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Sunday, 30 November 2008

"Beyond juju of any kind"

The January 2009 issue of Tatler, the British society magazine, is not yet online, but the London Times has had a preview, and one particular article caught the eye of the paper's arts editor: a report on a visit by V.S. Naipaul to a Ugandan "witch doctor" some months ago, written by--none other than--Lady Naipaul.

Born in Kenya, where she was a child during the Mau Mau troubles of the 1950s, she was familiar with witch doctors. She says her husband insisted she accompany him. “I need you to put the witch doctor at ease. Don’t scowl. It’s unpleasant, ugly,” he said.

They drove to his shrine, a compound in a semi-forest clearing on the outskirts of Kampala, the Ugandan capital, and entered a hut decorated with a leopard skin. A spear leant against an outside wall.

The witch doctor looked like “a dark version of Alistair Darling”, she writes. “The resemblance is uncanny.”

The couple sat before him, Naipaul on his shooting stick, his wife crosslegged on the floor. She writes: “[The witch doctor] looks at VSN [her husband]. Does he want to be rejuvenated? Or is someone in the way? Is there someone we wish to get rid of? I can think of many who are in the way, starting with the wretched two-timing biographers.”

It concludes with the Darlingesque witch doctor calling Lady Naipaul "a wicked woman and beyond juju of any kind."

1 comment:

Ian said...

When I started reading Half a Life a few weeks ago, and I was struck by the fact that, even as he changed the characters and the setting (at least a little), Naipaul still tells his own story, over and over. Reading all the reviews of The World Is What It Is here, I started seeing additional connections with mentioned in French's biography.

I saw The World Is What It Is at the bookstore yesterday and had a long look at it (and realised that I'll have to buy it eventually). So with The World Is What It Is and Half a Life already starting to merge in my brain, and the story of Seepersad Naipaul and the goat fresh in my mind, up pops this story of witch doctors and juju.

It's all swirling around and starting to merge. Next time I talk about when I used to live in Chaguanas I'm probably going to think I lived in the Lion House :)