It was always on my mind to read Sir V S Naipaul’s work for reasons unclear. It could be because he is bestowed with Noble Prize in literature and of Indian origin or vice versa. The recent book I read of him was - A bend in the River. Terrific. Brilliant. Masterpiece. I so much like his style of writing that I am determined to read all his work. A few days ago there was a small article on top 100 books to read and this book is the 90th and now I am well aware of why it found a place in top 100’s.
The story in short:
The character Salim, Indian Muslim born in Africa witnesses the post-colonial transformations with new government who also bring in bureaucracy and corruption. Salim is deeply affected by all this but he is flexible to adapt change, adapt new people and new Africa. His friend Indar who goes to London for higher education leaves him jealous and insecure but Salim overcomes that and is happy with his own small shop. Mahesh and Shobha are his friends from India with whom he eats and hangs out. Though they are friends, there is always a distance between them. Mahesh has his own way of doing things and is highly influenced by Shobha, largely this couple is a typical hypocrite and so is Salim. Sir Naipaul, beautifully points out the hypocrisy that governs Indian mindset from every angle. How Mahesh and Shobha aren’t affected by the changing situations is surprising. There is Zabeth, an African woman who buys stationary from Salim and possesses mystic powers. Ferdinand is her son who is initially difficult to get on with but later emerges as a very thoughtful person but cannot escape from the consequences of changing Africa. People like Raymond and Evette, man and woman, live in a pseudo life where Evette cheats on Raymond for Indar and Salim. Finally with growing threat in Africa, Salim is forced to flee leaving his shop, flat and car; in short without nothing he sets on a voyage for new life. Sir Naipaul is brilliant in portraying the characters, situations and everything kind of happens in front of you while reading. Corruption, rebellious youth, an opportunist leader and common people - the story touches every aspect and stirs the reader.
I couldn’t stop thinking that why has it always been about power? What right does any community or country have over other community and country? Is 'Immigration' such a risk? if not financially then emotionally? A person of a different culture moves, adapts and settles in a new country, amongst new people and new culture but still tries his best to retain his own, whatsoever changes he adapts and tries to be a loyal new citizen of a different culture and country , he still is insecure! He will never be an indigenous. Sir Naipaul beautifully brings up the controversial lifestyle of third world and first world countries but what is to remember is that all these third world countries have always been invaded, ruled and exploited by first world countries. If development, reformation and prosperity comes only by dominating others then I would prefer to always be a third world country citizen. What one needs to understand is after churning out butter from these third world countries and when nothing more was left, they were orphaned to deal with corruption and the worst of all - poverty!
The story is all about how Africans were shipped as slaves, the Arabs ruling Africa before Europeans, effect of post-colonial developments affecting the immigrants. It is very important to realise that when a country is ruled or colonised, is orphaned after milking out all benefits just like sugarcane molasses! All colonies were left to deal with poverty, racism, corruption and illiteracy. It was only today that I watched the famous debate rhetoric speech by Dr Tharoor in Oxford, where he slapped 200 years of extortion during colonisation on Brits in 15 minutes of his speech. The most agreeable point is that not only financial, cultural and social damages are being done but ‘moral damage’ done cannot be compensated. The Europeans, Americans were busy developing, reforming and we Indians were fighting for our rights to live freely in our own country. Why Indian research or African research hasn’t attained those heights? Most of the scientific findings, research was done during that time where people in colonies were illiterate and their resources were diverted to the ruling countries, this is the promenade reason why European countries have prospered in every aspect. Colonies were stuck in fighting for basics. Even before the Brits stepped on Indian soil, caste-ism was prevalent in India but when they left we were buried under the heap of discrimination on basis on colour, caste and gender, poverty; bureaucracy, opportunistic politicians who introduced corruption; in short it was a chaos!
The damage has been done, people who did bad are no more alive but we have our country and freedom, we have resources and we have a vision. To cry over spilled milk is a waste of time. This is not only about India but for all colonies; it is difficult but not impossible!