I met VS (as I call him) in November 1995 when he was in Pakistan researching his book Beyond Belief. Nadira, an old friend of mine and who is now his wife, had already met him at a diplomatic function and learned that VS wanted to meet people. She thought I would be a good ‘specimen’. When she asked me, I refused to meet VS saying that he was rude, arrogant and unkind to the people he met. I had this impression from reading an earlier book titled Among the Believers in which, I thought, VS had ridiculed Nusrat Nusrullah, a very senior Karachi journalist. I remember telling Nadira that I did not want to be treated the same way.
Nadira said something rather insightful: ‘Salman, just be yourself and you’ll discover a man you will never be able to forget.’ And so I called VS in his hotel room and he said I could come over for twenty minutes after which he was busy. When I went up to his room, I have to admit that never having seen a picture of VS, I expected a tall, thin hawk-like person. But what I found was a man with a chubby face in which the feature that captivated me was his eyes. They were, and still are, heavy lidded, sad eyes. These are the eyes of a person who is terribly, terribly sensitive and who does not only feel the pain of another human but perceives it without being told of it.
When my twenty minutes were up, I began looking at my watch. Sensing that I was getting nervous, VS asked if I could stay for another half an hour. I was quite taken by surprise, but I stayed. At the end of the meeting, VS asked me to come back for lunch the next day. And there began a friendship that is very alive today. He talked to me about me, my life in Pakistan and my childhood and young adulthood in a country that was fast mutating.
The V. S. Naipaul, Sir Vidia, VS, that I know is a man of unbound affection. He has showered me with it no end. He is also a man who will not suffer a fool or a phony. The people who found him arrogant or rude were all from these two categories; they repelled him with their pretenses. When you talk to V. S. Naipaul, you be your natural self, don’t ever make believe. You will find a very warm, kind and sensitive friend, who will appreciate you and will not hold back praise.
People only believe he has no friends in the literary world. What about David Pryce-Jones the late Harold Pinter; two great names that I can recall off the cuff who were/are his close friends.
I don’t think I am intellectually equipped to comment on VS, the writer. Suffice it to say that his sensitivity is matched by his immense insight and understanding of human nature. He is exceptionally observant and is a great listener. He will simply sit and listen to everyone talking without saying a word. That is what gives him his understanding of humans and makes him a great writer.
Labels: People, Sir Vidya Naipaul, Travel Literature, Travel Writer, Travel Writing
posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM,
At March 18, 2013 at 7:02 AM,
Kausar Bilal said...
Great post!Yes, many times, different people have different kinds of experiences from the same person for different reasons. Enjoyed reading.
At May 6, 2013 at 10:49 PM,
Is Lady Nadira Naipaul sister of Major General Amir Faisal Alavi of SSG?
At May 6, 2013 at 10:50 PM,
She has changed so much.
At May 7, 2013 at 9:56 AM,
Yes, Nadira is indeed Faisal's sister. I have known Nadi since 1990, and because i have seen her regularly, I hardly notice any change. She may have.
At October 9, 2015 at 9:35 AM,
tariq ahsan said...
Ah! Wish VS had it in him to have the same loving curiosity about history and culture that you possess.