In the spring of 2010, the Istanbul high-brow literary afficionados were treated to a feast. V.S. Naipaul, Hanif Kureishi and Gore Vidal were coming to the town. The events took place in different venues, with V.S. Naipaul reading from his essay on his evolution as a writer at the Sabanci Museum’s The Seed amphitheatre. Hanif Kureishi was part of a panel consisting of Naipaul and Elif Shafak, a leading contemporary Turkish writer, held at the the ultra-modern art gallery, the Istanbul Modern. The presence of these writers was courtesy of the Liberium organisation, an NGO dedicated to the promotion of cross-cultural dialogue and societies, founded by a young man with the improbable name, at least to me, of Pablo Ganguli.
V.S. Naipaul, frail and looking exausted, walked, or was rather helped on to the stage, by his protective wife, Lady Nadira. He was in an oversized black suit, large black shoes and what appeared to be white ankle-cap, since he walked with some effort. He almost seemed to mimic the stereotypical Oxford don in his attire. His session was chaired by the Rome editor of Vogue, Franca Sozzani. As she took charge of the proceedings, it became obvious that this was a glamour event. Naipaul invested the proceedings with some dignity by his lugubriousness: after all this was the famous no-nonsense Naipaul. Sozzani made the introduction in heavily-accented English. Almost immediately, businesslike, Naipaul started reading from his Reading and Writing, published in the New York Review of Books Classics series. I have always been a fan of Naipaul, to the total perplexity of my friends, who have sometimes been so indulgent as to grudgingly send me books on what they consider his unfair portrayal of our third world. But my friends and children have forgiven me because they know that Naipaul and I stand on opposite ideological spectrums. The author thinks that he is ideologically neutral, although the very positions he takes are ideologically loaded. His position is analogical to someone considering themselves asexual, an impossible position to maintain for a functioning person. I have been reading Naipaul since my undergraduate days. As a graduate student at the University of York, I took the opportunity, in my moments of laziness, to escape from the precision and rigour of linguistics, to the comedy and cynicism of Naipaul’s spare and elegant prose.