'An Area of Darkness' may not one of those greatest books that the enviable intellect of VS Naipaul have ever produced, but It's still an interesting read to those who enjoy Sir Vidia's style of writing and his infamous approach to non-fiction in exploring and exposing uncomfortable truths.
Book talks about his first visit to India in early 1960's and it was published in 1964. Lets see what Wikipedia has to say about the book;
"A deeply pessimistic work, An Area of Darkness conveys the acute sense of disillusionment which the author experiences on his first visit to his ancestral land. True to his style, the narration is anecdotal and descriptive.The book was immediately banned in India for its negative portrayal of India and its people"
As precise as the above passage read, it was the result of this deep disappointment which the country of his origin, 'India' created in a Trinidad brought up, intellectually arrogant, 29 year old man of 1960's that the book was resulted.
Now why the title 'Area of Darkness'?
"To me as a child the India that had produced so many of the persons and things around me was featureless, and I thought of the time when the transference was made as a period of darkness, darkness which also extended to the land, as darkness surrounds a hut at the evening, though there a little way around the hut there is still light. The light was the area of my experience, in time and place. And even now, though time has widened, though space has contracted, and I have traveled lucidly over that area which was to me the area of darkness,something of darkness remains, in those attitudes,those way of thinking and seeing, which are no longer mine."
Naipaul's ancestors where belonged to a class of upper cast Brahmins, from the state of Uttar pradesh of northern India who migrated to Trinidad, and its interesting to see what he has to say about this.
"My Grandfather had made a difficult and courageous journey.It must have brought him into collision with startling sights , even like the sea, several hundred miles from his village; yet I cannot help feeling that as soon as he had left his village he ceased to see. "
"He had abandoned India.. and He denied Trinidad. Yet he walked on solid earth . Nothing beyond his village stirred him; nothing had forced him out of himself; he carried his village with him. A few reassuring relationships a strip of land, and he could satisfyingly re-create an eastern Uttar Pradesh village in central Trinidad as if in the vastness of India."
This shows his frustration as child in growing up with a kind of cultural 'darkness' lurking around him in everything he did. No wonder he accuses his grand father for it. He still secretly longed to see his homeland. But, what awaited him in India was shocking, filth, corruption and never ending miseries. He disliked almost everything that he saw and the book, 'Area of darkness' was born.
|Parents of Naipaul|
He covers all most all area of 'Corruption' in India in those days; with out leaving other disturbing areas like , racism, regional conflicts and apartheid.
He recollects a scene where a 'Sardar' friend of his (A man belonged to Sikh community in Punjab) beating up a man who was sitting opposite to them in a restaurant, shouting;
'This bloody dravidian is staring at me'
and to Sardar's surprise, the man cries back.
'Sardarji, dont beat me; I am not a south Indian, I am a punjabi like you'
Naipaul admits that he was so scared, and ran away from that restaurant in total shock and disbelief immediately after this incident.
In another instance, he quotes Mahatma Gandhi on an Incident where some delegates of congress defecated on the veranda of assembly itself, failing to see there were toilets available for that purpose; and goes in length , about our Sanitation standards in typical form of his;
"Indians defecate everywhere. They defecate, mostly beside the railway tracks. But they also defecate on the beaches; they defecate on the hills; they defecate on the river banks; they defecate on the streets; they never look for cover"
Its a cruel observation;but its also the most honest of all observations ever made by any one related to it.
By this, we should leave Naipaul for now, and focus on this particular issue of our society.
At least 65 years have passed after India got freedom. A good 62 years have passed after India became a republic.at least a good 50 years have passed after Naipaul made his cruel observation on our sanitation standards. Many governments, Many Political parties, Many different leaders enjoyed the power in all these years. Now lets see where India stands in terms of Sanitation and public hygiene.
The following extract is from a BBC report on Indian Census of 2012.
Nearly half of India's 1.2 billion people have no toilet at home, but more people own a mobile phone, according to the latest census data.Only 46.9% of the 246.6 million households have lavatories while 49.8% defecate in the open. The remaining 3.2% use public toilets.
About 77% of homes in the eastern state of Jharkhand have no toilet facilities, while the figure is 76.6% for Orissa and 75.8% in Bihar. All three are among India's poorest states with huge populations which live on less than a dollar a day.
"Open defecation continues to be a big concern for the country as almost half of the population do it," Registrar General and Census Commissioner C Chandramouli said while releasing the latest data.
"Cultural and traditional reasons and a lack of education are the prime reasons for this unhygienic practice. We have to do a lot in these fronts," he said.
Now Isn't it bit shocking to see nearly half of Indians in 2013 going to open fields to defecate ? . Which other country in the world can claim such a honor? Now lets see an interesting chart on various Indian states on sanitation standards.
This probably explains why I have never seen any one doing it in open field in all my years I spent in Kerala. The same could not be said about all other three states of south India where I stayed for years or frequently travels to; where the chart is speaking in volumes on the north side of India. Bangalore is the IT capital of India, and also home to at least ten million people.You still see people sitting in open ('Open' is a myth in most of the city, as all you can see is huge apartment blocks) fields in day light to address the nature's call with out being intimidated by the passer by's or people who shout at them from the adjacent apartments.This extremely disgusting scene is very common at least to the people who live in apartments which are adjacent to the railway lines. Who have to be blamed? Not those who do this but the authorities who are supposed to build toilet facilities and educate to them about it. In corruption India stands tall among fellow nations and I believe India is officially ranked number 5 in the list of most corrupted countries of Asia in recent studies; where Philippines lead the list. But considering the population that we got, the overall effect of corruption is much bigger.
'Cultural and traditional reasons' as mentioned by Census commissioner also play a big role in our sanitation issues. For example, it was reported that, even though the government built free lavatories in houses of rural areas of Karnataka, people refused to use it for the intended purpose; and all those lavatories were soon transformed into the storerooms to keep grains that they produced.
Now lets come back to the Book;
'Area of Darkness' was not written for the typical, emotionally attached, conservative 'Indians' who would stand straight and sing 'Sare Jahan Se Acha; Hindustan Hamara' (Our India is the best in the world) with out batting their eye even once.
I love my country too, but same time, I believe such honest works on our country make us think about the reality of the situation that we often underplay comfortably. For that reason I liked this book. And who knows one day, we could even reach bit closer to 'the best in the world' stanza of that patriotic song, in its true sense?