Jobs @ MG
The Not-so-noble side of Nobel
By M. Zeyaul Haque
Over the decades, the
Swedish Academy that awards Nobel has acquired the reputation of an institution
that is bothered more about bolstering the current Western policy line than
Boris Pasternek, famous Russian poet and celebrated author of Dr Zhivago,
got the Nobel Prize in the 50s, Soviet authorities questioned the
author’s patriotism and the Swedish Academy’s motives. The Soviets
alleged that the Swedes had been working as the propaganda arm of the
Western Cold Warriors. Some Russians went a step further and denounced
Pasternek as "a pig that fouls its own sty".
To most of the non-Russian world, Pasternek’s literary talent was not in
question, yet the intentions of the Swedish Academy were never beyond
suspicion. Most people suspected that the Nobel Prize to Pasternek was
covert Western encouragement to dissension in Russian society. No wonder,
Russians did not allow Pasternek to go to Stockholm and receive the prize
In the seventies the Nobel Prize for literature went to another Russian,
Alexander Solzhenitsyn, by then famous for his Gulag Archipelago and
Cancer Ward, novels which bitterly attacked the Soviet system in a thinly
veiled manner. These books were rarely available in the USSR but sold very
well in the West (and other English-knowing countries like India) in
English translation. This again was a case of the Swedish Academy throwing
its weight behind the West’s Cold War against Russia. The Swedish
Academy was clearly encouraging internal dissension in the Soviet Union.
Solzhenitsyn was just another writer in Russia, barely eking out a middle
class existence. However, the sales of his books in the west and the Nobel
money had made him a millionaire within years. He got access to his
dollars only after Gorbachev declared his famous glasnost (openness) and
perestroika (political restructuring) that finally led to the end of the
Yet another recipient of the Nobel (for peace) of those days was Andrei
Sakharov, "father" of the Soviet hydrogen bomb, Russian
counterpart of America’s Edward Teller. Sakharov had become a dissident
against Marxist totalitarianism, and his prize too was a reward for his
consistent opposition to the Soviet system. There was no doubt about that.
This is why when VS Naipaul got his Nobel many people wondered whether he
had been rewarded for his relentless ideological assault on Islam, the foe
the West had of late identified as a replacement for the vanquished
"Evil Empire" of the USSR, as Reagan used to describe it
theatrically. Newspersons went as far as asking the head of the award
committee himself whether the honour had been conferred on Naipaul for his
anti-Islamic crusade. He said Naipaul was not against Islam alone, but
against all religions. Which is only a half truth. The Hindustan Times, to
its credit, wrote a couple of edits and carried another couple of articles
on its edit page showing how rabidly anti-Muslim and anti-Islam this man
Unfortunately, the announcement of the prize coincided with the beginning
of the US military campaign against Afghanistan. The Newsweek of October
22 said that for Naipaul, Islam was "beneath contempt". That,
however, did not distract from his formidable writing capabilities. Time
too sang paeans to his way with words. Everybody joined this chorus of
praise, which by implication was a chorus of condemnation of Islam. All
kinds of buffoons had their fill of anti-Muslim vitriol. But there were
some saner voices too in this season of anti-Muslim mass hysteria.
One of the saner voices was that of Amulya Ganguli in his well-argued,
"A prize for bigotry" (The Hindustan Times, Oct 29). The
shoulder said, "Naipaul is eminently qualified to be an honorary
member of the RSS". Ganguly went on to say that Naipaul had always
been a vicious casteist and communalist. He quoted from his An Area of
Darkness an episode about his school days in which Naipaul says: "A
beaker and length of tube were passed from boy to boy so that we might
suck and observe the effects. I let the beaker pass me. I thought that I
hadn’t been seen, but an Indian boy in the row behind… whispered
‘real Brahmin’. His tone was approving." He did not suck the tube
because he feared he would be contaminated by non-Brahmins.
Ganguli quotes another passage from the same book showing Naipaul’s
deep-seated prejudice against Muslims: "At an early age I understood
that Muslims are somewhat different from others. They were not to be
trusted; they would always do you down." Ganguly rightly remarked
that "he is a true Sanghi –– born for the RSS, so to say".
No wonder, RSS mouthpiece Organiser went ga ga over the Nobel. One wonders
what values the Swedish Academy has been promoting.
Naipaul is an ingrate, a vile trait towards which Akbar S. Ahmad points
out in his Sociology of Islam. Ahmad, himself a sociologist of
considerable repute, wonders as to what kind of sociology Naipaul intended
to do with his books like Among Believers. The conclusions seem to have
been drawn even before Naipaul left on his "Islamic journey".
The conclusions were in fact, drawn decades before that when Naipaul was
an adoloscent who believed that Muslims "…were not to be trusted;
they would always do you down".
Ahmed wonders at the sheer discourtesy of Naipaul who is the recipient of
Muslim hospitality in his "Islamic journey" through Muslim lands
and, instead of showing some warmth or goodwill he maligns and slanders
them with abandon. On the other hand, those Muslims who shower their
hospitality on him would never dream of turning up at his home in Britain.
Look at his pictures: he looks like the sour puss that he actually is.
Quite a few people have drawn attention to his ingrained ingratitude
evident from his first response to the Nobel announcement. He said it was
good for India, the land of his ancestors, and Britain, his adopted home.
Not a word for Trinidad where he was born and grew up, and where his
parents were born and lived. He does not have the courtesy to say a kind
word for the land from which his parents and he rose. Why? Because he
openly detests Trinidad. A mean-spirited man like that can never be
expected to be kindly disposed to Islam which says, "the love of
one’s motherland is part of his faith". Here is a faithless man.
Now, coming back to the institution of Nobel Prize. Irwing Wallace
recounts a few episodes in his The Prize which shows the mind of the
people associated with the institution. The Academy boss told him that
Einstein got his Nobel in physics because of Europe’s guilt over the
Holocaust. (In any case, he deserved it.) He complains that Pearl S.
Buck’s husband had refused to publish his novel although he had got her
the Nobel Prize. That shows the smallness of the mind of some of the
important people behind the Nobel. q