What would you do when you are in the area of darkness?
I am finding two contrasting answers in the two books that I am reading parallely now. An Area of Darkness by Naipaul and My Experiments with Truth by Gandhi.
I regret why I have not read the second one for so long and why I have picked up the first one, now. Naipaul’s language is something, I immensely admire, and I hope, my admiration emerges unscathed through this darkness. Gandhi is a person, I immensely admire, and with every word I read, it is enhanced.
Both Gandhi and Naipaul have been confronted with the same issues, as Naipaul himself has eloquently tried to show in one of the chapters. But what Gandhi tried to do was to light a candle and look for the treasures in the darkness, even as he strove to get rid of the darkness; what Naipaul seems to be doing in the few pages I have read so far, is to somehow see enough in the darkness, and then get out of the darkness, to tell something back to those who gave him the advance to explore the darkness (I had read somewhere in an old interview that he felt at a loss, after coming to India, on what to write and had to write because he had taken an advance. I can, now, see that he was telling the bare truth).
Naipaul starts the chapter on Gandhi with ‘one of Gandhi’s quotes’ at the top – “Well, India is a land of nonsense”. This is a typical example of how you can pull out something, someone said in some context, and make it suit your purpose. When there is a whole body of his work and his whole life, itself, open to the world and laid out before you, why would Naipaul pick up something that shows the exact opposite of what the man thought and believed in?
Gandhi looks at the ‘what’, and records it in no uncertain terms, but moves the focus to the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ (to resolve). Naipaul looks only at half the ‘what’, is indifferent to the ‘why’ and is unconcerned about the ‘how’.
No doubt, Gandhi saw the poverty and defaecation, detested them and wrote about them. But his writings do not show contempt for the people; he hates only those acts. He doesn’t stop with ridiculing those activities; he tries to understand the reasons by being one of the people; he tries, however ineffectually, to rectify them; he picks up the broom and mop and cleans the defaecation.
Naipaul is only exasparated with what he sees and sees nothing beyond. Naipaul, himself, says that poverty in India is obvious and you have to ignore the obvious to find something else. But he makes no effort to ignore the obvious. There is an unmistakable contempt for poverty that seeps through in his sentences. While he blames India for making no efforts to alleviate it, he makes no effort even to understand it. There is an unmistakable hurry to fill the pages. Why else, would an author like Naipaul, who has nothing but contempt for his comptemporaries, quote so extensively from an obscure novel called “The Princes”? He almost narrates the entire story, interspersed with his interpretations. That, to me, seems like a short-cut, which a novice would take, and does not belong to a true master that Naipaul is.
The better people who he has met so far are those Indians, who were educated in Europe. The others are boot-licking bureaucrats. For him, even Gandhi saw the defaecation, only because, he returned from England.
Naipaul seems to have seen the posters of some third-rate soft-porno movies and arrived at a conclusion that this is Indian cinema. The titles (Private Secretary, Paying Guest, Junglee) that he is throwing at us in this book betray his absolute ignorance about Indian cinema. Even if Indian cinema was of poor quality, he has obviously not seen the real mainstream or artistic ones before coming to his conclusions.
Jumping to conclusions, on something as simple as cinema, based on half-baked knowledge, doesn’t lend authenticity to what more he has to say. It probably, shows up his age – he was only 29, when came to India; maybe, he was preoccupied with himself and, really, was confused about his search for his origins – was he Indian, Trinidadian, British or all of it or none of it?
The only trouble is that the book is written in an eloquent language, as always. It is my belief that given a few words, nobody can coin a better sentence out of those than Naipaul. He does the same here. When he writes about the travails of running around to get a permit, you start gasping. When he writes about defaecation, it stinks. When he writes about poverty, it stings. He is obviously writting about what he has seen; but he has not seen the whole. He has seen nothing if he thinks people defaecate outside because they don’t like to do it inside. He has seen nothing at all, if, after going to the scenic Srinagar, he thinks that the defaecating Indian tourist women were enjoying and unembarrassed, when he intruded. He writes so well: if it were Trinidad or Africa, a place I don’t know about, I would have, gullibly, taken in every word, as it is. But, oh, it is about my India.
I knew that Naipaul didn’t have anything nice to say about India during his initial visits. But what I looked for in this book is the truth; for him to hold up the mirror to the face of our past. What he seems to have done is to come with a probe to get into the ears and nostrils and cavities and dig up dirt.
I am not sure if I have the patience to complete this book. Trying to read this fully will be my experiment with truth – if I can remove the filth from the truth. Naipaul has complained that he has written only about 6 pages on defaecation and people pay attention only to it. The reason, I believe at this stage, is that people would have failed to venture beyond those 6 pages to complete the rest of the book. If I fail, well, I will read a different book by Naipaul, to redeem him in my esteem.
As for Gandhi’s autobiography, nothing, that I can write, can reflect what I feel. I disagree with half of what he writes, too – on religion, God, diet, sex, bramhacharya, education, marital life,,,. But I cannot disagree with anyone else so lovingly. He sounds so truthful, at all times, that you cannot detest what he says even if you disagree. Every blunder that he commits, and then admits, increases your esteem for him. Sometimes, I wonder, why does he have to be so open? Why does a man, who after being ‘afflicted’ with the title of Mahatma, have to call himself a quack and portray himself to be Quixotic? Why does he have to admit that he still finds it difficult to keep his sexual feelings under control? Why does he have to talk, guiltily, about, something as insignificant and harmless as, allowing Kasturba to bath in a second-class bathroom, when they were travelling third-class? Well, his life, truly, was his message.