Balkrishna Maharagh Naipaul was born in Montrose, Trinidad, and educated at London where he read History, Economics, International Law, and International Relations. From England, he migrated to Canada in 1968 and lived in Saskatchewan until 1982 where he worked as an educator before leaving to serve as the permanent representative of Development Educators for World Peace at the United Nations. During that time, a period of some sixteen years, while maintaining his official residence in Ontario, he consulted with world leaders in most parts of the world.
In 1985, in addition to his work at the United Nations, he founded the international tabloid, Global Times, which he edited until 1996. In 1998, he vacated his position at the U.N. and since then he has devoted his entire time to the writing of fiction.
In 2005 Mr. Balkrishna Naipaul 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. In 2006, he was selected by the World Business Forum to receive their most lucrative award for “his outstanding contributions to literature and successful achievement as a World Renowned Author of Books, and for his Invaluable Services to the Canadian/Caribbean community as one of the founding leaders.”
Further to these achievements, in 2010, Mr. Balkrishna Naipaul was awarded The Shabdakantih Order of Literature from the Shabdakantih Awards Academy in New York for his two novels set in Trinidad, The Other Side of the House (likened by one critic as a rejoinder to V.S. Naipaul’s, A House for Mr. Biswas) and The Mansion; this award carried a gold medal, a plaque, and a cash award of US$5,000.00.
And to mark the Fiftieth Anniversary of Trinidad and Tobago’s independence, Mr. Balkrishna Naipaul has just brought out a new novel, Dancing Moon Under The Peepal Tree, with the subtitle, A Novel set in Trinidad at 50. According to one critic Dancing Moon Under the Peepal tree is a brilliant tour de force if ever there was one. On the surface the novel is entertaining but the undercurrents are deep as it draws the reader to the suffocating realities of island paradoxes that beg for fresh air.” – Nala Singham, Caribbean New Yorker.
This is what is said about Dancing Moon Under The Peepal Tree as excerpted from the inside flap of the hardcover copy: Dancing Moon Under the Peepal Tree is the story of a rediscovery of a well-to-do island securely tucked away in the southern Caribbean Sea after fifty years of independence from Britain. It is a narrative of undetermined expectations met by shifting perspectives contrasted by pre-independence flashbacks and current developments that seem to be taking the country into an undetermined future. It is difficult to get at the root of the nation’s problems largely because of the perpetual carnival atmosphere, although many of the problems boldly stare you directly in the face. For this reason, the model for the narrative is Plato’s Symposium where the island is brought tightly into focus with the same weight of characterization as any other character in the book. On the one hand it provides a comical approach in dealing with supposedly whimsical subjects while, on the other hand, delving at the heart of the matter to come up with plausible solutions skilfully finessed by the narrator to arrive at meaning in an otherwise meaningless state.
In this play of consciousness, Mr. Balkrishna Naipaul provides us with characters that jump out of the pages and appear larger than life before the unsuspecting reader. Here the beggar becomes philosopher; the mason or carpenter becomes guide to higher consciousness; the gardener becomes the diviner of justice; while the politicians and the actual architects of society charged with keeping the state intact emerge as the real scoundrels from day one of Independence to burrow deep into the purse of the nation only to re-emerge as the nation’s “project managers”. Dancing Moon Under the Peepal Tree is a tour de force of sorts, but at the end of the novel, Mr. Naipaul leaves us with a good idea of just where the nation stands after fifty years of Independence.
Indeed, while most of his friends and readers know Mr. Naipaul as either a diplomat or a writer of fiction, there is another side of this writer known as a poet. In fact just before he migrated from Britain to Canada in 1968, he had published a book of poems entitled Agony in Dreams; on the whole this was an eclectic collection but the major focus was one larger poem that boldly narrated the theme of the evils of indentureship. That poem was recently republished in a larger volume entitled Finding the Voice and Other Poems in which the original poem, Agony in Dreams has been enlarged and is thus present in the book as Voice of An Indentured Tale.
Here is a note from the publisher: The poems contained in this volume is Balkrishna Naipaul’s first book of selected poems [to be published on this side of the Atlantic] many of which have been previously published and read at selected audiences in Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States, and in India. They depict an integral part of the creative mind of the poet, better known to most as a novelist or writer of fiction, while reflecting a very long period of time in the creative endeavours of the author: starting from the early nineteen sixties and following the intensity of his varied life right up into the present. In many ways these poems reflect not only the sentiments of the poet, but the characteristic motives for putting pen to paper.
Mr. Naipaul always had a love affair with fiction. He wrote a novel before he was twenty but lost the manuscript and didn’t attempt to rewrite it. Several years later, after he had finished his studies at London, he began writing another, and halfway through this he offered to show it to his cousin, V.S. Naipaul. His celebrated cousin was encouraging, but he urged Mr. Naipaul not to send him the novel until it was finished, saying ´You should finish your novel and be prepared to write another and another. It is a lonely business but it is what writers who write must be prepared to do…´
At the time Mr. Naipaul took his cousin’s advise to heart and did finish his rather long novel, Flies in a Bottle, some seven hundred and fifty pages, which exhausted him. He claimed that he had worked so hard on the book that, at the end, when he looked into the mirror, he did not see his face. The experience was so horrifying that for weeks he could not look into another mirror. Not only that, he felt so lonely and alienated from the process of writing that he could not pick up the manuscript to do anything about it. Instead he took a job as a lecturer at a college of Further Education in Leeds teaching Liberal Studies where he remained until he migrated to Canada in 1968.
One of the reasons for moving to Canada was to get away from the political machinations to which he had succumbed during his university days in London: he had become closely associated with the Young Socialists of the Labour Party and had even risen to the ranks of the establishment. But after Labour had won the elections in the autumn of 1964 by the thinnest of majorities, the Young Socialists had been cajoled into supporting the new government in exchange for a commitment from the Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. Harold Wilson, to oppose American involvement in Vietnam. On the strength of this Mr. Naipaul campaigned hard for the party, especially leading up to the general elections in the spring of 1965. But after the elections the Prime Minister reversed his pledge, and Mr. Naipaul resigned from the party and simultaneously withdrew his association from the wing of the party’s Young Socialists.
It was a bitter blow to the young activist but it taught him an important lesson in the meaning of realpolitics and rather than resigning himself to a solitary corner he doubled his efforts to join the ranks of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). Indeed, in the early 1960´s he had met the British philosopher, Bertrand Russell, and struck a close friendship with him and it was here he had first learnt lessons on how to put theory into practice. He had even joined protests and from time to time acted as Russell’s personal secretary, writing press releases and corresponding with potentially strategic supporters who were genuinely afraid of a nuclear confrontation between East and West. In fact he became so animated in this volunteer work that Lord Russell dubbed him CND Animateur.
They were exciting times for the young activist, but along with the excitement it also carried the burden of political baggage that one could not easily ignore. He knew that so long as he lived in England he could not sit on the sidelines; that in time he might even have to run for election to the British Parliament. The thought weighed heavily on his shoulders until the opportunity came in an invitation, from a Canadian parliamentarian visiting Britain and who had paid a courtesy call to the college in which he was teaching, to move to Canada.
The idea was an exhilarating one, for he was a great admirer of the Liberal Leader Mike Pearson, whom he had met at an embassy soiree in London and whose policies on international peace and security personally appealed to his own idea of the effect of Canada being a model state in the conduct of international relations. But perhaps even more compelling was the prospects of Pearson’s appointment of the young charismatic law professor, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, to his cabinet as Justice Minister. Indeed, Mr. Naipaul had also met Mr. Trudeau during a lecture at the London School of Economic (LSE) and he was impressed by what the young leader had to say about countries like Canada showing the middle way in issues concerning peace, development and social justice. To be sure, Mr. Trudeau had said that Canada needed pioneers to take the country forward and that young blood from institutions like the LSE would be a welcomed boost towards shaping Canada’s place in the modern world. More than any other motivating factor for Mr. Naipaul was the vision of Canada as an unspoiled country teeming with pristine rivers, clear water lakes, virgin forests and natural meadows; a place free of pollution and one which could cure him of the horrible asthma with which he had become diseased in the eight years of living in England. Still, it was a hard decision: it was difficult to move away from a place he had become accustomed to calling “home”; a place from where he had built up innumerable contacts and friendships on the Continent, friends who depended on each other not only for emotional support but for comfort in their ongoing work to save humanity from the scourges of war. It was like turning his back on friends in a sinking ship, with the horrid thought that once gone all of life’s work would be in the shadows of a faded memory. Even so, he had to do what was necessary, for in a manner of speaking, until then, he saw himself, along with his friends, like Flies in a Bottle; but, unlike most flies that didn’t know the existence of an escape route, he knew there was a way out and to do otherwise would be unconscionable. The other motivating factor, which helped to push him out of England, was the need to get back to his writing: he had taken the advice from his cousin to heart and had decided that there was no point in rushing the publication of Flies until he had at least another book under his belt. But in arriving in Canada things did not seem what they were. From the moment he got off the boat in Montreal to the three days travel by train to Regina in Saskatchewan everything was so different: people were exceedingly friendly but so much fatter, the cars so large that they appeared vulgar; and, the landscape just kept stretching out into the wilderness from morning ‘til night, as if he was on a journey to nowhere. Even the language was different, especially their jokes, which always needed to be deciphered since Canadians seem to pun for the heck of it.
Then came the whispers, ´Be careful what you say to your students because they would always return to haunt you.´ Or, ´Stay away from politics, they’ll never give you tenure.´ It was déjà vu all over again: like when he was boarding the S.S. Venezuela to leave Trinidad for Britain when a relative exclaimed ‘Doh joke with them Spaniards, yuh hear; deh go bugger yuh up and then throw yuh overboard.’ Or arriving in England and an aunt saying to him, ‘Keep away as far as possible from then Teddy Boys and the West Indians, if you want to get ahead in this country; don’t ever forget that you came here to study and not just to have a good time!’
But his notion of politics was not the kind he had known in England, especially since he had vowed never again to be a card-carrying member of any political party. Indeed, it would take time for him to understand that what constituted personal interest, especially if spoken about in company, would be construed as dabbling in politics. Like the simplicity of venturing out into the open prairies and being totally enamoured by the vastness of the sky and the ever expanding horizon, with just a speck of a house and barn here or there, far away from the main roads with narrow dirt tracks inching up to meet prairie civilisation where running water and electricity were still considered luxury. Or to be travelling on a lonely strap of highway, which seemed to be used mainly for the haulage of grain or cattle and suddenly hitting “dirt”, the pavement gone and the undercarriage of the car getting riddled with stones as large as cannon balls. At first they were natural culture shocks, especially coming from a place like England or in comparison with the countries of Europe he had visited and where everything had neatness and order to it.
But here on the “bald” prairies where Bigness was beautiful and where one could easily sink to ones knees in mud when it rained, no one could see parallels to the type of Third World experiences flashed on their T.V. screens when they sat down to their T.V. dinners after a hard day’s work on their humungous tractors. Indeed they were completely enamoured by their gigantic combines and harvesters, factories on wheels, working the land from dawn to dusk, and then piling up their grains of labour mountain high, only to grumble afterwards about the lack of sales and the huge amount of money they owed to the banks; debts they could never repay even in a life time, unless they sold lock, stock and barrel and be prepared, in all likelihood, to face destitution. Still, few farmers were prepared to face, far more discuss, these harsh realities.
But as one of Trudeau´s “pioneers”, he felt an obligation to do so, and with the help of other like-minded individuals they formed the Regina Council for World Development, the aim of which was to draw attention to conditions in Canada and link them with similar situations in the Third World. Especially conditions on the prairie villages where people still had to contend with outdoor latrines and water drawn from wells, from which people contracted cholera and skin diseases, the likes of which he had not see since his childhood days in Trinidad, and which stirred in him emotions he had never before experienced. They were so strong that for years he found himself walking on the prairies under cover of an ever-expanding sky like a lost soul trying to find answers to questions that were too complex to formulate. But gradually they would surface in the detailed journals he kept, the fountainhead of material for his second novel Prominences: Journey to Nowhere; and these seemed to connect naturally with possibilities of espousal and solidarity with those who could be identified as members of “the religion of the oppressed: generations of farmers who were caught in the boom-bust cycle of growth and recession and who seem to degenerate, spiritually, as they tried to compete with the market-ethos of modernism and the consumer civilisation.
His writings and lectures caught on even with members of the governing New Democratic Party, and a proposal was made to the government to match grants to the amount raised by the Council. The proposal was so well received that the idea was ushered to other provinces where Councils for International Co-operations were established, before finally approaching the federal government where the case was made for annual “grant in aid” to the total amount raised by the Councils and matched by provincial governments. Here too, there was agreement but the federal government insisted that the Council provide “consultation” to the Canadian International Development Agency in return for aid. He was not looking for an opening, but these consultations would eventually take him to the United Nations, as advisor to the mission, and from where networking would spiral into concrescence. From here he would consult with most of the World’s leaders on such matters as development education, disarmament and development, and the need for a new international information order.
It was an exhilarating time at the United Nations, especially at the beginning, but soon he would realise that the world looked very much different from the top; that diplomacy was not so subtle a way of spying on your neighbours; that in the ongoing quest for balance of power, even among poorer countries, the game of subterfuge was merciless on the little people; that aid to Third World Nations, with or without strings, was the method of expanding, in the glare of daylight, the ever burgeoning supermarket of consumerism for no other reason but to bolster the special interest of the few under the guise of protecting the free market system under capitalism; and that the United Nations was not just a glamorous idiot talk shop but the ultimate instrument to help the special interest groups of the international coalition to hasten the formation of the new international order, based on the old colonial principles of imperial might. These were some of the reason why Mr. Naipaul decided to go into publishing and his bringing out Global Times. It also gave him cause to turn to the writing of fiction, for after all it was his cousin, V. S. Naipaul, who had said to him, after he had confided in him his interest in becoming a writer, ‘A writer writes because he has something to say.’ Indeed, Mr. Naipaul’s bout at the U.N. gave him much, not only to say, but also to write about.
In the short space of just over a decade of writing fiction, Mr. Balkrishna Naipaul’s contributions to literature are enormous. The amazing thing about this is that the writing is not at all localized; his pen captures images from around the world – from the Americas to Africa; from Britain to Canada; from the Caribbean to India, and thence to Trinidad where three of his eight books are spawned. And besides this international aspect of his writings, his themes are more than lofty: they capture a unique spirit that instructs in a philosophical way to the extent that he is often considered a social philosopher. As one reviewer has noted, “Dancing Moon Under The Peepal Tree is a brilliantly structured book, and like all of his previous books Balkrishna Naipaul looks to none for inspiration but the inner resources of his own genius. As such he is one of the most original of English writers with each of his books having the power to open up the heart-center of the reader to a world of endless possibilities.” More than this, as another critic observes about another of his books, Mr. Balkrishna Naipaul is such a bold and creative writer that he is not comfortable with standards set by others: “The Mansion is a brilliant book introducing a fresh genre and style into the art form of the novel. (Dr. Churaumanie Bissundyal, Sanskrit Scholar, Literary Critic, Playwright and Novelist.)
But outside the realm of literature is his solid contribution to Canadian policy. At a time when most newcomers to Canada were just about feeling their way in the varied regions of this very large country, Mr. Balkrishna Naipaul was writing position papers for the Government of Canada at the highest level. In many ways he was not just the originator of policy but also a prime disseminator: At the invitation of Prime Minister Trudeau he offered insights into multiculturalism that saw the creation of the Ministry of Culture and Youth; then he was instrumental in helping to draft Canadian policies with regard to the New International Economic Order, as well as Canada’s unique position at the United Nations with regard to Disarmament and Development, in which he contributed to Prime Minister Trudeau’s instructive landmark speech at the United Nations, “Suffocating the Arms Race at the Source.”
Indeed, Mr. Naipaul has not only earned a high place in the affairs of Canada but in most places where he has visited on this globe: he was known personally to Mr. Harold Wilson, James Callaghan, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, Anwar Sadat, Michael Manley, and Mr. Pierre Eliot Trudeau – all of whom he felt were important interlocutors to his development in a world that is never devoid of paradoxes, which is constantly at play to test the mettle of one’s inner spirit.
Praise for Balkrishna Naipaul:
Praise for Finding the Voice and Other Poems
“A Privilege to engage in a wide range of human emotions especially what come out in the voice of the Twin towers: from where rage turns into symbolic interaction and where the Towers take on a persona of their own to tell conflicting stories as possible reasons for the great demise.” Publishers’ choice.
Praise for Dancing Moon Under The Peepal Tree.
“A brilliant tour de force if ever there was one. On the surface the novel is
entertaining but the undercurrents are deep as it draws the reader to the suffocating realities of island paradoxes that beg for fresh air.” – Nala Singham, Caribbean New Yorker.
Praise for The Mansion:
The Mansion is a brilliant book introducing a fresh genre and style into the
art form of the novel. Dr. Churaumanie Bissundyal, Sanskrit Scholar, Literary Critic, Playwright and
Praise for The Other side of the House:
“A rare Literary Gem…’ Caribbean New Yorker.
Praise for Suwan and The Circle of Seven Balkrishna Naipaul’s skill in seeing the world through the eyes of child abuse is the most impressive pieces of writing I have come across – Dr. Kevin McCabe, Poet and Literary Critic
Praise for The Yoga of Love:
The Yoga of Love is the crème de la crème of Mr. Naipaul’s Trilogy: where story line enmeshes with social philosophy and where, Meena, a child from the crèche develops into the most radiant of women – and where the yoga of love is brought to life. G-Times Literary Supplement
Praise for Legends of The Emperor’s Ring
The language of the book is reminiscent of D.H. Lawrence’s Women in Love and Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. His lyricism sweeps and enwraps the reader in a sweet suspension between realism and surrealism. Churaumanie Bissundyal, Literary Critic and Playwright.
Praise for Arc Of The Horizon
Balkrishna Naipaul has shown, in Arc Of The Horizon, to be a present-day Shakespeare, in so far as his mastery of the English language and understanding of the human spirit are concerned. Eugene A. Bronson, author, Spiritual Dawn: A Spiritual Autobiography