VS Naipaul wanted to know everything about me, and to confirm it all, says Diwakar Raote

Aug 13, 2018, 17:24 IST | Divakar Raote

Exclusive: State Transport Minister Diwakar Raote, who featured in the Nobel laureate's India, a Million Mutinies, pays tribute to the immaculate chronicler

VS Naipaul wanted to know everything about me, and to confirm it all, says Diwakar Raote
Nobel laureate Sir VS Naipaul with his wife Nadira at a New Delhi book launch in 2015. Pic/Getty Images

Divakar RaoteI don't remember the day and month, but it was in 1988, when I headed the BMC's Standing Committee. I was told that a press reporter from abroad wanted to meet me, and was interested to learn about people in India who worked in various fields. I agreed to meet him, and the next morning, he visited my Dadar residence.  The man was introduced to me as VS Naipaul. He wanted to know all about me — my parents, my childhood, my locality, the kind of school I went to, the type of work my parents did, and what I had been doing all these years to reach the level I had in politics.

He questioned everything
I must have talked more than 90 minutes; Mr Naipaul turned out to be a patient listener. When I stopped, a moment of silence prevailed. And then he threw an unexpected demand at me. He asked if I could take him to the places I had talked about. I agreed promptly, appreciating his resolve to confirm all the information first-hand. I thought he was an extraordinary seeker of information.

We started with my old one-room dwelling in a chawl at Dadar's Gokhale Road, where I had spent my early days. To everyone's surprise, he even went inside the common toilet block to check for himself how poor the living conditions were. He asked me how I had studied in such an atmosphere. He cross-checked all the information with elders in the chawl. He visited every place I had described to him, including my school — Maharashtra High School — which is on the south side of Gokhale Road.

Another shocker came when he wanted to visit a place where my father and I had worked. It was a coffin-making unit opposite the Portuguese Church, where my father, a retired electrical mechanic, would take me to help in the carpentry work. The owners confirmed that my father and I had worked there. He asked me if I read books. I replied in the affirmative, telling him that I always bought books and never borrowed them. He wanted to see my bookshelf. I showed him Samarth Ramdas's Dasbodh, which he flipped through and handed back to me, remarking that I must not have read it regularly, as the pages were still new.

No idea about his book
I did not know till then why Mr Naipaul was seeking so much information about me and painstakingly confirming it with all the people involved. He asked me about my being a Sainik, my rise in the Shiv Sena, the formation of the party, my election and elevation in the BMC, and overall socio-political background. He specifically asked how I had managed to progress from a chawl to a flat. I must add that I continue to live in the same flat where I had met Mr Naipaul.

The author asked to see my work in my BMC constituency. I took him there. He met the citizens, asked them innumerable questions and returned satisfied. He was with me till 4 in the afternoon, before leaving in a hired taxi. One fine morning, I got a call from Ajit Varty, an IAS officer working in the BMC. "Mr Raote, I'm extremely proud of you," he said, telling me about Mr Naipaul's book, India: A Million Mutinies Now, in which he had written extensively about me. Varty said such a recognition was rare from an author of Naipaul's repute. It was then I understood why I had been interviewed so keenly by the man who later won a Nobel Prize for literature. When I purchased a copy of the book a month after its launch, I recollected what I had told Mr Naipaul.

I remember Mr Naipaul as a writer who always sought to confirm his information. His interaction with me showed how he believed in connecting with the people to portray the reality of life in his writings. To me, he remains a Nobel-winning author who gave a small person like me a place in his much-acclaimed international writing.

As told to Dharmendra Jore

Diwakar Raote is the Maharashtra transport minister and was among the 18 people who founded the Shiv Sena with the late Bal Thackeray

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