- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 16, 2001

CHAGUANAS, Trinidad The faded house of Nobel Prize winner V.S. Naipaul's birth is one of the few remnants of a humble upbringing some say the author would rather forget.
After winning the literature prize on Thursday, the 69-year-old novelist said it was a "tribute both to India, my ancestors' land, and to other countries in the subcontinent."
Trinidad and Tobago was absent from his accolades.
"The whole Caribbean is disappointed. The man has not at all recognized the land of his birth," said Wesley Furlonge, who lives next door to Mr. Naipaul's birthplace, a clumsy structure of four levels that stands out from others on a boisterous street lined with Hindu prayer flags.
The only other Caribbean writer to be so honored was poet Derek Walcott of St. Lucia, who won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1992.
Like James Joyce, Ireland's famous exile, Mr. Naipaul has had an uneasy relationship with his homeland, once writing to his family from Oxford: "I shall die if I had to spend the rest of my life in Trinidad."
He didn't.
For the first six years of his life, Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul, known as V.S. or Vidia to his family, lived with his grandmother and seven siblings in the house, guarded by stone sculptures of lions, about 10 miles south of Trinidad's capital, Port-of-Spain.
The secluded life of the asthmatic and introverted young Mr. Naipaul began in the dwelling now known as the "Lion House."
"One was not supposed to like or dislike anything at the Lion House," his sister Kamla Naipaul Tewari, 71, said in an interview on Thursday. "One lived with one's grandmother. One lived a very secluded and highly protected life, protected by the family, by grandmother.
"We went to school, came back home. We weren't allowed to mingle at all with anybody," she said from her home in Chaguanas. "We had no friends. In those days children were to be seen but not heard."
Mrs. Tewari said her brother never denied his roots but believed he had to leave to survive.
"To succeed as a writer, he had to go away," she said. "He worked very hard to get a scholarship. My parents didn't have that kind of money at all, at all, at all. He wanted a scholarship more than anything."
But his absence remains a sore point for Trinidadians who feel abandoned by the literary giant.
"In several ways he has been a person trying to escape his past," said Kris Rampersad, an editor at the Sunday Guardian where Mr. Naipaul's father, Seepersad Naipaul, worked as a journalist. "That past is from a small island with limited opportunities. The irony is that, over and over again, his works return to the small island."
While the 215-year-old Swedish Academy singled out the masterpiece "The Enigma of Arrival," his earlier and perhaps best-known works were based in Trinidad. "Enigma" describes his life in Britain.
Mr. Naipaul's first novel, "The Mystic Masseur," explored Trinidad in the 1950s as it struggled with identity, class and race under a colonial British regime.
Trinidad and Tobago, a Caribbean nation almost evenly divided between blacks descended from African slaves and East Indians descended from indentured laborers, today confronts many of the same issues.
The country also is at the heart of "Miguel Street," a collection of Mr. Naipaul's short stories, and "The Loss of El Dorado," a history of Trinidad under Spanish colonizers.
Mr. Naipaul, often described as moody, haughty and irascible, had said that Trinidad provided fodder for his writing, but did not explain why he didn't acknowledge Trinidad in his acceptance speech.
"Although I come from the Caribbean, Trinidad, I'm of Indian origin, and the Indian experience has always been interesting to me and necessary for me to explore and to come to terms with," he said in an earlier interview.
Even after Mr. Naipaul moved to Port-of-Spain to live with his parents at age 6, he remained a recluse.
"He was very much into his books," said Frank Abdulah, 73, who remembers Mr. Naipaul at the Queen's Royal College. "My memory of him was of someone who came to school and left."
His studious nature garnered Mr. Naipaul a scholarship at Oxford University, where he graduated in 1953. Since then, he lived in England, which honored him with a knighthood in 1990.
The house where Mr. Naipaul lived near Port-of-Spain inspired "A House for Mr. Biswas," one of his most personal books, based on the life of his father, who had a nervous breakdown.
"I didn't read it for 15 years," said his sister, whose dark, chiseled features resemble her brother's. "I remember the hardships and the nervous breakdown. Vidia describes it to perfection."
But no book tells more about their lives than "Between Father and Son," a collection of letters, she said.
When Seepersad Naipaul died in 1953, Mr. Naipaul sent a cable from England calling him, "the best man I knew."
Of her brother, Mrs. Tewari said: "He's a very complex man He can spend a long time being introspective. He can also be very talkative. He's a man of many moods many, many moods and they could change from minute to minute."

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