A grotesque love of propaganda. Unspeakable barbarity. The loathing of Jews - and a hunger for world domination. In this stunning intervention, literary colossus V.S. NAIPAUL says ISIS is now the Fourth Reich
I have been doing some work at the National Archives relating to (JER) Jerome Ewart Rampersad (1917-1978) who did a daily column in the Evening News "In the Courts Today by Mc Gee" from 1947 right through to the 1960's. Rampersad was Chief News Editor at Radio 610 for most of the 1960's till he was purged (along with others) by James Alva Bain in 1975. I have been told that he and some colleagues including Napier Thompson (deceased) founded a short-lived newspaper called The Sun in 1961-62. There are many gaps in the information about JER and I am trying to discover if there were breaks in the McGee column, or if there might have been times when JER was not with the Guardian but somebody else was ghosting the McGee column (stylistic analysis and info re Rampersad's employment history). The column was brilliant and showed JER to be a witty, humorous, inventive and serious-minded master of modified dialect. JER limed with Sam Selvon who was one of his buddies, and he interacted with Seepersad Naipaul. Of course, I would be grateful for any information or anecdotes relating to JER. It is well-known that JER was the father of the distinguished scholar Arnold Rampersad with whom I am in correspondence. But there is a major issue. I do not think that there is an electronic copy of the Evening News anywhere in the world although Prof Rampersad thought he had found it via Google; and I am pretty sure that the only hard copies are to be found in the National Archives in Trinidad. Some of the bound volumes are in such bad condition that you are not allowed to look at them; some are so fragile that you know they too will be withdrawn before long.
The Evening News is important as having content that was more Trinidad and Caribbean than the established daily organs, and the perspective of the writers like Thomasos, Giuseppi, Mathurin, O'Neil Lewis, Canon Ramkeeson, to name only a few was strongly cultural nationalist. In this sense, it was in the 1930's, 40's and 50's the most culturally significant and wide-ranging local paper. I believe it was the paper most read by the ordinary people of the island.
So: we need the Evening News, A MAJOR SOCIOLOGICAL AND CULTURAL HERITAGE DOCUMENT to be microfilmed immediately. MONEY IS NEEDED. Secondly, by the way: I am willing to supervise at no cost to any person or institution any researcher or a team of researchers committed to doing a two-year project on The Evening News and the Trinidad Guardian Weekly.
Professor Kenneth Ramchand
Chairman, Friends of Mr. Biswas
A section of the audience during the NGC Bocas Lit Festival’s One-on-One with Neil Bissoondath at the Naipaul Museum, on Nepal Street, St James, on Wednesday. PHOTO: MARYANN AUGUSTE
“On a sultry afternoon in St James,” as doyen of Caribbean Literature, Emeritus Professor Ken Ramchand put it in his laconic introduction, one of the region’s iconic sites hosted its first public event.
Aficionados of VS Naipaul’s arguably greatest book, A House for Mr Biswas, were on Wednesday welcomed to the humble family home of the Naipaul dynasty, which figures just as prominently in that classic as Tulsi/Lion House in Chaguanas casts its gloom over the struggling, forever endearing protagonist Mohun.
Seepersad Naipaul, whose dreams of literary fame were realised by the next two generations of his family, must surely have been smiling at the afternoon’s proceedings.
There’s a photo in the living room which captured the shy braggadocio his first son Vidia immortalised in the character of Mohun Biswas—a fedora tipped at a jaunty angle, shadowing eyes both mischievous and vulnerable; his raised jacket collar casual yet stylish, suggesting a thinking man’s saga boy.
Seepersad would have smiled firstly to see the house at 26 Nepaul Street, which had brought him a much needed measure of independence from his domineering in-laws, so meticulously restored, particularly as it now looks far more comfortable than the vikivie construction of the novel.
And then what better reason for delighted amusement than to see his grandson Neil Bissoondath deflecting and deflating the mystique of writing, in similar style but far more empathy than his illustrious uncle Vidia, that notorious scourge of fools and vapid questions.
This felicitous joint venture between the Friends of Mr Biswas (the NGO responsible for the restoration of Mohun’s dreamhouse and its metamorphosis into “a home for writers and the Arts,” a mini Naipaul museum) and the Bocas Lit Fest, commenced with Bissoondath’s earliest memories of the house and its inhabitants.
In a heavily Canadian-inflected accent (because he’s lived much longer there than here), Bissoondath recalled an aunt (herself a mere toddler) who attempted to carry the infant writer downstairs, but tripped halfway, jettisoning him to save herself.
Other recalls include the family dog Boopi and the night of Independence, with ships sounding foghorns in the harbour, cars blaring on the streets.
Also more significantly, he recalls how impressed he was as a ten-year-old when visiting his grandma and aunts on Nepaul Street to see Uncle Vidia’s books on the shelves and the realisation they brought that “he made his living from writing” and that this could be a viable alternative to the usual doctor/lawyer career. Right then and there he decided to become a writer.
Born in 1955 and educated at St Mary’s College, Port-of-Spain, Bissoondath left Trinidad for Toronto in 1973 “looking for adventure.”
As a writer he spurns labels “attaching a nationality limits readers’ reception”; additionally he insists that people (as do countries) evolve and part of his own evolution was putting down roots in Canada, which he considers home, rather than Trinidad.
After dismissing a reference to Edward Said’s concept of ‘exilic consciousness’, his real bomb de resistance came with a straight-faced statement that when he begins a novel “I have nothing to say”, and that “I don’t plan anything.”
One could sense a tremor rippling through the ranks of the literati, but Bissoondath tempered the trauma de salon by explaining: “I write to find the answer to questions” and “All my fiction begins with a character and a scene.”
Refreshingly, in a cultural landscape where “creative writing” courses and workshops encourage the often false belief that writing is a talent which can be taught, Bissoondath emphasised a lesson he’d learned from his Nobel winning uncle: “The only way to learn how to write is by writing.”
Although he himself has been teaching (in French) creative writing at Laval University, Quebec City, for the past ten years, he’s convinced “there are two things every writer must do—read and write.”
He suggested that studying literature (rather than reading), may actually be more of a hindrance than a help to the aspiring writer: “Usually you have to forget what you learnt in literature classes to be able to write; studying and writing literature are two different worlds.”
His own modus scribendi might lead to the asylum, rather than to a publishing contract in some places: “Women’s voices often come to me; I grew up surrounded by strong women; the aunts and grandmothers infiltrated my imagination; the whole idea of subservient women was alien to our family.” He is by his own admission “an instinctive not an intellectual writer” as “you don’t write with intellect but guts.”
Further revelations certainly endeared him to those in the packed audience who share his visceral, imagination-driven method rather than the strictly cerebral approach.
“I have no agenda; that’s like putting on manacles; I leave the ideas to my characters.”
In concluding, Bissoondath spoke about his latest work—a 1,000-page novel which took seven years to write “after 27 years of research.”
Based in fifteenth century Spain, the novel was a natural development of his passion for the country, and his interest as a born Trini in the origins of the New World project.
Like his previous six novels and the short stories of his two collections, this Spanish saga began with characters—Ferdinand and Isabella.
Again, it is these characters and others surrounding them who help to provide answers to many of his own questions.
As an inaugural event Naipaul House could not have done better. The Friends of Mr Biswas are promising year-round events, at a venue which could rival Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage or Hemingway’s suite in Havana’s Ambos Mundos hotel as a world literary heritage site.
I had a vision for this house long before it went up for sale. So this is an emotional occasion for the Naipaul family and for me. Self apart, it is a historic moment in the development of our culture, and I therefore want to put it in a perspective that we must not lose.
We are about to open to the public a house that preserves memories and mementoes of the humble origins and enduring literary achievements of Seepersad Naipaul, his sons Vidya and Shiva, his grandson Neil Bissoondath and other descendants in the writing line like the poet Vahni Capildeo.
So we celebrate family through this house: we underline the nurturing contribution of Droapadie Capildeo who was married off at the age 16 to Seepersad Naipaul in 1929, and we note the achievements in other fields of other Naipaul and Capildeo offspring. For this reason, Friends of Mr Biswas wanted the well-executed plaque that is to be unveiled today to begin thus: “The Naipaul House / Family Home of Seepersad and Droapatie Naipaul 1946- 1991”. This house is still home in some sense to members of the Naipaul family far and near.
But notice this. Remarkably for our culture, we are acknowledging literature, writing, in a monumental way. And whatever we do with the Naipaul House must take its shape and colour from literature and the literary arts that the house generated and that made the house iconic.
In this age of dissolving and confused values, the spirits in this house, the writers it nurtured, and the standing appeal it makes to us to absorb the values of the literary arts are more than ever necessary to teach us how to live as if life matters, and how to respect the work of mind and body.
This house is a heritage building [we have begun the process of having it listed by the National Trust as a heritage site], and we hope to assemble in it mementos and memorabilia such as you would find in a conventional museum. As we commence our programme of activities we will continue to collect the scattered bones. Soon, Seepersad’s famous typewriter may take up its place, and maybe even his bookcase with the books he read. We hope members of the public might have lamps, four poster beds, a safe, a hatstand, and furniture of the 1950’s they might wish to lend or give; or even books by any of the Naipauls they would like to donate to the library.
It is the house itself, however, that is the museum. And one of our Sisyphean tasks is to preserve it from drought and flood, from weeds and the invisible worm, from the teeth of termites and human destroyers, and from the inevitable tensions that arise when different personal, societal, and philosophical interests seek accommodation. When Mr Biswas dies in the novel, friends and family come to pay their respects: “Downstairs the doors of the house were open… the furniture was pushed to the walls. All that day and evening well-dressed mourners , men, women and children passed through the house. The polished floor became scratched and dusty; the staircase shivered continually; the top floor resounded with the steady shuffle. And the house did not fall.” During our watch, the house shall not fall. And it will not fall because it will be both the family home of the Naipaul-Capildeo clan, and the centre from which we seek to pass on heritage by nurturing literature and the literary arts in Trinidad and Tobago.
We knew that the objects to be installed in the House could only come through the Naipaul family so it wasn’t just an act of courtesy to invite them to be represented on the Committee from the outset. Family representatives included the late Mrs Kamla Tewarie Naipaul, her daughter Mrs Shalini Tewarie -Aleong who only a few days ago released important pieces of furniture to the house (the dining table and chairs on which the family including Vidia and Shiva worked, and Droapadie’s rocking chair); and Mr Rai Akal (son of Savi Naipaul Akal) who has always been our Treasurer and our permanent link to the family. We made sure that the family always had a direct link to the work of the Committee , and after 2010 Mr Akal worked assiduously to bring in memorabilia.
The breakthrough came about six months ago with the positive intervention of Mrs Savi Akal. Her photographs, her memory of how things were, and her enthusiasm have been the catalyst we needed. May I here pay tribute to Ms Lorraine Johnson who master-minded the process of turning the photographs supplied by Mrs Akal into the exhibition that has surprised even Mrs Akal. I think an exhibition of books, manuscripts, letters, newspaper clippings etc might well be our next display in the House, and I know that Ms Johnson will rise to that challenge as she did to this one.
Today, we are at the point where the most important part of our work can begin. We are ready to turn the house into a house of writing and reading for new writers and for a generation who need inspiration and example.
Our strategic plan for the period 2013 to 2015 and the year by year implementation program include restoring and establishing the house not as a static showpiece but as a living museum and using it as the base for a number of activities involving schools and communities . Our purpose is to spread the gospel about what literature and the arts of the imagination can mean to ordinary people in villages and cities. We will show the Naipaul House, the social history it contains, the achievements it inspired, and say “ These are people like you, you can do it too.”
To carry out our work we have formed a team of skilled professionals who have worked in the background as we pursued the tortuous task of bringing the house to what it is today: Ashvin Akal (Treasurer), Lana Allard (Project Management), Dawn Mohan (legal), Dr Giselle Rampaul (UWI) and Ms Angene Mohan, UTT (Education Outreach), Dr Radica Mahase (Membership Drive and Education Outreach), Shamshu Deen (Genealogy), Rafael Ramlal (IT), Nicholas Laughlin (Events and Networking), Lenore Dorset (Administration and Protocol), Anand Bal (Liaison with Government Ministries), Professor Rajendra Ramlogan (Legal and Fund Raising), Deosaran Bisnath (Communications), Kenneth Ramchand (Chairman). I thank them for their solid support, their unobtrusive work, and their patience.
Since completing the strategic plan 2013-2015, they have been working at establishing formal alliances with the Lion House, Nalis, The National Trust, Citizens for Conservation, The Writers’ Union, Tourism Development Company, Bocas Lit Fest, and other civic –minded organizations.
Special thanks to Max for setting up the website; to Radica for managing the Facebook Page and the Membership Drive; Giselle, and Angene who are shaping up our schools outreach; Nicholas Laughlin who is planning the next event on the work of Vahni Capildeo; and Professor Rajendra Ramlogan whose legal acumen has rescued us from obstacles that were hampering our operations. His revision of the Constitution was passed by the Committee in 2013 and he has drafted a revised Organisation Structure, Procurement Rules and Financial Procedures to be discussed at our next meeting on February 28, 2014.
We are ready to go. From next week, the House will be open to visitors on two days a week. The arrangements will be set out in our Facebook Page and on the Website.
Our work is not going to be easy. The price we pay for our 99 year lease and the power to regulate our own activities is that we must become revenue earning. It is one of our most important strategic goals. I want to give assurance that Friends are determined not to be buyers and sellers of imported substances but to make and own special products, revenue-earning activities and objects spiritually connected to our work as preservers of the house and spreaders of the literary heritage. Our work is aimed at every creed and race in our society , and as it develops it will spread from the writings of Seepersad Naipaul and his immediate descendants to the work of all the writers of Trinidad and Tobago who are his descendants too.
Senator Dr. The Honourable Bhoendradatt Tewarie, Minister of Planning and Sustainable Development and Patron of the Friends of Mr. Biswas
Ms. Joy Persad-Myers, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of National Diversity and Social Integration
Professor Kenneth Ramchand, Chairman of the Friends of Mr. Biswas and other members of the NGO present today
Ms. Lorraine Johnson, Acting Curator at the National Museum and Art Gallery of Trinidad and Tobago
Ms. Trudy Thomas, Manager of Corporate Communications at the Ministry of National Diversity and Social Integration
Mrs. Savi Akal, daughter of Seepersad and Droapatie Naipaul and sister of V.S. Naipaul and S.S. Naipaul
Other members of the Naipaul Family and Friends of the Naipauls
Members of the workforce of the Ministry of National Diversity and Social Integration
Members of the Media.
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is indeed an honour to be here today for the Formal Opening of The Naipaul House.
To the members of the Naipaul family, to the Friends of Mr. Biswas , I thank you.
The unveiling of this plaque marks a key point in the the fulfilment of a dream 20-years in the making.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Ministry of National Diversity and Social Integration, is proud to be the Keepers of our National Treasures…and indeed, the Naipaul House is a National Treasure.
The Naipaul House is about heritage and legacy. Legacy from father to children, legacy of creativity, legacy of potential and wanting better for your children and the future generations.
Sometimes we forget how truly blessed we are in Trinidad and Tobago….our rich, colourful history, our resurgence against oppression, and our on-going struggle for freedom.
The Ministry of National Diversity and Social Integration works to educate each and every citizen as to our responsibility to be all keepers of our Nations Treasures, keepers of our heritage. To never forget…and to be proud of all that we are and our many gifts to the world.
When we have that pride we will fight to protect.
We will hold sacred all aspects of our heritage…the reminders of our past, the tales of our history and the generations of tomorrow.
The term ‘heritage’ covers all that we, as a society, have inherited, that which we value today and that which we wish to pass on to future generations. It includes intangible as well as tangible heritage—language and customs, as well as places and moveable collections. The terminology ‘Heritage places’ for the Ministry of National Diversity and Social Integration covers places that have historic, Indigenous and natural values, their associated collections (including documentary collections), and the settings in which places are located.
As the line Ministry for the NGO the Friends of Mr. Biswas, the Ministry intends to work closely with the organisation through the National Trust of Trinidad and Tobago, to list this property on the Sites of Interest file of the National Trust. Thus beginning the process to have, the Naipaul House deemed a Heritage Site.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Naipaul House has a rich history. A history of creativity in the writings of the family; in the dress making of Savi; beauty in the garden kept by Droapatie (their mother) and the ritual of afternoon tea. A history shared with us through the writings of V.S. Naipaul and S.S. Naipaul, making many of us part of the house’s history. However, to the Naipaul family …it was home.
Today we recognise the great minds of Seepersad Naipaul, his sons, V.S Naipaul and Shiva and every member of the Naipaul Family.
The unveiling of the plaque here at Naipaul House is symbolic ignition of the many heritage documentation and preservation projects of the Ministry.
The creation of a Literary Museum (a first in Trinidad and Tobago) was the primary intention for the house…a Museum to celebrate authors of Trinbagonian and West Indian origin.
This year, the museum community has chosen the theme “Museum Collections Make Connections” for the celebration of International Museum Day 2014. Collections and connections.
The Naipaul House is about collections and connections.
The shelves on the ground floor will be filled with the collections and pieces of the Naipaul Family. This house in itself is an important storyteller of a particular aspect of our heritage and by extension to who we are as Trinbagonians.
As you proceed from outside in, you can almost smell the fragrance of Droapatie’s blossoms, you can almost hear the sounds of children’s laughter, the click of the camera as Seepersad captured his family’s memories on film, and the tap tap tap and ding of the typewriter.
From their white sheets to their black and white curtains, this is ladies and gentlemen…The Naipaul House.
Imagine writers and visiting literary scholars all finding solace in this symbol of creativity and Trinbagonian heritage.
The serving of tea, the creative juices of generations, the works and words of authors of yesterday, the dreams of authors of tomorrow.
Together, we can ensure that the people of Trinidad and Tobago know of the Naipaul House and its treasures and writers from all over the world can seek the inspiration of Seepersad, found here among his family, and embrace the majesty of the house…the House of Mr. Biswas, the Naipaul House.
Thank you and May God continue to richly bless us all and this great nation of Trinidad and Tobago.