Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : November 30th 2014 Contents B3
hits all the right
One of the most distinctive
things about Vahni Capildeo is her
voice. It s imperious yet slightly
breathy at the same time; she puts
dramatic emphasis on the syllable
at the end of sentences and phras-
es.It s easy to imagine that voice
reading dark, Victorian-era novels
like those of the Bronte sisters.
It s easy to accept that she creates
verse that Sunday Arts Section book
critic Shivanee Ramlochan describes
as "savage, unafraid and hilarious."
Her collection of poetry Dark and
Unaccustomed Words---her fourth
publication---was long-listed for last
year s Bocas Prize for Caribbean
And it s easy to accept that she
comes from a vaunted and contro-
versial literary family. She s second
cousin to writers VS and Shiva
Naipaul. Her grandfather was the
Naipauls maternal uncle.
It s a connection that Capildeo
seems ambivalent about, according
to readings at an event to celebrate
her work, put on recently by the
Friends of Mr Biswas, the NGO that
maintains the Naipaul House Muse-
um in St James and works to pro-
mote local literature.
Nicholas Laughlin, the main
organiser of the event, read from
Capildeo s unpublished memoir, in
which she wrote about the hard-
covered first editions of Naipaul
books kept on shelves in her child-
"I kept away from all these
armoured books. They were impen-
etrable," wrote Capildeo, whose
grandfather was Simbhoonath
Capildeo. He and his brother
Rudranath Capildeo were influential
in the early politics of T&T.
"They were a source of con-
tention, not of pride," Vahni
Capildeo wrote of the Naipaul
books, "for our paternal grandfather
hated the Naipauls. Who were they,
after all? Ungrateful, lesser members
of his extended family who had got
away with spreading lies and wicked
stories about him and his family
and Indian people and everyone on
the island whose independence he
had worked for."
But the relationship between the
Naipauls and the Capildeos wasn t
entirely rocky. The first edition
books were given to Capildeo s
mother Leila by her brother s wife,
VS s and Shiva s sister Sati.
Leila Capildeo also used to spend
time as a girl at Naipaul House---
the basis for the legendary VS
Naipaul novel A House for Mr
Biswas. The Naipauls moved there
"Leila had fond recollections of
their conversation, coffee, bread
and cheese, and warmth," Capildeo
wrote of the Naipauls.
Capildeo said the paperback
Naipaul books she eventually came
across in her house made the
Naipauls work more approachable.
Published by the British company
Penguin, they "really looked like
books," she wrote, and first gave
her the idea that she could write
for a global audience.
"It was a real person who once
lived in Trinidad who wrote these
books? So it was possible?" she
wrote. "But I put that thought aside;
it was too big."
Leila Capildeo drew laughs as
she read from a poem from her
daughter s upcoming fifth collec-
tion. In it the author battles a bar-
rage of questions about her famous
cousin. It gives some insight into
what it must be like to be related
the Nobel Prize winner.
"What about VS Naipaul?
"I had 23 first cousins until one,
not him, died, and he s not even
one of those.
"Is he your uncle?
"My father s first cousin. I don t
know how many first cousins my
father had. He is dead too.
"What about VS Naipaul in the
50s and 60s? Was he in England
"I was born in Trinidad in 1973.
"What about possible radical
feminist and pro-abortion connec-
tions for VS Naipaul?
"That is absurd. I thought people
suspected him of misogyny.
"Is VS Naipaul a Trinidadian
writer, a British writer or an Indian
"Wasn t VS Naipaul born British
anyway? People in Trinidad were
all British before Independence. Not
everybody automatically changed.
"What about possible...?
"They would not let it go."
Capildeo studied English litera-
ture and language at Oxford Uni-
versity and has lived mostly in the
UK since 1991. But she visits T&T
regularly, attending a few editions
of the Bocas Literary Festival,
including this year s, where she par-
ticipated in readings, talks and
She currently holds the presti-
gious Judith E Wilson poetry fel-
lowship at Cambridge University.
"Vahni s poetry has won her a
reputation as one of the most orig-
inal, most provoking and strangest---
in the best sense---writers of her
generation among her peers in T&T
and the wider Caribbean," said
Capildeo is the second Naipaul
relative featured in an event held
by the Friends of Mr Biswas this
year. In April, Neil Bissoonath, VS s
and Leila Capildeo s nephew, spoke
and entertained questions about his
life and work at the Naipaul House
Museum. He seems more embrac-
ing of the Naipaul legacy than Vahni
Capildeo. His uncle s success as a
writer, he said, influenced to his
own decision to take up the pro-
A number of other Naipaul rel-
atives have been involved in the
establishment and development of
the museum, including Shiva s and
VS s sister, Savitri Akal, who donat-
ed photographs that are on display
at the house.
She and son Kiran were at the
formal opening of the museum in
February. Another son, Ashvin, is
treasurer of the Friends of Mr
Biswas and has "worked assiduously
to bring in memorabilia" for the
museum, Friends chair Kenneth
Ramchand said in an address during
Besides the Capildeo and Bis-
soonath events, the Friends have
also hosted a talk on the legacy of
newspaper publisher Patrick
Chookolingo and readings by author
"It will be both the family home
of the Naipaul-Capildeo clan,"
Ramchand said of Naipaul House,
"and the centre from which we seek
to pass on heritage by nurturing
literature and the literary arts in
Living with the Naipaul legacy
...Capildeo's poetry is 'original, provoking and strange'
T&T poet Vahni Capildeo.
PHOTO COURTESY CAROLINE
FORBES/ FRIENDS OF MR BISWAS
Links Archive November 29th 2014 December 1st 2014 Navigation Previous Page Next Page