I’m writing this on VS Naipaul’s birthday. He has turned 80.
In the manner of brave hagiographers, who look to childhood to present evidence of early genius — so-and-so was a composer at four, so-and-so performed surgical operations when only seven — allow me to present a fragment of a letter penned by the writer when he was only 14. The letter was unearthed by Patrick French while researching his justly-praised biography of Naipaul, The World Is What It Is; the 14-year-old in Trinidad had written this letter to a pen-friend named Beverly, who lived in Hawaii. Young Vidia wanted Beverly to know about the calypso ‘Rum and Coca-Cola’. He tells her about what he thinks is the best part and provides a helpful translation of what the words mean:
‘The Andrews Sisters and Bing Cosby/ Should make a trip to the West Indies,/ Siddong (=sit down) under de (=the) silvery moon/ Lissening (=listening) to dem (=them) calypsonian croon.’