Saturday, March 13, 2004

I discovered Naipaul in the bookshops in Kathmandu's tourist quarter in the mid-1980s, where I bought An Area of Darkness in an early Penguin edition with a soft-focus cover drawing of a shikara on the Dal Lake. Soon I was devouring his many other books no longer for the subject matter but for the author--sensing that, whatever he wrote about, this Naipaul guy wrote close to the bone.

It was my Naipaul obsession that led me eventually to Pakistan, via Kashmir. Bored with being deskbound subediting wire stories in an air-conditioned building, I quit the Bangkok Post early in 1994 and went to India for four months. And I went to Kashmir, because Naipaul had written about it.

"It was my eye that had changed," he writes near the end of An Area of Darkness, and this happened eventually to me too. Through the alchemy of writing Naipaul had, at once as it were, exorcised his own illusions and conjured new ones for me to dispel in my turn. The Dal Lake and Gulmarg and Amarnath were in my mind Naipaul's turf. His great gift to me as a reader was to have stimulated my curiosity about the world enough that I wanted to see it for myself, and did so. If ultimately I've achieved a perspective on the world that differs from his, it doesn't diminish my gratitude for the gift. The irony is that, having come to read Naipaul's work for the author, I finally decided that the subject matter is more important and more interesting, and that I have as much claim to it as he does.

-- From a brief essay on Kashmir & An Area of Darkness by Ethan Casey, in today's Pakistan Daily Times.

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