V. S. Naipaul: Quotes to remember – Swarajya Staff

V.S. Naipaul

Pulling down the first Mughal emperor’s [masjid], is a marvellous idea. I think in years to come it will be seen as a great moment. … It would be a historical statement of India striving to regain her soul. – V.S. Naipaul

Nobel Prize-winning novelist V. S. Naipaul, known for works like A Bend in the River and The Enigma of Arrival, died in London on Saturday (11 August 2018).

Born in 1932 to a family that had arrived in Trinidad from India in the 1880s, Naipaul was known for his writings on colonialism and decolonisation, exile and the struggles in the developing world. Naipaul published more than 30 works spanning both fiction and nonfiction. Some of his famous books are A House for Mr BiswasIndia: A Million Mutinies NowThe Middle Passage and The Overcrowded Barracoon. His book An Area of Darkness is a semi-autobiographical account of a trip to India in the 1960s.

Naipaul travelled to the Muslim-majority countries of Iran, Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia for his books Among the Believers (1981) and Beyond Belief (1998). His work on Islam, earned him the rage of left-wing “intellectuals”.

Here are some of his famous quotes:

  1. From India: A Wounded Civilization published in 1976:

India has been a wounded civilization because of Islamic violence: Pakistanis know this; indeed they revel in it. It is only Indian Nehruvians like Romila Thapar who pretend that Islamic rule was benevolent. We should face facts: Islamic rule in India was at least as catastrophic as the later Christian rule. The Christians created massive poverty in what was a most prosperous country; the Muslims created a terrorised civilization out of what was the most creative culture that ever existed. India was wrecked and looted, not once but repeatedly by invaders with strong religious ideas, with a hatred of the religion of the people they were conquering. People read these accounts but they do not imaginatively understand the effects of conquest by an iconoclastic religion.

2) He told The Hindu in 1998:

I think when you see so many Hindu temples of the tenth century or earlier time disfigured, defaced, you know that they were not just defaced for fun: that something terrible happened. I feel that the civilization of that closed world was mortally wounded by those invasions. And I would like people, as it were, to be more reverential towards the past, to try to understand it; to preserve it; instead of living in its ruins. The Old World is destroyed. That has to be understood. The ancient Hindu India was destroyed.

3) On Ayodhya, according to Patrick French:

For the poor of India to identify something like this, pulling down the first Mughal emperor’s tomb [s/r masjid], is a marvellous idea. I think in years to come it will be seen as a great moment. … It would be a historical statement of India striving to regain her soul. What puzzled me and outraged me was the attitude that it was wrong, that one must not undo the [Muslim] conquest. I think it is the attitude of a slave population.

4) From The Enigma of Arrival published in 1987:

Men need history; it helps them to have an idea of who they are. But history, like sanctity, can reside in the heart; it is enough that there is something.

Naipaul was awarded the 1971 Booker Prize for his novel In a Free State and in 2001 won the Nobel Prize for Literature. His first book, The Mystic Masseur, was published in 1957. His most celebrated novel, A House for Mr Biswas, which took more than three years to write, was published in the year 1961. – Swarajya, 12 August 2018

2 Responses

  1. “A state which is a criminal enterprise.” Comment on Pakistan from Among the Believers. The writer missed this.


  2. Some more memorable quotes from Naipaul:

    1. In the Economic Times (13 January 2003)

    How do you ignore history? But the nationalist movement, independence movement ignored it. You read the Glimpses of World History by Jawaharlal Nehru, it talks about the mythical past and then it jumps the difficult period of the invasions and conquests. So you have Chinese pilgrims coming to Bihar, Nalanda and places like that. Then somehow they don’t tell you what happens, why these places are in ruin. They never tell you why Elephanta Island is in ruins or why Bhubaneswar was desecrated.

    2. Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions Among the Converted Peoples (1998)

    Islam is in its origins an Arab religion. Everyone not an Arab who is a Muslim is a convert. Islam is not simply a matter of conscience or private belief. It makes imperial demands. A convert’s worldview alters. His holy places are in Arab lands; his sacred language is Arabic. His idea of history alters. He rejects his own; he becomes, whether he likes it or not, a part of the Arab story. The convert has to turn away from everything that is his. The disturbance for societies is immense, and even after a thousand years can remain unresolved; the turning away has to be done again and again. People develop fantasies about who and what they are; and in the Islam of converted countries there is an element of neurosis and nihilism. These countries can be easily set on the boil.

    3. Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions Among the Converted Peoples (1998)

    The Hindus, especially in Bengal, welcomed the New Learning of Europe and the institutions the British brought. The Muslims, wounded by their loss of power, and out of old religious scruples, stood aside. It was the beginning of the intellectual distance between the two communities. This distance has grown with independence; and it is this—more even than religion now—that at the end of the twentieth century has made India and Pakistan quite distinct countries. India, with an intelligentsia that grows by leaps and bounds, expands in all directions. Pakistan, proclaiming only the faith and then proclaiming the faith again, ever shrinks.

    It was Muslim insecurity that led to the call for the creation of Pakistan. It went at the same time with an idea of old glory, of the invaders sweeping down from the northwest and looting the temples of Hindustan and imposing the faith on the infidel. The fantasy still lives; and for the Muslim converts of the subcontinent it is the start of their neurosis, because in this fantasy the convert forgets who or what he is and becomes the violator.

    4. As quoted in “V.S. Naipaul launches attack on Islam” in The Guardian (4 October 2001)

    It [Islam] has had a calamitous effect on converted peoples. To be converted you have to destroy your past, destroy your history. You have to stamp on it, you have to say ‘my ancestral culture does not exist, it doesn’t matter’. … This abolition of the self demanded by Muslims was worse than the similar colonial abolition of identity. It is much, much worse in fact. … You cannot just say you came out of nothing.

    5. Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey (1981)

    The time before Islam is a time of blackness: that is part of Muslim theology. History has to serve theology.”

    From Naipal’s obituary in The Guardian (London)

    V. S. Naipaul by Kenneth Ramchand, in The Guardian (12 August 2018)

    The World Is What It Is was a fitting title for the biography of a writer who struggled all his life between poles. On the one hand, there was social and personal anomie, on the other a commitment to vocation. He had a mutated Hindu view that all the world was illusion and only the self was real, and yet his writing showed him observing and reporting the external world with precision. He was a difficult man to get to know. His meaning for the island of his birth, and for the world after the centuries of empires and colonies, “everything of value”, as he put it in his Nobel lecture, was in his books: “I am the sum of my books.” In time, that will be seen as his most appropriate epitaph.


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