“And then I had to talk even harder, and shed a few more bank notes and give away more of my tinned food, to get myself – and the Peugeot – out of the places I had talked us into.”

“Every man here knew that he was watched from above by his ancestors, living forever in a higher sphere, their passage on earth not forgotten, but essentially preserved, part of the presence of the forest.”

“People lived as they had always done; there was no break between past and present.  All that had happened in the past was washed away; there was always only the present.  It was as though, as a result of some disturbance in the heavens, the early morning light was always receding into the darkness, and men lived in a perpetual dawn.”

“They had little idea of what their ancestors had done in Africa.  They had only the habit of authority, without the energy or the education to back up that authority.  The authority of the Arabs – which was real enough when I was a boy – was only a matter of custom.  It could be blown away at any time.  The world is what it is.”

“If it was Europe that gave us on the coast some idea of our history, it was Europe, I feel, that also introduced us to the lie…But the Europeans could do one thing and say something quite different;  and they could act in this way because they had an idea of what they owed to their civilization.  It was their great advantage over us.”

“I could no longer submit to Fate.  My wish was not to be good in the way of our tradition, but to make good.”

“Some papers spoke of the end of feudalism and the dawn of a new age.  But what had happened was not new.  People who had grown feeble had been physically destroyed.  That, in Africa, was not new;  it was the oldest law of the land.”

“I wondered about the nature of my aspirations, the very supports of my existence; and I began to feel that any life I might have anywhere – however rich and successful and better furnished – would only be a version of the life I lived now.”

“Simple magic:  if you say something  about a man to his friends, you might get the man to do what you say he is going to do.”

“I knew that the slave people were in revolt and were being butchered back into submission.  But Africa is big.  The bush muffled the sound of murder, and the muddy rivers and lakes washed the blood away.”

“It was in the history of the land:  here men had always been prey.  You don’t feel malice towards your prey.  You set a trap for him.  It fails ten times; but it is always the same trap you set.”

“To talk of trouble was to pretend there were laws and regulations that everyone could acknowledge.  Here there was nothing.  There had been order once, but that order had had its own dishonesties and cruelties – that was why the town had been wrecked.  We lived in that wreckage.  Instead of regulations there were now only officials who could always prove you wrong, until you paid up.  All that could be said to Ferdinand was:  “Don’t harm me, boy, because I can do you greater harm.”

“The bush was full of spirits; in the bush hovered all the protecting presences of a man’s ancestors; and in this room all the spirits of those dead masks, the powers they invoked, all the religious dread of simple men, seemed to have been concentrated.”

“But it was soothing now to be with these calm old people; and it would have been nice, on a day like this, not to have to leave that house, to be a child again, protected by the wisdom of the old, and to believe that what they saw was true.”

“If in the morning we could wake up and find that the world had shrunken only to what we knew and what was safe.”

“The rage of the rebels was like a rage against metal, machinery, wires, everything that was not of the forest and Africa.”

“…order and money – were enough to give us confidence.  A little of that went a long way with us.  It released our energy, rather than quickness or great capital, was what we possessed.”

“I don’t think you understand, Salim.  And it isn’t an easy thing to understand.  It isn’t that there’s no right and wrong here.  There’s no right.”

“I was jealous more of that idea he had always had of his own importance, his own glamour.  We lived on the same patch of earth; we looked at the same views.  Yet to him the world was new and getting newer.  For me that same world was drab, without possibilities.”

“But home was hardly a place I could return to.  Home was something in my head.  It was something I had lost.”

“But the airplane is a wonderful thing…The airplane is faster than the heart…You stop grieving for the past.  You see that the past is something in your mind alone, that it doesn’t exist in real life.  You trample on the past, you crush it…That is how we have to learn to live now.  The past is here.”  He touched his heart.  “It isn’t there.” And he pointed at the dusty road.”

“He was like a philosopher; he tried to get the young men to examine the words they were using.”

“Unless we can get them thinking, and give them real ideas instead of just politics and principles, these young men will keep our world in turmoil for the next half century.”

“Was there a truth outside men?  Didn’t men make the truth for themselves?  Everything men did or made became real.”

“It was make-believe – I never doubted that.  You couldn’t listen to sweet songs about injustice unless you expected justice and receive it much of the time.  You couldn’t sing songs about the end of the world unless – like the other people in the room, so beautiful with such simple things:  African mats on the floor and African hangings on the wall and spears and masks – you felt that the world was going on and you were safe in it.  How easy it was, in that room, to make those assumptions!”

“And this is where I suppose life ends for most people, who stiffen in the attitudes they adopt to make themselves suitable for the jobs and lives that other people have laid out for them.”

“After all, we make ourselves according to the ideas we have of our possibilities.”

“The Americans want to win the world.  It’s their fight, not mine.’ And that would have been stupid.  It is stupid to talk of the Americans.  They are not a tribe, as you might think from the outside.  They’re all individuals fighting to make their way, trying as hard as you or me not to sink.”

“You see, Salim, in this world beggars are the only people who can be choosers.  Everyone else has his side chosen for him.”

“I often thought about the chance that had shown me Yvette for the first time that evening in her house, in that atmosphere of Europe in Africa, when she had worn her black Margit Brandt blouse and had been lighted by the reading lamps placed on the floor, and every kind of yearning had been stirred in me by the voice of Joan Baez.”

“After that first afternoon, my first discovery of her, I was possessed by Yvette, possessed by that person I never stopped wanting to win.  Satisfaction solved nothing;  it only opened up a new void, a fresh need.”

“But with all my new knowledge, my world was narrower than it had ever been…And the narrower my world became, the more obsessively I lived in it.”

“Anybody can be decisive during a panic; it takes a strong man to act during a boom.”

“Every official was willing, for a consideration, to give assurances about his own conduct.  But no official was high enough or secure enough to guarantee the conduct of any other official.”

“I woke up in London with little bits of Africa on me – ”

“All over the world money is in flight.  People have scraped the world clean, as clean as an African scrapes his yard, and now they want to run from the dreadful places where they’ve made their money and find some nice safe country.”

“And remember how he used to get on.  Not talking about money, but it was always there.  You would say that he felt that money had made him holy.  All rich people are like that, I suppose.”

“There could be no going back;  there was nothing to go back to.  We had become what the world outside had made us;  we had to live in the world as it existed.”

[Jail]  “There I learned to wait.  There I decided that I had to shut out thoughts of the town and stop thinking about time, that I had as far as possible to empty my mind.”

“You have to take your chance.  That’s what we’ve always done.  Everybody had done that here.”

copyright 1979 by V.S. Naipal
author bio:  https://www.britannica.com/biography/V-S-Naipaul
photo:  Vintage; Reissue edition (March 13, 1989)

 

Advertisements