Tuesday, November 25, 2008

V.S. Naipaul in Kashmir

During calmer times, Vidia wrote to his family from Hotel Liward. He told Mira and Savi that the Kashmiris, 'barring the Tibetans, are possibly the dirtiest people in the world. They very seldom wash...They associated – like the Indians of Trinidad  and our family – cleanliness with godliness; only on religious days, therefore, they wear clean cloths...They have nevertheless a tremendous charm; perhaps they have this charm because of all their faults. Certainly there are few things more attractive than the friendliness and broad smiles of the Kashmiri children.'
The World is What it Is: The Authorized Biography of V.S. Naipaul by Patrick French, pp. 228

Patrick French in his brilliant ‘official’ biography of V.S. Naipaul quotes the above lines from a private letter sent by Naipaul to his two sisters while he was visiting Kashmir in 1962. Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul stayed in the valley for around five months, staying well into the first few months of 1963. During his trip to Kashmir, stayed at Liward Hotel (later corrected to ‘Leeward Hotel’ in his 1990 book India: A Million Mutinies Now) built on the bank, and in the middle of Dal Lake. In this “Doll’s House on the Dal Lake” Naipaul wrote a short novel called Mr. Stone and the Knights Companions. Turning away from his usual West Indies settings for the first time, Naipaul gave this short novel an English setting.

Mr. Butt - the owner of Hotel Liward and his helpful nephew Aziz and Kashmir later found place in Naipaul’s An Area of Darkness written in 1964. The book also had an account a physically daunting and hazardous journey to the Amarnath cave that he took on the advice of Karan Singh.

Naipaul again visited Leeward hotel, Mr. Butt and Aziz in 1989, just before Kashmir blew up with unprecedented violence. This time he was working on India: A Million Mutinies Now (1990). The hotel, now, had got a new (present) building. 

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Hotel Leeward, Dal Lake, Srinagar, Kashmir
Photograph taken by me in June 2008.
Hotel Leeward is now a big military bunker for C.R.P.F (Central Reserve Police Force)
At that moment I didn’t know I was looking at the Hotel Leeward.
I took the photograph because of: sand bunkers, tin roofs, tin walls, barbwire, meditating 'high speed' boats and rested military men, in their clean white undershirts and khakis, unclogging a drainage pipe that goes into the lake. It is a beautiful lake.
While searching for a photograph of the hotel for this post, I realized I already had one with me.

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