“A HOUSE FOR MR. BISWAS” – Hanif Kureishi, Amit Chaudhuri, Paul Theorux at Jaipur Literature Festival 2015

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As the four writers walk up to the stage to take their place, there seems a general unrest. As if something important was missing. As if this session could not continue without the presence of someone. All of a sudden the audience shifts focus. So do the writers on stage. He is here. The man himself has graced the occasion.

Sir V.S. Naipaul or familiarly known as Vidia Naipaul is wheeled in to the front lawns.

The audience gapes. Thus begins the grandeur of the Jaipur Literature Festival.

Farrukh Dhondy, visibly nervous, flags off the session by acknowledging the presence of the man himself. He begins the session by recollecting how he was first introduced to V.S. Naipaul. His first mention of the man was in college and he candidly admits that it was Naipaul who introduced him to “a world of writing he was not familiar to before”

Paul Theorux now reminisces his first encounter with Naipaul’s works. He said it would be somewhere around the late sixties when Naipaul’s novel, “Area of Darkness” was creating quite the buzz. He fondly recounts an incident of when he first read “A House for Mr. Biswas”. For the first time he felt he was reading an intricately described world. He then goes on to pay a compliment to the book, which is gigantic in itself- “It was the most complete novel I read since Dickens”. The audience couldn’t help but agree. “A House for Mr. Biswas had an entire world so beautifully etched. I simply couldn’t stop going back to it.” Theorux’s love for the book is made visible every time that big smile comes across his face. His compliments to Naipaul are in abundance. He praises him by saying “it’s a very brave thing to write about something that had never been written about”. To that he also adds, “he initialised a tradition of writing about a family and it was a very brave and courageous book by Naipaul”

blog 2 - 5Naipaul was truly the star of the show.

blog 2 - 2Hanif Kureishi begins his sojourns with A House for Mr. Biswas by describing it as “the book that made me want to become a writer”. Kureishi’s love for the book had a different reason altogether. He looked at the book as “the story of my father”. The parallels between his family and the story, made Kureishi’s fondness for this book manifold. He goes on to give another huge compliment to the writer-“I thought it was Chekhovian in the deepest sense”. He credits Naipaul in his effort in trying to “burst out of the commonwealth section”. On being asked how it felt to analyse the book in front of the man himself, he retorts “It is a bizarre and extraordinary experience to describe a book in front of the writer”. He goes onto say that the book “was a great work of literature”

blog 2 - 1Carrying forward this thought, Amit Chaudhuri adds “Biswas is not Jane Austen. He takes us out into the streets, into the buses.” When Amit Chaudhuri was asked to talk about his experiences with A House for Mr. Biswas, he looks worriedly upon Naipaul and says, much to the audience’s amusement, “I’m going to have a heart attack”. On a more serious note, Chaudhuri says, “One of the first things I was struck by was its amazing piece of writing”. He goes on to say, “paragraph after paragraph maintained the liveliness and economy through a book of five hundred odd pages”.

Clearly, Amit Chaudhuri is one who is fascinated by Naipaul’s abilities.

After the session was concluded, V.S. Naipaul is called on stage. Despite being helped onto the stage, he looks dignified. He takes the mic, only to say a small “thank you” to his friends who spoke so highly of him. He may no longer have the vivaciousness of youth on his side but he truly is one who is still deserving of the compliments that were showered on him.

The Penguin India Blog

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