Trinidad-born and Canada-based, author Balkrishna Naipaul may be the first cousin of 2001 Nobel Prize winner VS Naipaul, but he has forged a prolific literary career that has brought him a recognition that is separate and apart from his famous kin.
Originally from Montrose, Chaguanas, Naipaul was educated at the University of London where he read History, Economics and International Relations.
With a life steeped in education and politics in his university days, writing always remained on the front burner of Naipaul's life. He penned his first novel Flies in a Bottle and was encouraged by VS to continue writing. The 750-page project exhausted Naipaul so much he refused to pick up a manuscript for a while. He took a job as a lecturer at a college of further education in Leeds teaching Liberal Studies until he moved to Canada to teach Political Science at the University of Saskatchewan.
Naipaul switched career gears again when he left his job at the University to serve as the permanent representative of Development Educators for World Peace at the United Nations. His job required him to consult with world leaders in most parts of the world, but Naipaul found that something was missing. Again writing beckoned and Naipaul answered the call to run the Global Times tabloid.
Naipaul returned to fiction writing in earnest after leaving the UN and put out titles like Arc On The Horizon (2001) Legends Of The Emperor's Ring (March, 2003), Yoga Of Love (September, 2005), Suwan and The Circle of Seven (2006), The Other Side of The House (April, 2008) and The Mansion (February, 2010). He was awarded the prestigious title of Saahitya Mani from the Shikshayatan Institute of America for his trilogy (Arc of The Horizon, Legends of The Emperor's Ring, and The Yoga of Love) and his contributions to world literature.
Last May, Naipaul was inducted into the Indo-Caribbean Council's list of awardees. Naipaul is also expected to be featured in a commemorative volume by the High Commissioner of Trinidad and Tobago to Canada recognising locals who have contributed to the Canadian Society.
Last week the author was in the country to promote his latest novel Dancing Moon under the Peepal Tree. The book is set in Trinidad at Jubilee and follows the rediscovery of one's birth land after years of being away.
"Trinidad is a beautiful island. The paradox is why is a country that is filled with such beauty, such a violent one?"
Naipaul's research for Dancing Moon under the Peepal Tree involved several interviews with locals from different walks of life done over a period of four months.
"I spoke to very ordinary people – beggars, philosophers about how they live now and what they remember about the past."
Those who were interviewed griped about the conditions of the roads to the lack of water in some areas and the escalating crime situation — the same things the narrator finds himself faced with as he has to make a decision to stay or return to a foreign land.
"Given the state of the country he begins to feel that sense of loss," Naipaul said of his character.
"He is just about to give up but his third eye needs to be reawakened. Rather than being afraid he remembers the place the way it used to be and its beautiful people."
Naipaul, much like his character, is pained at what passes for developed country status in T&T. He is brought to tears, he said, when he sees what the country has become. An unapologetic optimist, Naipaul still has hopes that if we all band together and stop waiting on governments to fix our problems, we could bring this country back to the way it used to be.
"As a people, we need to look at what we have in common rather our differences. We need to come together and fix our own problems. If we look at everything as a government problem then we would all be defeated."
Naipaul may live in Canada but his heart remains in Trinidad and Tobago. He and his wife Gita still keeps a home in Trinidad as one day they hope return to the land of their birth.
The author met his Trinidadian wife when he returned home to promote The Other side of the House in 2008. His recollection of their meeting and eventual marriage made for a great romance novel, one he just might write one day, he said.
"She was hired by Nalis to do a reading at my launch and the next day I asked her out."
The divorced father believes that Gita is a gift from his mother. Before she died his mother begged him to get into another relationship. At the time Naipaul was concentrating on his work and his children — loving again was the furthest thing from his mind.
"My mother said she would send someone for me and to promise her that I wouldn't turn her away. When I met Gita I knew she was the one."
Naipaul spoke in glowing terms about his wife who, he said, supports his career tremendously.
Those who have read Dancing with the Moon have hailed it as an entertaining book that's interspersed with paradoxes.
Reviewer Ishri Rampersad wrote: "The author wanted to convey the sense of utter loss and dejection one feels on revisiting one's hometown after a prolonged absence and whose childhood recollection was of a virtual paradise of camaraderie, of village folks gathering to harvest the ubiquitous sugar cane at crop time, the settling down of the Indentured labourers into villages and making new friends and building new societies often including the other imports of fellow African workers as a part of the new society."
"There's a philosophical strand in all my books and this one is no different. My characters always work out their problems".
Naipaul left T&T on July 31 to launch Dancing under the Peepal Tree in Boston, New York, Ottawa and Montreal. He also has three book launches planned for Britain.