The Masque of Africa

Sameer Rahim in The Telegraph:

V S Naipaul’s father was once forced to sacrifice a goat to the Hindu goddess Kali. In June 1933, when Vidia was still a baby, Seepersad Naipaul had written an article in the Trinidad Guardian criticising Hindu farmers who ignored government regulations and inoculated their cattle with religious rites. His angry opponents threatened him with a poisoning curse unless he appeased the goddess. He refused at first but soon relented: wearing trousers rather than the traditional loincloth (his small rebellion), he offered up a severed goat’s head on a brass plate. In that Sunday’s paper he was all bluster: “Mr Naipaul greets you! No Poison last night”. But this “great humiliation”, as his son wrote in Finding the Centre (1984), destroyed his life. He lost his job and sunk into depression. According to Naipaul’s mother, “He looked in the mirror one day and couldn’t see himself. And he began to scream.”

Over the course of his long writing career, V S Naipaul’s view of religion has moved – much like this story – from the potentially comic to the outright sinister. His first published novel, The Mystic Masseur (1957), was a satire on a fake pundit. In his masterpiece A House for Mr Biswas (1961) the title character (based on Seepersad) is expelled from his training as a Hindu priest when he pollutes some sacred flowers with his excrement. His travel book on India, An Area of Darkness (1964), took a harsher view of Hinduism and the caste system and after 1970, when he first learnt about his father’s ritual humiliation (the family had kept it an absolute secret), his work took on an unforgiving tone.

More here.