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Who'd be your nominees for the three most significant Indians of this century? And why?
The first two are inescapable: Gandhi for awakening a country that had been torpid for centuries, Nehru for being a democrat and a humane man who did not abuse his power. I cannot think of a third figure of this stature and I would like instead in a spirit of mischief to nominate two buffoon figures who might stand as a warning to India of the dangers of mimicry. There is the half-witted Vinoba Bhave, the mimic mahatma. And there is Mr Basu in Calcutta, the mimic Marxist. I suppose when he goes his followers might want to embalm him like Lenin and put him on show in the Maidan.
Writer Dan Baum is twittering the whole story of being hired by the New Yorker, after trying for 17 years, and then being let go. Makes you realise how difficult reading a story backwards can be. But the more interesting bits are in the links to the story ideas that worked and those that didn't.
Someone should have perhaps told him what Vidia Naipaul once told Patrick French: "Don’t let the New Yorker worry you. The New Yorker knows nothing about writing. Nothing. "Writing an article there is like posting a letter in a Venezuelan postbox. Nobody’s going to read it!"
To the Editors:
On Elizabeth Hardwick's advice, "Never ever speak to them dear. They always get it wrong," I did not cooperate with Patrick French's book [The World Is What It Is: The Authorized Biography of V.S. Naipaul]; nor have I read it. There are a number of things wrong in Ian Buruma's review of it [NYR, November 20, 2008].
Gillon Aitken was not dispatched to Buenos Aires checkbook in hand. (I wish he had been.)
There was one pregnancy and one that turned out not to be. I heard nothing about Pat raising the child.
The majority of my letters to Vidia were written because he had a habit of saying "please write me a little letter." If he chose to leave them unopened, that was his business.
Not mentioned in Ian Buruma's review is an error by Patrick French: no one has ever called me Margarita.
Vidia says I didn't mind the abuse. I certainly did mind.
Buenos Aires, ArgentinaThis is not all. There are spirited rejoinders from Paul Theroux, Ian Buruma, and Patrick French as well...