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Sir Vidia’s final advice in ‘Magic Seeds’

June 19, 2008

Magic Seeds is Naipaul’s last or at least latest novel. It is written as the second part or a sort of sequel to ‘Half a Life’. Like most other novels of Naipaul, this one is also very autobiographical, not in details but in ideas. Willie, the hero is spending an uneventful but comfortable life in Berlin, with his sister. But his sister is restless and despite having a life of luxury and enjoying it with her husband Wolf, she is readying for a revolution, a revolution somewhere in India, a revolution of poor against the rich and the middle class, much on the socialist lines.

Later on we catch the action of the Naxalite movement in India. His sister goads him continuously and reproaches him for not being able to find a purpose in his life. A purpose in life for her is being a revolutionary, or being on a mission to engineer and change the world around you.

Referring to a person whom Willie met in the restaurant, she says:

‘Do you know why that man is worth more than you? He has found his war.’

Gandhi is analyzed almost like a subject of non-fiction in this novel. Sarojini comments about Willie:

‘When he was eighteen or nineteen Gandhi cam to England to study law. In London he was like a sleepwalker. He had no means of understanding the great city. He hardly knew what he was looking at. He had no idea of the architecture o the museums, no idea of the great writs and politicians who were hidden in the city of the 1890s. I don’t think he went to a play. All he could think o was his law studies and his vegetarian food and cutting his own hair. Gandhi in London in 1890 was floating on an ocean of not-seeing and not-knowing. At the end of three years of this half-life and quarter-life he became dreadfully depressed. He felt he needed help.”

This book of non-fiction conveys many things which are Naipaul’s vision of the world, mainly conveyed through his non-fiction. Sarojini comments on Indians also:

‘They feel they know it all. They don’t have to find out. It’s the Indian way.’

He then goes to India to join the revolution, but as soon as he joins them, he feels it all wrong, and indeed his sister writes to him that he has joined other people then she had intended to. The revolution has split like all other revolutions and he has joined the wrong side, like everybody else. He becomes disillusioned,

‘I don’t know what cause I am serving, and why am I doing what I do’

He experiences revolutionaries, common people and the relations between them. He finds it all artificial, false. Their grievances, their motivations and their aims are all imaginary. In a very unromantic manner, he attacks the romantic ideas of the revolutionaries. While putting up in the house of a revolutionary,

‘less than an hour later, lying in Shivdas’s bed below the high, black, cool thatch, in a warm smell of old clothes and tobacco which was like the smell of the third-class railway compartment of just a couple of hours before, Willie thought, ‘We think, or they think, that Shivdas does what he does because he is a peasant revolutionary, someone created by the movement, someone new and very precious. But Shivdas does what he does because he is instinctively following old ideas, old ways, old courtesies, on day he will not give up his bed to me. He will not think he needs to. That will be the end of the old world, and the end of the revolution.’

Describing a revolutionary he says,

‘He liked tramping through villages in his uniform, browbeating villagers, and talking of revolution; he liked living off the land, and this to some extent meant living off village people; he liked being important. He was completely uneducated, and he was a killer. He sand dreadful revolutionary songs whenever he could; the contained the sum of his political and historical wisdom.’

In such a meeting of the revolutionaries, he thinks,

‘They all want the old ways to go. But the old ways are part of people’s being. If the old ways go people will not know who they are, and these villages, which have their own beauty, will become a jungle.’

At last he gets out of it, through his ingenious sister Sarojini. He then has to go to England to live for te rest of his life. In Africa also although he lived there for 18 years, he denied to be a part of the revolution happening there. In his seven years in India, he also comes to deny it.

More importantly, he comes to deny the whole idea of a revolution. In ‘Beyond Belief’, Naipaul denies the idea of revolution, as a false notion which is too simplistic to carry over the complexities of life and the many different worlds of the men participating in it. ‘In India: A Million Mutinies Now’ he also raises this question. ‘Magic Seeds’, contains many ideas which are discussed in ‘India: A Million Mutinies Now’.

He regards ideologies as false, as they fail to integrate the immense complexity of life. There is no single solution to the problems of life and so we should not aim for such a thing. An ideology, a revolution is such an attempt to solve many problems by one stroke. This simply is impossible according to Naipaul.

‘But I know enough now to understand that life can never be simplified like that, and that there would be some little trap or flaw in that dream of simplicity of just letting one’s life pass, of treating one’s life only as a way of passing the time.’

In his final words in the novel,

‘It is wrong to have an ideal view of the world. That’s where the mischief starts.’

According to Naipaul, there are no magic seeds which can cure every problem of life. They simply don’t exist.

This is the bottomline of Naipaul’s life and his work. To see the world, as it is, to steal the phrase from the starting line of the novel, ‘The Bend in the River’. This is what Naipaul has striven for whole his life, throughout his works, not to see world through any lenses of any color, whatever that may be. In every work of his, whether it be fiction or non-fiction, the overwhelming sense we get is to view the world as a detached observer, without any prism of ideology, without any coloring of –ism. World is what it is, with all its faults and problems, but we try to impose upon this reality our many –isms. This is what Naipaul denies. This is his intellectual honesty. The acceptance of reality, of truth without any romantic yearning for correcting anything in it.

In this case ‘Magic Seeds’ is a good novel, but I don’t think that after writing such good non-fiction regarding this subject like, ‘Beyond Belief’, ‘India: A Million Mutinies Now’, ‘Finding the Centre’, ‘Literary Occassions’ etc. he need have written a novel regarding it.

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