Tuesday, April 6, 2010
A Million Mutinies Now - A Book on Cities and People
Currently I am reading a travel book and ever since I started reading the book, my hands were itching to write a short take on it. The book is A Million Mutinies Now by VS Naipaul. This is my first Naipaul book – and although I had read travel articles and essays both in books and magazines, this is the first time I am reading a book solely dedicated to travel.
There is nothing new to say about Naipaul as a writer because, as a Nobel Prize winner, he is among the most written about. But, when you read a book, you develop your own views about the writer and some of them can be distinct from commonly held ones. So I decided to put mine here.
The book is on India and it gives glimpses of various facets of Indian life through the lives of people staying in Indian metropolis. The book shows how very ordinary things - ordinary people, their lives and struggle - can be your window to a city, its character, politics, economy and history. There is also a little about the rural India that the writer sees as he travels through various parts of the country. Naipaul interviews people and narrates their lives in a story-telling manner. Every person he interviews throws up a distinct side of a city.
The picture of Naipaul that emerges through his writing is very different from how the media paint him – a literary snob with no patience for others opinions. There is no snobbery in how he deals with his characters except when their occasional English (they mostly speak in native language and there is a person translating it into English for Naipaul) doesn’t meet his approval. But he likes to call a spade a spade: a vegetable market that's dirty and smelly is a vegetable market that's dirty and smelly. While narrating his characters' lives, his thrust is on storytelling and he tells the stories with empathy and understanding without being judgmental. At the same time, he captures minute details of how his characters live and behave bringing their worlds alive.
I have not finished the book but sensed that Naipaul’s writing is addictive. Once you take a dip, he pulls you deeper and deeper, disallowing you to keep the book shut for too long.