The child abuse, taking place intermittently over two to three years until Naipaul was ten, is recounted in the opening chapters of Patrick French’s biography The World Is What It Is. The biography, published by Picador in the United Kingdom this month and due to be published by Alfred A Knopf in the United States in November, was approved by Naipaul, 76, for publication without any changes to the text.
Naipaul is quoted in the book as stating that the molestation occurred in Trinidad shortly after 1940, when the Naipauls moved into a family commune in an old colonial house in Petit Valley along with members of their extended family. The family would later move to Luis Street, Woodbrook.
“Cool and shady, with savannah and plenty of snakes, Petit Valley was unfamiliar land,” French notes. Naipaul’s parents “were given a space in the servants’ quarters to the back of the house,” but all of the children slept in a separate area.
“The cousins—boys and girls—were not encouraged to associate with people who lived nearby,” and so, “there were no friends, only family.” It was in this setting that Naipaul’s first unwanted sexual encounter occurred. “The children made their own entertainment,” French notes wryly.
According to the biographer, Naipaul was “seduced by his cousin.” In an interview with Naipaul on July 25, 2002, Naipaul describes the encounter to French. “I was myself subjected to some sexual abuse by an older cousin. I was corrupted, I was assaulted. I was about six or seven. It was done in a sly, terrible way,” he says.
According to French, “molestation continued intermittently over the next two or three years, usually in the area where the boys slept.” “Vidia never mentioned it to anyone, at the time or later. He insisted he was never a willing participant,” French adds.
Naipaul, however, insists that the encounter did not affect his sexuality and said: “I never went through a period of liking the same sex.”
Later, Naipaul, who was honoured with the Trinity Cross, would pen several classics, including A House for Mr Biswas and In a Free State the latter of which features gay characters. In another interview with French on September 20, 2002, Naipaul says, “It was an outrage, but it was not a defining moment. I was very young. This thing was over before I was ten. I was always coerced. Of course he (the older cousin) was ashamed too later. It happened to other cousins.”
Naipaul suggested that child abuse is common: “I think it is part of Indian extended family life, which is an abomination in some ways, a can of worms…After an assault one is very ashamed—and then you realise it happens to almost everybody.”
All children are abused,” he states, adding, “All girls are molested at some stage. It is almost like a rite of passage.”
Yesterday, Naipaul’s sister Kamla Tewarie, 79, told Newsday that despite her close relationship with her brother, he never mentioned his childhood trauma to her. “I don’t know about this. Because if I did I would have been mad like hell. I would have been extremely annoyed. Nothing was told to me,” she said.
Tewarie said that she did not think the experience would have affected her brother’s later life.
“He’s not easily worried by something like that. If he writes something it’s quite honest. It rubs off him, it rubs off me myself,” she said. Naipaul’s child abuse is one of a string of revelations about his life in The World Is What It Is. His later relationship with his first wife, Patricia Ann Hale, is treated in depth as is his decades’ long sadomasochistic affair with Margaret Gooding, an Anglo-Argentinian. Of the latter relationship, French notes, “the affair was to be intense and intensely sexual… (Margaret) liked to be his slave and his victim… (Naipaul) had a mental dependence on both women: the ‘master’ in a masochistic relationship… (He) found himself unable, despite repeated efforts, to break away from either Margaret or Pat.”
How childhood abuse manifests itself in later life is a matter of how the individual deals with it, noted psychotherapist Camille Ojar-Franco yesterday. Ojar-Franco nonetheless pointed out that generally, such abuse affects an adult’s ability to trust persons around him and may fill that person with a lingering sense of shame.
Naipaul was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2001 “for having united perceptive narrative and incorruptible scrutiny in works that compel us to see the presence of suppressed histories.” Regarded by many as the finest writer of the English language, he is the author of more than two dozen works of fiction and non-fiction including Miguel Street, A Bend in the River, The Loss of El Dorado and Beyond Belief. His list of glittering literary accolades include: the Booker Prize, the David Cohen Prize for Literature, the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, the Somerset Maugham Award as well as the Hawthornden Prize.
A Queen’s Royal College, Port-of-Spain graduate, he was awarded an island scholarship in 1949 and left for Oxford University in 1950. His first wife, Pat whom he met at Oxford and married in 1955 died in 1996. He married his second wife, Lady Nadira Naipaul, 55, that very year.
He has not lived in Trinidad for any extended length of time since leaving in 1950. Naipaul was honoured by the University of the West Indies last year.