Naipaul's grandfather, a Hindu of the Brahmin caste, left India to work as an indentured labourer in the West Indies. In 1962, Naipaul went to India for a year's stay which became a book, entitled An Area of Darkness. The title refers to what the country had been for him in his West Indian Hindu enclave. In 1977, India: A Wounded Civilisation appeared, in the aftermath of Mrs Gandhi's Emergency: sombre thoughts were expressed about the country's instability, its 'intellectual vacuum', its 'fantasies of spirituality'. The ideas of Mahatma Gandhi were felt to offer no escape from 'the present uncertainty and emptiness'. Both books have rankled with citizens of his ancestral country, and I have heard that he has lately been reported there as regretting some part of what he wrote about it in earlier times. An Area of Darkness is a literary travel book which seems now to taste of the British Fifties, to incorporate a Movement comedy of manners. It is markedly forthcoming both of himself and his opinions: he is no more loth than Salman Rushdie has sometimes been to give offence. He speaks of a 'static, decayed society'. He says that he'd gone to India with a vague sense of caste and a Hindu 'horror of the unclean', and he emerges from the book a seasoned coprophobe: 'Indians defecate everywhere. They defecate, mostly, beside the railway tracks. But they also defecate on the beaches; they defecate on the hills; they defecate on the river banks; they defecate on the streets; they never look for cover.' This Churchillian passage may be among his current regrets.
LRB 27 September 1990 | PDF Download