Vidia Naipul regards himself as the greatest living writer of the English language. Those who know him best have a different and much less flattering view.
This word “master”, used often in the letters, is interesting. It is a slave word. In role playing – and most of these love letters refer to highly eroticised power games – the master is regarded as dominant; but, paradoxically, it is usually the submissive person, the masochist, who has the ultimate power – maddening for the sadist.
Here is one instance. Margaret shows up unexpectedly in Wiltshire. Naipaul is displeased with her. He beats her and afterwards explains, “I was very violent with her for two days with my hand; my hand began to hurt . . . She didn’t mind at all. She thought of it in terms of my passion for her. Her face was bad. She couldn’t appear really in public. My hand was swollen.”
The end is eventful. Dissatisfied with Margaret, annoyed with Pat for having cancer (“He felt angry that [Pat] was dying and angry that she was not dying fast enough”), he meets a Pakistani divorcee in Lahore and very soon afterwards asks her, “Will you consider one day being Lady Naipaul?”
He dumps Margaret without explanation. Pat (so as not to be a nuisance) forgoes more chemotherapy and dies miserably. Six days later, before the worms can pierce Pat’s winding sheet, the Pakistani woman has moved into the house. There the story ends, a powerful lesson in karma as the sour and much-shrunken figure marries this peculiar stranger.
The other constant thread running through Naipul’s life is race. Like many Indians confronting the poisonous race environment of the UK, Naipul fortifes his self esteem by mocking black people.
Is it West Indian waggishness when he speaks of “negroes at [Princess Diana’s] shrines, weeping openly”, or “little negro children running up and down the street [in London], causing me distress”. Or consider his reaction to the news that the cricketer Viv Richards and his Indian wife have had a baby: “How could she have a child by that nigger?” Or this comment on the Nobel prize (1988): “Of course I won’t get it – they’ll give it to some nigger or other.”
For Naipul’s fragile self image it seems its preferable to be second on the race ladder than last. The Telegraph has a short sketch of Naipul’s life. In the end, it is poetic justice that Naipul marries an equally pompous, Pakistani divorcee Nadira Alvi
The following night, Patricia Naipaul fell into a coma. Vidia removed her Cartier watch for fear it might be stolen by a passing health worker. The next morning, on Saturday, February 3, 1996, a little before seven o’clock, she passed away. After the cremation, Vidia returned to Dairy Cottage and took photographs of Pat’s meagre possessions: her bed, her spectacles, her shoes, her medicines, and the snow outside. Angela went to Sainsbury’s to buy food: cheese, Cox’s apples, black and green olives. Vidia noted on the receipt: ‘The olives were for Nadira, arriving on the 9th Feb.’ A local taxi drove Vidia up to Heathrow to collect Nadira, while Angela, shocked to the core, prepared the food for his bride. And so it was that on the day after he had cremated his wife, VS Naipaul invited a new woman into her house – or his house – and the funeral green olives did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables.
Despite being a whore mongering narcissist, Vaipul remains a compelling writer, one whose opinions deserve the attention of Muslims whom he often savagely criticized.