Pride of place
Sir V.S. Naipaul, novelist and Nobel laureate, wants a Person of Indian Origin (PIO) card. If The Onion had reported this, it would make sense but it appears this is for real. According to news reports, Lady Nadira Naipaul was hoping to sashay in to the Indian embassy in London and pick up a PIO card. Instead she had to stand in line and deal with an Indian bureaucrat who told her that Sir Naipaul having written (three) books about India was all very well but there were rules that an applicant for PIO status had to fulfill. He seems to have been completely unfazed by Lady Nadira walking out in a huff. This is possibly why Lady Nadira started venting to the press.
Apparently, the Naipauls haven’t actually applied for a PIO card so the missus’ yelling that Naipaul has to go to Gorakhpur to ferret out proof of his Indian origin might be something of an overreaction. I doubt there’s a huge crush of motley people wanting a PIO card but the bureaucrat’s contention that one has to provide evidence of one’s ethnic roots doesn’t sound unreasonable to me. After all it is a Person of Indian Origin card and it’s not like Naipaul’s been wearing his brown heart on his sleeve.
Which brings me to the most hilarious aspect of all this: Naipaul, of all people, wants to claim his Indian-ness. This is the man who apparently had something of a nervous breakdown when he went to Oxford as a student — his first trip out of his native Trinidad — and realised that, despite his tweed jacket, there was no way he could pass off as an Englishman (read: white). He’s also been accused of being racist, right-wing, Islamophobe and just generally a bit of a monster. Even if someone is trying to be sympathetic to Naipaul, as Geoffrey Wheatcroft tried to be in this article, the kindest description of Sir Naipaul is “anti-liberal”. And, as Salil Tripathi has written in this column, his books on India aren’t particularly insightful or laudatory. I also love Lady Nadira saying her husband “gave” India three books. As if the An Area of Darkness, India: A Wounded Civilization, and India: A Million Mutinies Now were gifts that Naipaul specially and lovingly put together for the country so that decades later, India would give him the return gift of a PIO card, which lets him and wife Nadira come to India without a visa. Either Sir Naipaul’s royalty cheques aren’t coming in (is an Indian visa that expensive?) or it really must be way cool to be Indian these days because no one who has actually read Naipaul’s writings about India would believe this man wants a card to prove his ethnic origin. He’s spent all his life trying to obscure his Indian-ness and being thoroughly contemptuous of most things Indian.
I think someone should contact Naipaul and ask him for his comments on the now-infamous Joel Stein piece on Edison, New Jersey, so that he can make a proper exhibition of his pride at being Indian.
In case anyone was curious, far more disturbing to me than Stein’s writing is the fact that the champion representative of the Indian people, diasporic and otherwise, is Kal Penn. When it comes to fighting for our honour, the person we look to is the guy who made a name for himself playing Kumar Patel of Harold and Kumar? Ye gods. Oh, and all the Indians who are baying for Stein’s blood would do well to remember the Sardarji and everyone-in-Pakistan-is-a-terrorist jokes they’ve all laughed at and cracked.