Sir VS Naipaul, Nobel laureate, is best known for being the enfant terrible of literature.
His opinions have raised the hackles of a wide range of people, including feminists, patriotic Indians and Muslims. But the Naipaul who won the lifetime achievement award at Mumbai's literature live! on Wednesday was a gentler, more vulnerable man – one who needed help to get on stage, who looked to his wife Nadira repeatedly for encouragement and who was reduced to tears at the memory of his pet cat, Augustus. It wasn't the only time in the evening that Naipaul broke down. When asked to speak about A House For Mister Biswas, which drew upon episodes from Naipaul's father's life, he broke down.
Recalling his Nobel prize, Naipaul said he had feared that the “resentment” caused by his opinions would cost him the prize even though his name had been recommended repeatedly. When he was finally awarded the prize in 2001, he played it cool. “You've heard of my little spot of good luck", he said when author Farrukh Dhondy congratulated him.
Naipaul candidly admitted that writing for him has always been challenging. “There's always struggle in writing,” he said. Speaking about Area of Darkness, which was published in 1964 and caused a furore because of Naipaul's critical view of India, he said the India he saw in 1962 was “full of distress” and he found this “troubling” because it took him time to figure out how he would knit his experiences into a book.