Wednesday, November 30, 2005

V.S. Naipaul's An Area of Darkness

Karrvakarela who runs the blog All Sounds to Silence Come (which I wish he would update more often - he writes so well) had left this comment on my post on Shantaram (if you have not read the book, I highly recommend that you not read the comment section of that post):
There's something I've been meaning to ask some of the Indian bloggers. I ran into a copy of VS Naipaul's An Area of Darkness in a bookshop over the weekend. Incredibly well-written, as Naipaul's books usually are, but bleak and typically bilious. What I was interested in discussing though was how the India described in the book, the India of the 60's, compares to India today. How do Indian readers feel about the book and the verities of Naipaul's observations? And how have the attitudes and perceptions described in the book evolved since the book was written?
I have not read the book. If any of you has, it would be wonderful if you could leave a comment in response to his questions. Thank you.


karrvakarela said...

Thank you!

MumbaiGirl said...

I read An Area of Darkness some time in 1998 and wrote an essay on it.I remember thinking then, that though Naipaul writes very well well, he had a very unidimensional, reductionist way of thinking about India sometimes. I feel the same way about his pronouncements now-for different reasons. I don't have the book with me right now or the review, so my memory's a bit fuzzy.

sanchapanzo said...

Remember reading this book a few years back. Naipaul's ideas are somewhat revolutionary/rebellious most of the times. He has an amazing way of analyzing things. His conspiracy theories also make up a good reading. It's like reading Noam Chomsky or Arundhati Roy writing with great intensity one any topic. The only thing these authors fail to understand is that such rebellions dont work all that good. They sometimes lack in depth in their expressions because they are so uni-dimensional that one will get a feeling that 'they cant get so excited about this ?!'

'An Area of Darkness' is an amazing read of the same category, it traces India's history right from time immemorial. Sir Vidia talks about how Hindu civilization flourished earlier and then how other civilizations also came-in for dominating this land like Budhists, Jains, Afghans, Turks, Greeks, Chinese, Mongols,etc.,
He says that 'any civilization(read religion)' needs its own space for it to grow. And according to him, Hinduism never had that space thanks to Islamic rulers, then Europeans(Brits). So, when India became independent, he said India(read Hindus) will chase their lost identity and will try to occupy their lost positions. I think he also wrote his fair share of ideas on 'Emergency' also.

I think his views were a bit in the avenging-fashion. It was more like Bal Thackerey's opinions. I feel, sometimes it's rather sick to voice such opinions. What we need at the moment is 'sustainable development' not a total rollback and restart from scratch. It is important for people like them to understand that what has happened cant be rollbacked and they should get-alongwith their lives.

Sujatha said...

KK, you're quite welcome!

MG, Sanchapanzo, thank you for your comments.

karrvakarela said...

Mumbaigirl, Sanchapanzo

Thank you very much for your comments. I'm sorry for the very late reply. I've been travelling these last few days so was kept busy.

I think that's the thing that bothered me when I was reading the book, the way Naipaul casually reduces history and identity to a few choice statements. I cannot say how well he engages the past but from what I read he seems to have a fairly petty view of realities that don't concur with his own perspective.

Thanks again, though. I appreciate your taking the time out to respond.

Quixotic said...

I read this book in 91' and then read it again after reading Vidia'a Biography (a brillinat feat by Patrick French)since i was wondering why a man of his intelligence will be so rude everyone and so critical of beloved country? And i dont find it bleak or unidiectional or a billious commenting of an angry man. Even today with all economical ascendence we are still same as he saw us in 1964. we still are barbaric and callous to human suffering and neglect our duty, concern and allaigence to fellow human being disasterously.

As long as we toil and earn money to elevate ourselves from misery we consider ourselves advancing but we still neglect the teeming poor masses who even today defeacate near bombay railway track, we still don't see the plight of the servant who works for us and we still dont bother about a man dying on railway station after falling from train till the paperwork is done.

I can go on like him and can be branded whatvere name was given to him. but the point is that have to be more aware of our surrounding and have yet to learn to think in long term view about development of India.

Ajit said...

I am in middle of this book. Naipaul has an interesting way of writing. I will not agree with all his conclusions, like the one he concluded from "clerk not fetching water because it's job of Peon." This does not happen everywhere. At another time, he portraits an Indian entrepreneur, Jivan, in an interesting way. I have seen many illiterate entrepreneur, from my locality who will not resemble this character, especially when it comes to sleeping on pavement even after success. I feel, he was more of rebellious/revengeful for reasons known to him. I agree with him when he questions psyche of Indian society when it comes to subordination. I feel author had many reasons to be optimistic at the same time because we have seen a big paradigm shift in psychology and society since then.
PS: I plan to read other parts of trilogy after this one. I expect him to be optimistic like us.

Anonymous said...

I don't think anyones written a book which has pleased all those who have read it all points.. The same is with Naipaul. He has commented that Gandhi was obsessed with sanitation but I feel its Naipaul who is Obsessed with the same. His book is littered with the words 'squat' and 'defeacate'. But some days after I had read this I myself observed Squatters on the pavements and roads and I realised how I had ignored the obvious for so many years. Also his satire comments on Gandhi and the failure of the Indias to absorb his message and direct way of looking is true.So is the the attitude of the Indians to invite conquests. I feel the better part of the books is just and because we are Indians the 'obvious' which we ignore hurts when presented so explicitly.