Thursday, March 25, 2004

West Indies collapse because they do not work as hard as any other international team and because they are weak mentally. From the manual labour perspective, anyone could whip them into shape. It's been done before. There is a fair amount of batting talent and the return of Jermaine Lawson and Fidel Edwards should strengthen the bowling.

But how will a PlayStation-generation team be taught to forget everything but the next ball? Isn't there a great party going on in the Red Stripe Mound? Man, we should be there. This team cannot bat through 90 overs because they can barely sit through a feature film. They should be playing chess, not Grand Theft Auto. They should be reading novels, not flicking through magazines.

Certainly they should be taught their own history. If you had a quarter for every member of the team who read CLR James's Beyond a Boundary, you'd find yourself borrowing a coin from the umpire at the toss. A contemporary West Indian batsman actually failed to recognise Sir Everton Weekes's name when Sir Everton attempted to give him a batting tip; the young players probably think the Three Ws was a restaurant.

-- From a scathing commentary by B.C. Pires in yesterday's UK Guardian.

Saturday, March 20, 2004

Henry Swanzy, the BBC producer who from 1946 to 1954 edited the landmark Caribbean Voices programme, has died at the age of 88. The Guardian has published an obituary by Philip Nanton & Anne Walmsley.
But cricket's footprint, as the great Trinidadian writer C.L.R. James acknowledged in his seminal work, Beyond a Boundary, has always been larger than the grounds on which it is played. "In the inevitable integration into a national community," he wrote, "one of the most urgent needs, sport, and particularly cricket, has played and will play a great role."

James was referring to the project of Caribbean unity.... The idea Mr. James introduced in his timeless 1963 book was the notion of sport as an instrument of social justice and national identity. In his estimation, the motive force of West Indian cricket was to subvert the colonial project, restaging cricket in its parochial aesthetics as a discourse in anti-colonialism....

Fuelled by the sentiments that Mr. James had identified, West Indian cricket teams became the best in the world at a game that Lord Harris, a governor of Bombay, once argued required the "doggedness of the English temperament" for success. West Indian cricketers rewrote that script--eventually bludgeoning the English into a series of hapless surrenders in the 1980s, battering them with a muscular, exuberant and physically intimidating brand of cricket.

After a brief period of West Indian supremacy, cricket mastery passed to Australia, India, Pakistan and South Africa. These former colonies are producing the best cricket teams not so much because they are fired by an anti-colonialist aesthetic but because they are bolstered by familiar economic forces. Because Rupert Murdoch saw the potential for cricket in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, he trained the cameras of his media empire on the subcontinent. Among the many reasons why an India v. Pakistan cricket match is probably drawing more attention than the siege of an al-Qaeda deputy is that Murdoch's Star TV has turned Asia's cricket players into demigod millionaires.

Duke University academic Kenneth Surin argues that cricket is no longer "a means of national expression" and he points out that West Indian professional cricketers now earn a living touring the world in pursuit of ever-increasing financial rewards. Such globetrotting has levelled the playing field, Prof. Surin says: "Cricketing styles have become homogenized in consequence of this 'internationalization' of the game."

So last week, while India and Pakistan were meeting, the English team was steamrollering the West Indies in Jamaica with a British version of muscular, physical cricket, reversing the recent narrative between the two countries.

If the result in Kingston was parochial, it also contained a universal morality tale of the times.

-- From an op-ed piece on "the geopolitics of cricket" by Ken Wiwa in today's Globe & Mail.
Archimedes held that he could lift the earth if he had a lever long enough, and an extraplanetary fulcrum to rest it on. There are horrors so heavy that they seem untellable. To bear to tell them so that we can bear to read them, a writer must find somewhere outside--peaceful, unmarked--to project them from. Atrocity enters the imagination not as the violating point of the knife but as the fair flesh violated.

That is how the Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat has managed over the past 10 years to portray with such terrifying wit and flowered pungency the torment of the Haitian people....

In her other stories and in this collection Danticat often uses the Haitian community in the United States as the horror-spared site for her fulcrum. Despite difficulties, strangeness and uncertainties, these characters are swimmers pulled from the depths. Nitrogen bubbles course agonizingly in their bloodstream, memories rack them; yet there is an uncertain daylight, and it is by this that darkness is called up and told.

-- From Richard Eder's review of The Dew Breaker in this weekend's NY Times Book Review (like most Times online content, after about a week you'll have to pay to read it).

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

The Scotsman reports today that Derek Walcott has been robbed in Paris:

Mr Walcott, 73, spoke of being left in a Kafka-esque limbo after his partner, Sigrid, had her bag snatched in Paris.

The thief got away with the couple's passports, travel documents, money, and, critically, Mr Walcott's green card, allowing him to travel and work in the United States.

Mr Walcott has returned from Europe to his home in St Lucia in the Caribbean, but was due to travel to Scotland via the US, where he has an apartment in New York and a teaching job in Boston.

He and Sigrid had to show newspaper cuttings about his work to airline officials at the airport before they were allowed to board their plane and leave France.

"Day by day it gets more devastating," he said. "One of the worst things is [the loss of] my green card. My second application took almost a year to come through, and now I have to do it again.

"The most frightening thing is this contemporary thing of identity--unless you have papers, you don't exist. Very Kafkaesque."

Monday, March 15, 2004

Danticat, surely one of contemporary fiction's most sensitive conveyors of hope's bittersweet persistence in the midst of poverty and violence, is nursing an espresso in the cramped back patio of a cafe not far from the edge of Little Haiti. Half a block away is the pink corner house she shares with her husband, Faidherbe "Fedo" Boyer, and, for the moment, a small bustle of visitors: Boyer's mother, up from her small town in Haiti; Danticat's brother, down from New York, and his almost terrifyingly precocious 4-year-old daughter, for whose benefit the TV is tuned to a chirpy kiddie show and not to the latest news from the homeland, which in any case is sure to be bad. Mobs, ragtag looters and oozing corpses, each image, each streaming bulletin "almost like a deeply personal pain" for Danticat, who spent her childhood in the Bel Air section of Port-au-Prince and returns often to see friends and family. But now, "it seems like I'm watching another place. The things I'm seeing I don't even recognize."

-- From a profile of Edwidge Danticat by Margaria Fichtner, in yesterday's Miami Herald.

See also: Dylan Foley's review/profile in yesterday's NY Post, & Richard McCann's review in yesterday's Decateur Daily.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

In the early days at Camp X-ray, the conditions of detention were extreme.

The detainees were forbidden from talking to the person in the next cell and, Rasul recalls, fed tiny portions of food: "They'd give you this big plate with a tiny pile of rice and a few beans. It was nouvelle cuisine, American-style. You were given less than 10 minutes to eat and if you hadn't finished the Marines would just take your plate away." After a few more days Rasul was questioned again by MI5. The officer asked how he was. "I started crying, saying I can't believe I'm here. He says: 'I don't want to know how you are emotionally, I'm only interested in your physical state.'"

After about a week the prisoners were allowed to speak to detainees in adjacent cells, and a few weeks later still were given copies of the Koran, a prayer mat, blankets and towels. Yet all witnessed or experienced brutality, especially from Guantanamo's own riot squad, the Extreme Reaction Force. Its acronym has led to a new verb peculiar to Guantanamo detainees: "ERF-ing." To be ERFed, says Rasul, means to be slammed on the floor by a soldier wielding a riot shield, pinned to the ground and assaulted.

Iqbal and Rasul were at opposite ends of the same block and were forbidden from talking to each other. There was almost nothing to do. "Time speeds up," Rasul says. "You just stare and the hours go clicking by. You'd look at people and see they'd lost it. There was nothing in their eyes any more. They didn't talk."

As the weeks of detention became months they would sometimes see psychiatrists. The response to any complaint was always the same: an offer to administer Prozac. (On my visit to Guantanamo, the camp medical staff told me that at least a fifth of the detainees were taking anti-depressants.)

It was almost impossible to master the rules and know how to avoid punishment. There was only one rule that mattered, Rasul says: "You have to obey whatever US government personnel tell you to do."

In mid-2002 the prisoners were moved from the open cages with mesh walls at Camp X-ray to the pre-fabri cated metal cellblocks of Camp Delta. There, the standard punishment was transfer to solitary confinement in the sensory deprivation isolation wing. Once, Ahmed says, he was given isolation for writing "Have a nice day" on a polystyrene cup. This was deemed "malicious damage to US government property". On another occasion, he was punished for singing.

-- From David Rose's interview with the "Tipton Three", published in today's Observer.

In his speech on 25 February 2004 to launch the US State Department's latest report on human rights practices in other countries, Secretary of State Colin Powell said that "throughout the globe in 2003, the United States helped to build democratic institutions, promote good governance and strengthen civil societies by supporting the rule of law". His words echo President George W. Bush's repeated assertion that the USA will stand firm for the "non-negotiable demands of human dignity", including "the rule of law"....

It is something of an irony that the State Department report criticizes Cuba for invoking sweeping powers of arrest and detention "to deny due process to those detained on purported state security grounds". For the US administration spent 2003 attempting to keep its own courts and any lawyers away from the hundreds of foreign nationals it was holding in Guantánamo Bay in Cuba. What was the administration's justification for this? It argued that this was a national security matter, and that Guantánamo Bay is the sovereign territory of Cuba and therefore out of the reach of the US courts. As Lord Steyn, one of the United Kingdom's most senior judges, has noted: "The purpose of holding the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay was and is to put them beyond the rule of law". He suggested that the UK government, for one, should "make plain and unambiguously our condemnation of the utter lawlessness at Guantánamo Bay".

Secretary Powell said on 11 February that "we are operating fully in accordance with international law" in relation to the Guantánamo detainees. Yet, for example, Article 9 (4) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) states: "Anyone who is deprived of his liberty by arrest or detention shall be entitled to take proceedings before a court, in order that that court may decide without delay on the lawfulness of his detention and order his release if the detention is not lawful". The Human Rights Committee, the expert body set up by the ICCPR to oversee implementation of the treaty, has stated that this right is non-derogable, even in states of emergency. The provisions of the ICCPR apply to all persons within the jurisdiction of the state party. The Committee has stated that even if so-called preventive detention is used for reasons of public security, it must be controlled by the provisions of Article 9 of the ICCPR....

-- From an Amnesty International report dated 27 February 2004.

Saturday, March 13, 2004

It's a foggy day in Coventry, and Derek Walcott is huddled against the cold in an overcoat, talking about his home in St Lucia and the view from his window where the blue sky meets the blue sea. I wonder if he might open up in the sun, like a hibiscus, but today his face is closed.

The previous evening, a dinner was held in his honour at Warwick University. Some of those present were studying for PhDs on his work. Everyone had a question, a comment. The Nobel prizewinner and founding father of Caribbean literature fended them off with monosyllables and deep imponderable silences. In the game of academia, he was playing by his own rules.

But there is another side to Walcott. Earlier that evening, arriving at the university for a reading, he was met by two girls from St Lucia, enthusiastically clutching their tickets. He broke his schedule to talk to them, let them take photographs, then changed the poems he had planned to read to include one with a section in the island patois. They hooted with delight.

You can take the man out of his island, but you can't take the island out of the man. The little isle in the Lesser Antilles, 14 miles by 27, is the backdrop and very often the subject of his writing. In what many would regard as his masterpiece, his epic Omeros, he reimagined Homer's Odyssey among the fishermen and waitresses of the island. The villages are "my villages". When he uses the word "here" in our conversation, he means not a hotel in Coventry but his island home.

-- From a profile of Walcott by Susan Mansfield in today's Scotsman.
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.
More praise for The Dew Breaker--this time, a review by Donna Bailey Nurse in the Montreal Gazette:

One of the magical gifts Danticat possesses is the talent to become invisible. Her stories appear to tell themselves, to unfurl, nonchalantly, of their own accord. This is why, mere pages into the book, even after I had read the dust jacket, and stumbled over obvious clues; and even after I had met Ka's father with the scar sliced into his cheek, I was stunned to learn that he was the dew breaker of the title. Danticat's power of understatement and casual calm repeatedly undermines our readiness for evil. She reminds us, constantly, of the banality of brutality.

Friday, March 12, 2004

More reviews of Edwidge Danticat's new book, The Dew Breaker:

Danticat's The Dew Breaker should only add further luster to her sterling reputation for simple, yet poetic prose and affecting portraits of immigrant life in the difficult gray zone between old country and new country. Her fourth novel is a serious-minded work of a mature talent, a searching examination of murderous terror and its lingering aftershocks on generations....

Danticat unveils their stories in an intricate dance between different characters in past and present time that starts slowly but builds steadily toward the novel's gripping climax. It alternates as well between thematic threads--love and hate, faith and fanaticism, forgiveness and vengeance.

This is a great deal of weight to heft, especially in a short novel, but the 34-year-old writer manages this difficult feat with impressive aplomb. Individual stories may remain sketchy, in a cinematic fashion, but Danticat demonstrates a resonant ability to create character and scene with the telling little detail or the emblematic incident.

Haiti emerges as a country with repeat hemorrhages that never quite heal, a primitive place held together by dictatorial threats that "the land would burn from north to south, east to west. There would be no sunrise and no sunset, just one big flame licking the sky."

-- John Marshall, writing in today's Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Danticat, for all the trickless clarity of her prose, has a nice way of keeping you off-balance as she writes. The way a scene unfolds, the way a story fits by the slightest of threads into the overall scheme of the book--these offer formal pleasures that lend a lift to her sober subject matter. Cool, taut, yet rife with hidden currents and flashes of warmth that bring it to life, The Dew Breaker may be Danticat's finest achievement yet.

-- Michael Upchurch, writing in the Seattle Times.

...Its setting makes The Dew Breaker sound as though it is a political polemic veiled as fiction, but this is not the case. Danticat's rare gift is her ability to set her novels and stories amid fraught times in which the actions of the government cause upheaval in the lives of regular people, without ever once losing focus on her characters. She leaves the preaching to the preachers, such as the dynamic minister who figures in the denouement of The Dew Breaker.

This book, like her others, never wavers in placing its attention on individual lives, and as she moves from one character to another you feel she is holding their faces up to you, each of them locking the reader with a gaze too intense to shirk.

-- Jenny Shank, writing in the Rocky Mountain News.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

In her earlier books Breath, Eyes, Memory, Krik? Krak! and The Farming of Bones, Ms. Danticat, who was born in Haiti and moved to the United States when she was 12, demonstrated an ability to use her lyric gift of language and her emotional clarity to show how the public and the private, the personal and the political are intertwined in the lives of Haitians and Haitian-Americans, and to show how the past anchors and hobbles the present.

The Dew Breaker not only showcases these same qualities, but it is also Ms. Danticat's most persuasive, organic performance yet. As seamless as it is compelling, the novel recounts its harrowing tale in limpid, understated prose, using a looping structure of overlapping stories to tell the Dew Breaker's story by indirection.

It is a tale that uses its characters' experiences as a prism to examine Haiti's own difficulties in breaking free from a centuries-old cycle of violence and vengeance that continues through today, a tale that simultaneously unfolds to become a philosophical meditation on the possibility of redemption and the longing of victims and victimizers alike to believe in the promise of new beginnings held forth by the American Dream.

-- From Michiko Kakutani's glowing review of The Dew Breaker in today's NY Times (like most Times online content, after about a week you'll have to pay to read it).

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Caryl Phillips has racked up yet another literary award nomination for A Distant Shore--the PEN/Faulkner this time. Not yet announced at the official website, but see this AP story in the NY Newsday.

Monday, March 08, 2004

In today's T'dad Guardian Judy Raymond has a good profile of Patrick French, V.S. Naipaul's "authorised, though independent" biographer, who's been in T'dad for about a week & a half researching Naipaul's early life, interviewing his relatives, friends, & associates, & generally trying to understand the mad little island Sir Vidia was born on. Until midnight T'dad time, you'll find the profile here. (Tomorrow, if I can figure out the Guardian's extremely inconvenient archiving system, I'll attempt to replace this with a permalink.)

Update, Tuesday morning: yesterday's edition of the Guardian does not seem to have been archived--this is why I stopped linking to their stories ages ago....
Over at BonoboLand--where he's been blogging recently--my friend Damien Smith has an interesting post on the Trinidad & Tobago-Barbados-Venezuela-Guyana-Suriname maritime boundary dispute, in which he wonders whether Caribbean microstates like Dominica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent--the "small islands"--are truly viable as independent entities.
Ultimately, Danticat's book is about memory. The street kid in one of Port-au-Prince's rust-colored slums whom the dew breaker sends to buy a pack of cigarettes is studying history. Thirty years later, in the comparative safety of the United States, children of Haitian exiles study art, or French literature, become nurses, editors, TV stars. Like their contemporaries from other backgrounds, their focus is turned toward the future.

"Ripped from today's headlines" is a loathsome phrase that should be retired even from blurb-speak. Chaos and brutality are ever present in Haiti, as they are now. In less dramatic times, Haiti is easy to dismiss. When Washington invaded Afghanistan and then Iraq, who recalled that the U.S. Marines had occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934? Who pondered what the fruits of that occupation were? Difficult to read Danticat's understated and remarkably unsentimental novel without thinking of Auden's poem which begins "About suffering they were never wrong,/The Old Masters--how it takes place/While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along."

-- From Betsy Willeford's review of Edwidge Danticat's new book, The Dew Breaker, published in yesterday's Miami Herald.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

From a photograph we saw in Time magazine, in which he wore a plaid woolen shirt, Arthur Miller was for my twin brother and me a heroic independent figure, and pretty soon we both acquired plaid shirts, even though we were too young for pipes....

The face was lantern-jawed and Lincolnesque. Its seams were clamped round a pipe that for a long time was as iconic as General MacArthur's, and as the years wore on, the features became more grooved, and as inflexible as granite. This was Arthur Miller, and in the moral conflict to come with the persecutions of Senator MacCarthy, the face became an emblem for the American conscience. It said both "Non Serviam", "I will not serve", and, even though it was Jewish, the famous New England warning, "Don’t tread on me."

-- From Derek Walcott's tribute to Arthur Miller, delivered in January to accompany the staging of excerpts from Death of a Salesman in Rodney Bay, St. Lucia, & published in this weekend's St. Lucia Star (see this story by Petulah Olibert for details of the event).
There is a celebrated opening sequence to Sir Vidia's masterpiece, India: A Wounded Civilisation. It is 1975--a full quarter century before he won the Nobel--and Naipaul is surveying the shattered ruins of Vijayanagara....

For Naipaul, the Fall of Vijayanagara is a paradigmatic wound on the psyche of India, part of a long series of failures that he believes still bruises the country's self-confidence (or from which, according to some
of his more recent statements, the country is only just now beginning to recover). The wound was created by a fatal combination of Islamic aggression and Hindu weakness--the tendency to "retreat", to withdraw in the face of defeat....

The problem is that such ideas rest on a set of ignorant and Islamophobic assumptions which recent scholarship has done much to undermine....

Sir Vidia's non-fiction about India is arguably the most profound body of writing about the region in modern times, and it is precisely because of this that it is important to challenge his errors. In the current climate, after the pogroms of Gujarat and the continued malevolent and inaccurate rewriting of textbooks, Sir Vidia's absurdly one-sided and misleading take on medieval Indian history simply must not be allowed to go uncorrected.

-- From a fascinating & substantial essay by William Dalrymple in Outlook India, arguing that Naipaul's views on Indian history are thoroughly misinformed. (There are also very useful links to six or seven years of Naipaul coverage in Outlook India--essays, reviews, interviews etc.)

I myself know next to nothing about Indian history, so the less opinion I offer the better, but I am struck by Dalrymple's argument that Naipaul has chosen to avoid acknowledging the fruitful interaction between the Hindu & Islamic cultures of the subcontinent--a creative hybridity which he says Salman Rushdie calls "chutnification". This fascinates me, of course, because cultural hybridity--creolisation, we call it--has also been a major creative force in the Caribbean, & particularly here in Trinidad, where it has been passionately contested & misunderstood by some, but embraced by many as an invigorating & even redeeming force. I recall that Naipaul in an interview once said that the word "creolised" has no meaning. And I wonder now--I'm sure this has already occurred to some scholar or journalist somewhere--to what degree Naipaul's vision of Indian history, of a pure, organic Hindu culture ravaged by the Muslim invasions, has been influenced by his early experience of the mixed-up, muddled-up, creolised, chutnified, callaloo culture of his native island.
In his interesting column in today's Jamaica Observer, Wayne Brown muses over Shakespeare, Haiti, & a petulant little op-ed piece written for the Washington Times by David Paulin, an American journalist briefly on the staff of the Observer.

And do read the thoughtful & even-handed editorial on the situation in Haiti published in today's Stabroek News.

Saturday, March 06, 2004

But where does redemption fit into this story? How can a man like the dew breaker be redeemed? The barber's wife, a devout Christian well aware of her husband's atrocities, regards her life as "a pendulum between forgiveness and regret, but when the anger dissipated she considered it a small miracle, the same way she thought of her emergence from her occasional epileptic seizures as a kind of resurrection." Resurrection, yes, but again, is there redemption for a torturer?

-- From Daphne Uviller's review of Edwidge Danticat's new book of stories, The Dew Breaker, in the NY Newsday.
Not many writers get to write their own epitaph, but it is hard not to feel that this is precisely what Naipaul is about in Literary Occasions. However far he journeys, the dark continent of his travels has always been himself, that displaced, self-created (and to his mind) self-creating creature.

In Literary Occasions, he returns again to his origins, to the place and the experiences that made him what he is, as if by tracing out the many ways he has tried to make sense of his own past. Naipaul makes explicit the process of invention and reinvention of the self that he wants to be seen as central to his work.

The result is a book that seems to reveal as much through its method as through its contents. All of Naipaul is here--the majesty of the voice, the penetration of the gaze, the coruscating intelligence, but there is also the sense of a writer engaged in a dialogue with his own legacy, as if by returning to the beginning at the end he might invent himself for us and for him one last time.

-- From James Bradley's double review of Literary Occasions & an anthology called Away: The Indian Writer as an Expatriate
(ed. Amitava Kumar), in today's edition of The Age.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Sorry, I can't help myself--from today's NY Times:

Correction: March 4, 2004, Thursday

An article on the Fashion page on Tuesday about the British designer Alexander McQueen misstated a phrase from his remarks on the common professional desire to create a signature product. He said, "And you've just got to keep on striving until one day you're waking up, having your marmalade on toast, doodling on a cigarette package--and bingo, Bob's your uncle"--not "you bought an uncle." (The slang expression means, roughly, "You've got it made.")
Supporters of Naipaul insist that Sir Vidia is simply too lofty a figure to be constrained by smutty Indian party politics, that his visit to Ashok Road was only a courtesy call and he would have stopped off to meet the Congress too if only he had been invited. Perhaps. Perhaps the Naipaulean vision cannot and should not be harnessed to the Sangh parivar. Yet for the BJP, if not for Sir Vidia, Naipaul's visit is an important landmark. For a potentially violent anti-intellectual political movement associated with tearing up film posters, destroying libraries and defacing paintings, even a courtesy call from an international literary figure provides the one attribute that Hindutva still does not possess: intellectual respectability.

-- From a column on "the BJP's search for respectability" by Sagarika Ghose in today's Indian Express.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

The 2004 Commonwealth Writers Prizes for the Caribbean & Canada were announced on Monday evening here in Port of Spain, but the local newspapers are yet to pick up the story, as far as I can make out. Maybe they're uninterested because the best book & best first book awards were both taken by Canadian novels.... No Caribbean novels were even shortlisted for best novel, though there were two on the best first novel shortlist: The Swinging Bridge, by Trinidadian-Canadian Ramabai Espinet, & Spirit of Haiti, by Haitian-American Myriam J.A. Chancy.

Anyway, the Globe & Mail has a story today: here.
It's true that V.S. Naipaul writes with a mean pen, that his sense of repartee is unique like the man himself but it is obvious that if it weren't for the presence of Nadira Naipaul, "Vidya" would have been "lost".

A few observations at the Tehelka inaugural lecture: The minute Naipaul handed over his fine hat to the lady, it was a signal for her to take charge. And like a field Marshall Lady Naipaul "expertly" handled the horde of photographers with a stern, "He won't talk until you leave the scene". They left of course amidst a shattering applause.

Then there was this regrettable instance when an enthusiastic fan opted to sit in front when Naipaul had just about started reading excerpts from India: A Wounded Civilization. To everybody's embarrassment he wailed dramatically saying, "Why do you do this to me? I am not a record. I can't go on. You have to listen to me".

For a minute there was an uncomfortable silence. Then Lady Naipaul gently patted "Vidya's" hand and the rest of the evening went smoothly.

-- From a delightfully gossipy account of the inaugural Tehelka lecture, delivered by V.S. Naipaul the other day in Bangalore, posted on