Magic seeds A Novel by VS Naipaul. Published by Picador : An analysis
Trying to read this book of Naipaul becomes trying experience for one, even before one is half way through it; particularly when one is also reading ‘A house for Mr. Biswas’ for the third time; and had recently, temporarily, abandoned ‘Guerrillas’ – finding it a bit convoluted and unintelligible.
Of all ‘A house for Mr. Biswas’ appears most convincing even in the third reading, with Mr. Biswas amusing one by his limited vision of his world that he is intellectually unable to grasp and is reminded of his pettiness by the diverse world he sees around. But he has the delusions of grandeur as well, that got reflected in the language he uses to write his headlines in, for the articles he publishes in the newspaper he is working for. But he has the security of his bullying but also forgiving in-laws, who always give him the shelter and food, when he returns to their crowded abode defeated by the world, along with his wife and four children. But he is not grateful for their kindness and is resentful of it; and hides in the cocoon of his defensive thoughts and emotions in secrecy, apparently mocking everything and everyone around. The house that finally Mr. Biswas buys; that looks fine but has deep flaws; after taking loans on top of all the saving of his life; he considers it as a fort in defense against his in laws and the rest of the world; for which his children would pay back when they start earning. Sadly, burnt out by a life of poverty and malice, Mr. Biswas does not live long to enjoy the freedom and independence his house provided him, and died when his grown up son and daughter are away, who might have helped him most at that stage.
‘Magic seeds’ brings into light this inchoate vision of grandeur of Mr. Biswas, as the chief protagonist of it, Wllie, goes to Africa and then India, to look for the circumstances that will make a real man out of him. As is prompted by his sister Sarojini, who, while living an uncertain life herself in Berlin with her German partner, acts like the intellectual guide of Willie, to send him to find his war in the purported Indian Leftist revolution, after his visa could not be extended anymore in Germany. She helps Willie see how a Tamil man selling flowers in Berlin is doing so to help a war in his homeland (Sri Lanka?). Willie, only half convinced, comes to India to join a revolution that he soon finds out to be a wrong one. And he remains only half convinced of everything, till he surrenders after doing his bit for seven years, in the wrong revolution. In jail too he is not able to stand the political debates of the prisoners like him and requests to be shifted to live with petty criminals there.
And the revolution is described as a mimicry that could not have a future, because it is being fought in the wrong society and by the wrong people: who mostly were earlier comfortably placed, educated, urbane middle class people, instead of the destitute peasants. The revolutionaries who have joined the revolution either frustrated of an adulterous wife or due to the lack of a sex-life due to ones inability to do the courtship with a town girl, troubled by the inferiority one feels due to ones small physical size and rustic, peasant manners. These people unsuccessfully try to prompt the killing of village moneylenders by their impoverished peasant tenants. Willie considers this as a wrong revolution and is not sure, like others, if there is a more genuine revolution, taking place elsewhere; that would make him what he is not: a complete man, who needs to be thrown into a revolution by his nagging sister. The children of a high caste man and a lower caste woman remain the victims of caste politics, though they leave India and travel across the world. But Willie fights for seven long years nonetheless, before he surrendered with a few of him comrades, to be sentenced for a decade.
But then it became known, to the Indian authorities that he is a writer. His work is considered ‘… a pioneer of modern Indian writing’. Or so one of his friend, Roger; who informed him about the publishing of his short stories’ collection in London thirty years ago, by a left wing publishing house, in the first place; makes the people to believe, to arrange his amnesty from the prison term In India. It happens after Sarojini, the fixer with a political instinct, wrote him about Willie and the wrong revolution. Rogers comes to receive Willie at London to take him to his home. But Willie soon seduces Roger’s promiscuous wife Perdita, something that he could not do twenty eight years ago for the lack of courage, enjoying fully the hospitality of his friend.
And Willie closely observes the decorations of the room his friend has given him to live, while making love to his friend’s older-looking wife, in a position in which he considers himself younger than her, and tells her so uncontested; as he has to bend and stretch in that position; though both apparently are of the same age; discovering the areas of smoothness in her skin. In one instance he makes love to her over phone, and afterwards empathises with her for her husband lost the job and they might have to sell that house. Perdita, however complying and timid, refuses to accept his sympathies, Willie notes. But it was after he thought about learning some skills to start working to make a living, as the people in India also might do then, forgoing the call of revolution, as Willie argues. He meets the characters in London who all have a secret sex life, cheating their spouses: avenging for their adultery. And there enters a character in the book, who is a black and a diplomat, surviving many revolutions at home to retain his ambassador’s job; who is fond of inter racial sex and aspires to have a white grandchild to take him for a walk in his retired life. And it looks as if it will be even laborious to read this book of Naipual, beyond this point, however unreal, slow and pretentious it has hitherto been. If not the in-laws, one can always fall back upon ones story telling skills, if one has reached a dead end in life, led by others, as it may appear to one, comparing Willie with Mr. Biswas.
The armchair vision of revolution of Naipaul is as unconvincing, as is the centrality of his protagonist in the novel among everything that happens around him, that more so in spite of his being so withdrawn. Naipaul seems oblivious of the fear and uncertainty people feel in an area undergoing revolution of the type he talks about. He also has a limited vision of human possibilities in most of his work, in which he mocks and ridicules his characters and the people he reports about, some of them he dose not understand enough. He possibly is troubled too much by the world around him where he does not belong, which he pretends to know, however. But he also pacifies often, by the end of his books, to his readers, whom he has agitated enough earlier. And ‘Magic seeds’ is no exception, which concludes while Willie, a child of an inter caste marriage, thinks: ‘It is wrong to have an ideal view of the world. That’s where the mischief starts. That’s where everything starts unravelling. But I can’t write to Sarojini about that.’
‘Magic seeds’ might easily have qualified as one of the worst book ever written by Naipaul. But then you have the salutary comments by various reputed literary critics on the back cover of the book to baffle you. But then you know how the publishing industry of present day works. However, V S Naipual has not been fooled by his own book, as after writing it he declared that the novel is dead, and announced his retirement from his writing career; before he went on attacking Thomas Hardy and Dickens. It seems difficult to resume reading “Guerrillas” after reading ‘Magic seeds’, for one.