Sourajit, a scientist working at ISRO on the moon mission talked about another Nobel Prize winner’s work. A House for Mr. Biswas is V. S. Naipaul’s masterpiece. The story is biographical — an unflattering farcical tragedy of his own father, one who fights against an unrelenting destiny.

“The problem with the book is that it is far too episodic and so if you skip a couple of chapters, you aren’t missing anything. His style, on the other hand, is terrific. There is nothing that his observant eye misses- be it the socio-political or the cultural. The other thing that I noticed is that he is very rude. He says the meanest things about communities and mines the personal tragedy of his own family. In spite of all this, you know that he is not glossing over anything either good or bad. And so you empathize. It’s almost as though he has an obligation to be honest, although I honestly don’t know if he is misguided or not in this endeavour.” Saurojit arrived at the gist of what has made a man who is undoubtedly judged and judgemental a great writer whose prose is nuanced. He read out a passage from the book that throws light on his writing style:

Soon it seemed to the children that they had never lived anywhere but in the tall square house in Sikkim Street. From now, their lives would be ordered, their memories coherent. The mind, while it is sound, is merciful. And rapidly the memories of Hanuman House, The Chase, Green Vale, Shorthills, the Tulsi House in Port of Spain would become jumbled, blurred; events would be telescoped, many forgotten.  Occasionally a nerve of memory would be touched – a puddle reflecting the blue sky after rain, a pack of thumbed cards, the fumbling with a shoelace, the smell of a new car, the sound of a stiff wind through trees, the smells and colours of a toyshop, the taste of milk and prunes – and a fragment of forgotten experience would be dislodged, isolated, puzzling. In a northern land, in a time of new separations and yearnings, in a library grown suddenly dark, the hailstones beating against the windows, the marbled endpaper of a leatherbound book would disturb: and it would be the hot noisy week before Christmas in the Tulsi Store: the marbled patterns of old fashioned balloons powdered with a rubbery dust in a shallow white box that was not to be touched. So later, and very slowly, in securer times of different stresses, when the memories had lost the power to hurt, with pain or joy, they would fall into place and give back the past.

In case the contrarian views of V. S. Naipaul put you off, you may like to know what women think of him (everyone knows what he thinks of women writers).

More books in Part 4.