Saturday, November 23, 2002

"In Among the Believers, V.S. Naipaul's book about his travels in the Muslim world, a young man who has been driving the author around Pakistan admits that he doesn't have a passport and, keen to go abroad and see the world, expresses a yearning for one. Naipaul reflects, more than a little caustically, that it's a shame that the only freedom in which this young fellow appears to be interested is the freedom to leave the country.

"When I first read this passage, years ago, I had a strong urge to defend that young man against the celebrated writer's contempt. In the first place, the desire to get out of Pakistan, even temporarily, is one with which many people will sympathise. In the second and more important place, the thing that the young man wants — freedom of movement across frontiers — is, after all, a thing that Naipaul himself takes for granted, the very thing, in fact, that enables him to write the book in which the criticism is made."

— Salman Rushdie, in an essay in today's UK Guardian called "Divided Selves", a discussion of "the crossing of borders, of language, geography and culture".

Rushdie sidesteps Naipaul's point here, which, of course, is that if more people in Pakistan took a greater interest in other freedoms — freedoms of thought, of speech, of conscience, of the press etc. etc. etc. — that desire to get out of the country might be a little less urgent.

At the same time, it's a desire Naipaul ought to understand. How many times has he written & spoken about his need, as a young man, to get out of Trinidad?

No comments: