B. Wordsworth by V. S. Naipaul
About V. S. Naipaul.. Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul(1932-2018) had his ancestral roots in India. His grandparents migrated to the West Indies to work there as plantation workers. Life was very hard as adjusting to a totally alien environment was not easy, especially because they had hardly any skill to take up a well-paying career. Uprooted from their cultural roots, and condemned to low-paying manual job in a distant land, they struggled hard. Lack of English education proved another big hurdle.
Many of Naipaul’s novels are rooted in Trinidad and reflect his own life. Like the main actor Mr. Biswas in his highly-acclaimed novel ‘A House for Mr. Biswas’, the protagonist in B. Wordsworth is a rootless, purposeless drifter. The boy, he befriends, is a migrant child. The duo converse in English, but the lack of education reflects in the way they talk.
Naipaul suffered similar handicaps in his early life before his literary talent flourished and he went to Oxford. Despite his ascent to world fame, Naipaul remained a drifter all his life. His marital life was amorous, and irresponsible. In his Oxford days and later, he would frequently overspend and land himself in debt. All these eccentricities added colour to his personality.
The story …
An ordinary Trinidad home and an extra-ordinary visitor. A tramp invites himself in ostensibly to watch bees.
The story starts in the author’s home in Trinidad. Like many underdeveloped colonies of the British Empire, Trinidad was no stranger to beggars. There were as many of them as we see here in India.
They came to the author’s house at periodic intervals and got fixed amount of alms. There was one odd beggar who had the temerity of asking the house owner to light his cigarette.
On one occasion, a very strange visitor came. He said, he wanted to see the bees in the yard. The author, then a young boy, sought his mother’s permission before letting the stranger in. He was short, but tidily dressed in black pant and white shirt.
The author’s mother called him as ‘Sonny’. His mother asked him to keep an eye on the stranger till he was gone.
The short gru-gru palm trees were infested with bees. The duo sat under the palm trees for about an hour watching the humming bees come and go.
Sonny and the stranger chatted for an hour. The latter said that he enjoyed watching bees as much as he enjoyed watching other species like scorpion, centripedes, and congorees have.
A casual conversation leads to a monologue on poetry and Wordsworth…
During the course of the conversation, the stranger tells Sonny that he takes interest in poetry, and one day, he wants to be the greatest poet of the world. He also tells the wide-eyed Sonny that his name is B. Wordsworth, with B standing for Black. He says he is the brother of the celebrated English poet, Wordsworth with equal interest in poetry. The small beauties of Nature like the ‘morning glory’ flower brings the same intense passion in him as it did for Wordsworth, the poet. The flower overwhelms him so much that he begins crying. Sonny appears a bit taken aback. The stranger tell the boy that he sees a poet in him too, and he will also cry when he is moved by something.
Sonny can’t but laugh. On being asked, Sonny says he too cries, but only when his mother spanks him.
An attempt by the vagrant to sell his hand-written poetry is botched by Sonny’s rude mother.
The stranger than proceeds to coax Sonny to buy his hand-written poem scribbled on a piece of paper. He wants just four cents for it.
Sonny runs to his mother for money, only to be rudely turned away. The lady wants the stranger to be thrown out of the house at once. Wordsworth smiles wryly. He murmurs that poets hardly succeed to make money. He had, thus far, hadn’t sold a single poem of his.
Another encounter with B. Wordsworth leads to an unusual bonding. Sonny eats mangoes in the poet’s place, and returns home late or a brutal thrashing by his mother …
Sonny runs into B. Wordsworth again a week later while on his way back from school. It seems Wordsworth had been hanging around in that corner for quite some time waiting for his young friend Sonny.
The two start chatting. ‘No luck with poetry selling,’ Wordsworth rues. He invites him to his house that had mango trees with ripe luscious fruits. The idea appeals to Sonny. Instead of coming home, he accompanies Wordsworth to his tiny one-room sack perched inside a thicket of mango and other trees in Alberto Street. They two talk leisurely there for quite some time. Sonny ate some six ripe mangoes. The juice dripped down and covered his hand, mouth and soiled his shirt.
Sonny returned home unusually late. His irate mother caned him so badly that he rushed out of the house in rage and pain, swearing never to return.
With blood oozing out of his nose, he rushed to Wordsworth’s place for some respite. The latter comforts him, and suggests they go for a walk.
Sonny returns to B. Wordsworth for solace, and the two become nearer…
Sony and Wordsworth walk aimlessly. They go to St. Clair Avenue, then to Savannah, and finally to race course.
Wordsworth says they could lie on the grass and stare at the sky, and ponder how far are the stars.
The brief tryst with the distant sky above acts like balm for Sonny’s scars. He feels light and refreshed. The angers melts away. Wordsworth names the stars they see up in the sky.
A beat policeman comes, and asks the duo what they are doing. But, he just walks away finding nothing sinister.
Wordsworth asks Sonny to keep their friendship secret, for no apparent reason.
Wordsworth implores Sonny to keep their friendship, the mango tree and the plum tree things secret. He claims that he could find out, if Sonny divulges anything, as he was a poet.
Sonny never broke the promise.
On one occasion, Sonny asks Wordsworth while the bushes have grown so wildly, and haven’t been pruned. Wordsworth begins to unravel the story. It runs like this.
Wordsworth’s story about the mystery hidden in the wild bushes..
Once upon a time, there was a boy and there was a girl, both deeply in love. Both were poets. The girl carried their baby in her womb. Sadly, the girl died, so did the yet-to-be-born poet in her womb. It was so tragic. He was heart-broken. From that day, he never touched anything in the girl’s garden. Thus, the grasses had become tall and unwieldy.
Wordsworth seems to age rather too fast…
As Wordsworth narrated the story, he seemed to grow old quite fast.
From then on, the two got closer. They went for long walks– to Botanical Garden, Rock Garden, Chancellor Hill, and further afield. They see Port of Spain sink into dusk’s darkness, as lights light up everywhere.
The two wander around, enjoying their chat…
Wordsworth enjoys the time as the duo meander through the sea fronts and the streets.
Wordsworth suggests they have some ice cream. With some fanfare, they go into a parlour.
Wordsworth offers to unveil a secret. He talks about his poetic journey…
On an occasion some days later, while inside a yard, Wordsworth tells Sonny that he has a great secret that he wants to tell the latter. Sonny appears somewhat bewildered. Wordsworth says he is writing a poem that would be the world’s greatest. Sonny had expected something startling. The mention of the poem leaves him with an anti-climax.
Wordsworth says he has been working on his poem for five years, and it might take another twenty-two to finish it. Sonny finds it quite puzzling. Wordsworth adds to his wonder by saying that he writes just a line a day.
With a curious look, Sonny asks what the last month’s line was. Wordsworth says, “The past was deep.” Sonny nods in appreciation. The balance encourages the poet to say with such Haiku –type compositions, he could write the world’s best poem, but only y the end of the twenty-two year period.
Sonnu’s stood there wonder-struck.
Wordsworth proceeds to another brain-teaser. He wants Sonny to say if a pin dropped in water would sink or float. The two try the experiment. The pin sinks.
B. Wordsworth reveals how he earns a living…
They didn’t talk about the poem any more. Wordsworth was ageing fast. Once Sonny asked the poet how he made his both ends meet. Wordsworth didn’t have a straight answer. He said he sang calypsos in calypso season, and made do for the whole year with whatever he earned in these few months.
Reassuringly, Sony told him that after his poetry sees the light of the day, he would be the richest man on earth.
The curtain begins to come down.
One day Sonny goes to see the poet in his shack. He is shocked to see the poet lying helplessly on his bed. The zest and the optimism seem to have left him for good. He is looking away through the window towards the coconut tree. Quite magically, his face becomes wrinkled and pallid in very short time. He seems to be clutching to the last strand of his life helplessly.
Sonny is shocked beyond belief. A terrible pain grips him. His eyes well up. Wordsworth drew Sonny nearer and made him sit on his knees. Rather stoically, Wordsworth says that he could see the grief in Sonny’s face, because he is a poet. These words impel Sonny.
Wordsworth pulls Sony to his chest and offers to tell a funny story. But, he makes Sony swear that he will never come there again after he hears out the story.
Wordsworth discloses that the story about a boy and a girl in love that he had told him earlier was just fiction. So was his ambition to become the world’s greatest poet.
As he speaks, his voice falters. Perhaps, the emotion overwhelms him.
The reverie vanishes…
Perplexed and grief-stricken, Sonny runs back towards his home. As he passes through Alberto Street, he finds only concrete blocks standing where Wordsworth’s house stood. The mango tree, the plum tree and the coconut tree have been felled. There is no trace of the foliage.
For Sonny, Wordsworth appeared to be reverie – so unreal, so full of fantasy.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS.
Do you think the theme of the short story is escapist? Justify your answer.
V. S. Naipaul’s ancestors hailed from Bengal. They were from the impoverished class, for which they became easy targets for the cunning British colonizers to entice and coerce them to be translocated in far-off Trinidad. The long journey in ship across the seas must have been deeply unsettling for Naipaul’s ancestors, but their fate was sealed the moment they set their feet on the ship.
Trinidad bore no affinity to Bengal. Everything from culture to climate, language to religion – everything was so much different. The patents and grandparents lived in a community of fellow labourers from Bengal and other parts of India. They had to toil and toil in the vat sugarcane fields owned by the white colonizers. The latter exploited the migrants to maximize their profits. No effort was made to open schools in Bengali or other Indian languages medium, no temples were built, and no religious festivals were promoted by the white colonizers.
The result was deep isolation, and very painful loss of identity on the part of the migrants. As months and years rolled by, they began to forget their mother tongue, choosing instead to speak in broken English. That was no gateway to the intellectual world. The migrants became rootless, voiceless, and identity-less.
It does not take much effort to see that V. S. Naipaul’s own internal turmoil is reflected in the story. B. Wordsworth is none other than the author himself. Naipaul was born with extraordinary literary talent, but he received no encouragement from his school or from the white masters. The sheer depth of his talent helped him to go to London to study and start his literary journey. The initial childhood days of Naipaul in Trinidad must have been painfully frustrating for him.
Wordsworth is his creation. This man has no job, no family, and no roots. He lives in a tiny ramshackle house. He wanders around the place, tries to befriend people, intrudes into homes to find someone to talk to. He discovers Sonny, the young naïve school-going child.
Even after succeeding to build a bond with Sonny, B. Wordsworth finds no purpose in life, other than a fancy to climb to the zenith of glory through writing poems. His quest for recognition and fame brings him more isolation, more dismay, and more escapist tendencies. With Sonny by his side, he wanders around, talking childishly. He writes poems, but no one reads them except Sonny. What agony must B. Wordsworth have endured! Finally, he dies, and departs from this world.
The story B. Wordsworth suffuses with escapist thoughts and behavior. There is no element of optimism, hope, or desire to make a success of life through hard work. So, while reflecting on the story, the reader feels so underwhelmed and pensive.
QUESTION…Wordsworth depicts the story of an unusual relationship between an old man and a young boy.
Answer .. V. S. Naipul had a very sensitive mind. He was deeply conscious of the discordance between his roots in India, and the vacant, cultureless surroundings that he and his parents grew up in the West Indies group of islands. As indentured laborers, they enjoyed no respect, nor recognition from the white settlers. He had no recourse to right the injustice, so he reconciled himself to the new culturally barren environment. His literary talent refused to die down under such depressing atmosphere.
The story of B. Wordsworth is a reflection of Naipaul’s inner torment. The story is a means of catharsis for him.
Wordsworth was possibly a bachelor past his prime. He had a literary streak in him, but it had come to a naught. With no family, no stable means of livelihood, no friends, no recognition, he led a painfully solitary life. This explains his penchant to enter other’s houses uninvited, take interest in bee-watching, and other such unusual behavior.
Sony was a boy with a family, but he was uncharacteristically open to learn new things. B. Wordsworth provided him with a companion whom he could relate to with ease and confidence. Sony must have been in his early teens, and his companion, B. Wordsworth at least two decades older. The two developed affinity towards each other from day one. Sony’s mother perhaps hastened the process by her merciless beating of her process.
Wordsworth Sony became bosom friends. For the senior companion, it was a bond with deep cordiality. The way Sony empathized with him provided him solace and succor from his life that was a big void, and a colossal failure. In Sony, he found someone who would listen to his poems, share with him the pleasure of aimless sauntering in the island, and the simple pleasures of eating ice cream. Sony never mocked him for his failures, never questioned him why and how he had landed up so miserably in his life.
In a nutshell, B. Wordsworth depicts, with remarkable sensitivity, the friendship between a grown up person and the gullible young boy, Sony.