Over two years after noted playwright Girish Karnad famously accused Nobel laureate VS Naipaul of being "rabidly antipathetic" to Indian Muslims in his books, the latter refuted it on Saturday: “I never said that, I couldn’t say that”.
Karnad’s attack was made in Mumbai after Naipaul was honoured with a lifetime achievement award at the Tata Literature Live! festival on 31 October 2012. Karnad had launched a scathing critique of Naipaul and the conferral of award to him.
Naipaul, 82, responded to the attack during a conversation with writer Farrukh Dhondy at the Jaipur Literature Festival at Southbank. Dhondy, who was present during Karnad’s attack in Mumbai, recalled the incident, while Naipaul’s wife, Nadira, flayed Karnad for the comments.
A member of the audience asked Naipaul: “One of the criticisms that has been levelled against you has been that you said that Islam has had an overall negative influence on India. Would you like to comment on that?”
Naipual said: “No, I never said that. I never said that. I couldn’t say that, that’s too big a thing for me to say in a book or something. I don’t know where you got this idea from”.
The questioner said he was referring to Karnad’s attack, and wanted to know his version.
Naipaul: “If I have to deal with all the criticism we’ll spend a few days here, with me answering questions. It won’t be nice”.
Karnad had said: “They (Naipaul’s books) have been hailed as a continued exploration of India's journey into modernity, but what strikes one from the very first book—‘A Wounded Civilization’—is their rabid antipathy to the Indian Muslim”.
Dhondy, who recalled being prevented from defending Naipaul during Karnad’s talk, said: “Vidia has never said anything about Islam. He is not a theologian, doesn’t want to be. He is married to Nadira. His adopted son, his daughter and grand-children are Muslims for god’s sake”.
Nadira, who at times speaks on behalf of Naipaul during public appearances, made strong remarks against Karnad during the interaction with the audience. Karnad had participated in the JLF at Southbank last year.
She said: “It’s too glib, too glib a statement because Vidia doesn’t make such statements. In fact he re-examines his own work again and again. I am sorry I jumped on to that **** Girish but when he (Naipaul) wrote ‘Among the Believers’ (1981) and ‘Beyond Belief’ (1998), he was still nervous, he wanted to look at the work again , because he was not happy”.
Nadira added: “He does that, he examines something so many times that sometimes it gets too much. He says: ‘I must get to the truth as close as I can get to it’. So when **** like Girish jump up it is negative publicity. He wanted it, that’s what happened, he got it. So please don’t waste time on that ****”.
During the session marked by long pauses by Naipaul, he said he was influenced in his writings only by the work of Joseph Conrad, and recalled his difficult time in London in the 1950s and 1960s: “These things (books) look good in retrospect, but not at the time. It was a very grim affair”, he said.