Authors: V. S. Naipaul
“Compassionate.… Leaves the reader with a powerful sense of [a] people’s dedication, perseverance and passion.”
The New York Times
“Travel writing, history, novel, lyric—Naipaul’s book partakes of the excellence of every category and fulfills itself in one of the oldest and rarest of forms—prophecy. It bears witness, in unforgettable language, to the best of hopes in the worst of times.”
The Christian Science Monitor
“Naipaul has retired the familiar, infuriating, immobile face of India and painted a fresh one of human spirit and dramatic change.”
“A shifting kaleidoscope of images of a country almost impossible to imagine, but made more comprehensible due to Naipaul’s formidable intelligence and prodigious narrative gifts.”
Boston Sunday Herald
“Naipaul creates his India slowly, through whole life-stories told in the characters’ own voices.… The detail is wonderful, built up with impeccable care.”
“[Naipaul] has invaluably revealed the brink on which India now stands, the sources of all that rage and all those little mutinies.… There is a powerful feeling of change in this book.”
Los Angeles Times
“Compelling, almost hypnotic.… A rich, multilayered portrait of a nation we know far too little about in the West. You will feel you have learned much about India, yet you will sense how much more—how very much more—remains to be learned.”
The Seattle Times
“Authentic.… These narratives record, in human terms, the rich and disturbing diversity of contemporary India.… Extraordinary.”
“There is a great temptation to quote too much of Naipaul, for in reading the novelist, essayist and travel writer we realize the accuracy of those who consider him one of the finest writers in the language; a man with intense intellectual curiosity, as well as an inherited sympathy for inhabitants of the Third World.”
“A superb raga of a book, a raga of morning curiosity and evening meditation.… This may be [Naipaul’s] most generous work, and his best nonfiction.”
The San Diego Union-Tribune
“An absorbing journey through the mind of India.…
will surprise those who have read and ranted at Naipaul’s earlier books on India.”
St. Petersburg Times
“In-depth.… Beautifully written, this book gives a personal look at the societal and political forces pushing for change in the country.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Prescient.… Naipaul’s intuitions and indefatigable on-the-spot research were well ahead of the academic reaction.… [He is] a writer who will always be read—and not just by academics—for his intelligence and insight and for the clarity and elegance of his style.”
The Times Higher Education Supplement
“One of the most intelligent writers of our time.… Naipaul’s word-pictures of India are lyrical, spare, precise and vivid.… He succeeds—brilliantly—in integrating India’s individual truths with a larger picture of the country.”
The Toronto Star
V. S. Naipaul was born in Trinidad in 1932. He went to England on a scholarship in 1950. After four years at University College, Oxford, he began to write, and since then has followed no other profession. He has published thirty books of fiction and nonfiction, including
A House for Mr. Biswas, A Bend in the River, A Turn in the South
, and a collection of letters,
Between Father and Son
. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2001.
ALSO BY V. S. NAIPAUL
The Masque of Africa
A Writer’s People
The Writer and the World
Between Father and Son: Family Letters
Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions Among the Converted Peoples
A Turn in the South
Finding the Center
Among the Believers
The Return of Eva Perón
The Killings in Trinidad
India: A Wounded Civilization
The Overcrowded Barracoon
The Loss of El Dorado
An Area of Darkness
The Middle Passage
Collected Short Fiction
Half a Life
A Way in the World
The Enigma of Arrival
A Bend in the River
In a Free State
A Flag on the Island
The Mimic Men
Mr. Stone and the Knights Companion
A House for Mr. Biswas
The Suffrage of Elvira
The Mystic Masseur
Published in an omnibus edition entitled
Published in an omnibus edition entitled
The Nightwatchman’s Occurrence Book
FIRST VINTAGE INTERNATIONAL EDITION, MARCH
Copyright © 1990, 2011 by V. S. Naipaul
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. Originally published in slightly different form in Great Britain by William Heinemann Ltd, London, in 1990, and subsequently published in hardcover, in the United States by Viking Penguin, a division of Penguin Books USA, Inc., New York, in 1991.
Vintage is a registered trademark and Vintage International and colophon are trademarks of Random House, Inc.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Naipaul, V. S. (Vidiadhar Surajprasad), 1932–
India : a million mutinies now / V. S. Naipaul.—1st Vintage International ed.
Originally published: London : Heinemann, 1990.
1. India—Description and travel. I. Title.
Cover art © Achok Sinha / Getty Images
India: a Million Mutinies Now
is a long book, one of my longest. Long books (it has to be said) are harder to write than short books, and I have more than a certain regard for this one. Twenty years after the writing I still have a clear memory of the labour and the ambition.
I thought when I began to write that I would do fiction alone. To be a writer of the imagination seemed to me the noblest thing. But after a few books I saw that my material—the matter in my head, the matter in the end given me by my background—would not support that ambition.
The ambition itself had been given me by what I knew of the great nineteenth-century novels of Europe, or what I thought I knew of them. I put it in that cautious way because before I began to write I actually hadn’t read a great deal. I saw now—something I suppose I had always sensed but never worked out as an idea—that those novels had come out of societies more compartmented, more intellectually ordered and full of conviction than the one I found myself in. To pretend that I came out of a society as complete and ordered would in some ways have made writing easier. The order I am talking about is, to put it at its simplest, the order, the fenced-in setting, that underpins the television situation comedy. The rules of the fenced-in world are few and easily understood; the messy outside world doesn’t intrude to undo the magic. I could have tried to write like that. But I would not have got very far. I would have had to simplify too much, leave out a lot. It would have been to deny what I saw as my task as a writer.
I had to be true to my own world. It was more fluid, harder to pin down and to present to a reader in any accepted, nineteenth-century way. Every simple statement I could make about
myself or my family or background had to be qualified in some way.
I was born in 1932 on the other side of the Atlantic in the British colony of Trinidad. Trinidad was an outcrop of Venezuela and South America. It was a small island, essentially agricultural when I was born (Trinidad, like Venezuela, had oil, which was beginning to be developed). It had a racially mixed population of perhaps half a million, with my own immigrant Asian Indian community (finely divided by religion, education, money, caste background) about a hundred and fifty thousand. (I have rehearsed these matters elsewhere, but I feel they should be stated here again, for this occasion.)
I had no great love for the place, no love for its colonial smallness. I saw myself as a castaway from the world’s old civilisations, and I wished to be part of that bigger world as soon as possible. An academic scholarship in 1950, when I was eighteen, enabled me to leave. I went to England to do a university course, with the ambition afterwards of being a writer. I never in any real sense went back.
So my world as a writer was full of flight and unfinished experience, full of the odds and ends of cultures and migrations, from India to the New World in 1880–1900, from the New World to Europe in 1950, things that didn’t make a whole. There was nothing like the stability of the rooted societies that had produced the great fictions of the nineteenth century, in which, for example, even a paragraph of a fairytale or parable by Tolstoy could suggest a whole real world. And soon, as I have said, I saw myself at the end of the scattered island material I carried with me.