Shiva and Vidia - My brother and I

From Shiva Naipaul’s essay ‘My Brother and I’:

 
i. On women

 
Men have played a comparatively small part in my life. My father died when I was seven and I was brought up by and among women.: my mother and my sisters. …The effect this matriarchal environment has had on my character is not easy to assess….I enjoy the company of women and am responsive to the tidal motions of their moods- their curious gaieties and darknesses and deceptions; and without consciously intending it, I see that they have had a major role in my fiction.

 
ii. A shadowy man

 
And yet, paradoxically, the expectations and terrors that dominated my childhood and adolescence were shaped by the legends left behind by a shadowy man: a man whose voice I never heard, whose face I could never adequately picture to myself. For, in a mysterious  city referred to as London, there lived a brother. A brother! Sometimes I would fall to wondering about that remote and mysterious entity. A brother… my brother… That such a person actually existed, that such a person could exist, bordered on the incredible.

 
iii. The reality of the brother

 
Abstraction only began to lessen when I myself went to England (even unto Oxford) at the age of eighteen. Yet the gap of twelve or thirteen years that separates us remained important. We did not overnight, cease to be strangers to one another. He perplexed me ; and I no doubt perplexed him. We had, after all, come out of different worlds. The Hindu Trinidad of his youth was not the Hindu Trinidad of my youth. We did not have a shared past; we did not have a shared pool of memory, ancestral or otherwise. I had vulnerabilities he did not always find easy to understand…

 
iv. Each our own man

 
I do not write out of a desire to ‘imitate’ anyone, nor out of any desire to maintain family ‘tradition’. If I write, it is because I have to; because there is nothing else I can do; because it is the only way I have of trying to understand the world in which I live. In other words, I write out of necessity. I do not regard literature as a genteel pastime. Nor do I regard it as a lucrative dialogue between oppressed and former oppressor.

 
None of this, let it be understood, is intended as a denial of my brother. I am not attempting to deny or to downplay my admiration for his work. He has served as an example and as an exemplar. But we are each our own man.

 
 


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