to indicate the strength of the association that connected him to the country of his ancestors. He had come in the hope of discovering his roots unfortunately this trip only confirmed his rootlessness but India continued to attract Naipaul who keeps on making successive journeys to help define his "self".
            A question has often been raised that why does Naipaul return to India after dismissing the nation as "An Area of Darkness”. The answers as given by Naipaul are ambivalent but in many ways centrally symptomatic of the diasporic discourse about homeland writes Naipaul-
            "India for me is a difficult country. It is not my home and cannot be my home; and yet I cannot reject it or be different to it; I cannot travel only for the sights" (India 9).
            On his first visit he was not satisfied with the obvious (An Area of Darkness); he had come prepared for an encounter which would reveal the spirit of India with which he wished to identify himself, although indirectly. He is not just a tourist visiting India for its beautiful Himalayas or rivers. Deep down in him there is the deep desire to understand this difficult country. This is why he keeps on returning to India looking for some assurance; may be for a larger cultural perspective. There is something in him that rises, when he thinks of India, and when he is thus roused, he tries to forge an intimate bond with the country.
            Naipaul is generally assumed to be a stern critic of India but his criticism stems out from his love for India. What he saw pained him, enraged him. His reactions were violent, he was a man who cared and could not be indifferent, though he considers that India can never be a home to him, still he keeps on repeating his trips because at the innermost core of his heart, he believes he possesses some part of Indian in him.
            Naipaul's third travelogue "India-A-Million Mutinies Now" was written at the age of fifty six and it clearly reveals a matured Naipaul who now sees beyond the corruption and the violence to an original and redemptive vision. It was a personal homecoming, as he continued to seek an ancestral past, trying to link himself to a nation that was in his own imagination, his source. On being honoured the Nobel Prize Naipaul had put out a statement that Nobel Prize was "a great tribute to both England my home, and India, the home of my ancestors." His own words speak volumes about his dilemma. It is difficult for Naipaul to accept India but it is even more difficult for him to disown this country. Naipaul is a product of Indian diaspora who wants to link himself to the civilization of his forbears.
Works cited
1. Naipaul, V.S. An Area of Darkness Harmondsworth: Penguins, 1962
2. Naipaul, V.S. India: A Wounded Civilization Delhi Vikas Publishing House, 1977
3. Naipaul, V.s. India: A Million Mutinies now Landon Minerva, Mandarin Paperbacks, 1990.
4, Mishra, V. : The Literature of the Indian Diaspora  theorizing the diasporic imaginary.
Dr. Ruby Chaudhary
                                                                  Senior Lecturer in English
Bhavan's Mehta P.G. College, Bharwari
                        District Kaushambi, U.P.