Only Disconnect

Only Disconnect

SOURCE: The unedited version of an interview that ran in Harper’s,  January 21, 2000


Akash Kapur (Pondicherry, India): “Can you hear me?

V. S. Naipaul (The Surrey Hotel in New York): “Yes, I can hear you. Can you hear me?”

AK: “Yes. Were you able to look at the questions? Did they fax them to you?”

VN: “Yes. Some of them we are going to skip.”

AK: “OK, that’s fine. Just let know…”

VN: “They’re…. If a man says
‘I am walking down the street,’ you will say, you will say, ‘why do
you say you are walking down the street?’ They have quality of
obviousness. You know?

AK: Okay —

VN: You should —

AK: Okay —

VN: Yes, yes —

AK: Okay, let me know whichever —

VN: Yes, yes —

AK: Ones you want to ignore —

VN: Yes —

AK: Can we start with the first one?

VN: No. I think we can ignore all these, these early ones–yes.
Because they really shouldn’t be asked, the questions — the answers
are all contained in what you’ve been reading. I can’t- –

AK: Mmhmm —

VN: I musn’t repeat my books. There’d be no —

AK: Mmhmm —

VN: end to this kind of thing, you know —

AK: Mmhmm —

VN: I write the books five times over.

AK: Mmhmm–

VN: You must ask questions —

AK: So ah —

VN: which genuinely interest you. You know, you musn’t just ask
things which you think sound nice.

AK: Mmhmm. I think that the, I mean, the first one in particular, I
thi —

VN: I don’t want to deal with that, I’ve told you, it’s already
contained in the text you’ve been reading —

AK: Okay —

VN: And it’s up to you — to — to, um, to make that clear.

AK: Okay. Ah, which — are there any of them that you would like to
start with?

VN: (Grunt. Long pause. Sigh.) I don’t know. I really don’t know.
The first page I think is pretty awful actually.

AK: Really?

VN: Ah, yes.

AK: How about the um, the one about the ah, I think it should be
listed as number three or four, about your knowledge, the security of
your knowledge as a writer. How often have you had that feeling?

VN: Um. I’ve written about it. It’s contained in so many sources.
Please don’t ask me to talk again about these things. That’s a fact
about me. It’s very well known, so don’t ask me to do it again.

AK: Mmhmm —

VN: Do you see?

AK: No, I know. The — the security of knowledge. But, but, ah,
whether you’ve — you’ve –how often you’ve wondered about “the job,
the wife, the family.”

VN: Don’t um — please, please don’t ah — please don’t. Ah. Let’s
leave that out. Let’s talk about something serious.

AK: Okay.

VN: Yes.

AK: (Beat) Do you have any suggestions?

VN: (sigh) Ah — Well, I want to know, I want to know. You see the
thing about questions is they should reveal the interviewer’s
interests. You know —

AK: Mmhmm —

VN: And I don’t — I can’t pick your interests out in anything. I
can’t understand why you want to know anything apart from the sake of
doing an interview. You know? Which — I don’t play that kind of
game. I send people away.

AK: Mmhmm. But —

VN: They wish to waste my time. Or just get me to repeat things
they’ve read elsewhere and things like that. So I wish, in a way,
this was more original. I could get a true mind making a genuine

AK: Mmhmm. I think, um — Would you like me to tell you what I —

(At this point the line starts to break and the connection is cut off.)

Editor2: Hello?

VN: Yes?

Editor2: Did you get disconnected?

VN: Yes, we got disconnected.

Editor2: Okay. Hang on. Let me just try — I’ll reconnect you.

(Editor2 runs down the hallway in search of Editor1 who returns to
make the second attempt.)

Attempt  Two

VN: Hello?

Editor1: Hello. Okay. This is [Magazine Name] again. Are you ready to be

VN: All right. Let’s see. Yes. Let’s see if the questions are ah
— have improved.

Editor1: Okay. Okay. Akash?

VN: Yes?

AK: Hello? Yes. Sorry about that disconnecting. It wasn’t done on
purpose. I didn’t. It —

VN: Are you there? I mean — can you hear me?

(The line is very crackly)

AK: Yeah — I can hear you. I’m in India. That’s why —

VN: The line is a bit — um, a bit crackly.

AK: Yeah.

VN: I think you —

AK: Well, I thought we were talking about —

VN: I think you — The line is so bad.

(More cracks)

VN: The line is so bad. Something has to be done to make it better.

(More cracks. No Akash.)

Editor2: We are going to try to connect this line again. I’m really

VN: You want me to put the telephone down?

Editor2: Um. Yes. We’ll try one more time.

VN: Okay fine. Right. Good.

Editor2: Thank you.

VN: Right.

(Editor2, again, runs down the hallway to get Editor1. Editor1 returns to
the office and connects the line again.)

Attempt  Three

VN: Yes?

AK: Um. So Picking up on —

VN: Now let me know what interests you —

AK: — where we were —

VN: — what truly interest you —

AK: — particularly with the lack of inquiring minds —

VN: — and what you’d like me to —

AK: — in the questions. Um.

VN: Which is this?

AK: What — what would you say to me. Um. I mean, as someone who
obviously does have an inquiring mind and who has been a unique
writer. What would you say to me? Where would I begin with looking
for an inquiring mind?

VN: Repeat it again. The, the — repeat the — the query again.
What would I say to you?

(No answer)

AK: Hello?

VN: Have I lost you?

AK: I think we have just been disconnected again.

VN: Yes. Now tell me. Now tell me. What was the question?

(long Pause)

Editor2: Can you hear each other?

VN: I don’t know. I think there is a kind of — a lack of —

Editor2: Akash? Hello?

VN: I think — I can’t hear him.

Editor2: I am terribly sorry about this.

VN: Yes.

Editor2: Akash? All right we will try —

(Dial tone.)

Editor2: Hello? We will try one more time. Okay.

(Running down hallway. Geting Editor1. Editor1 returns.)

Attempt  Four

VN: Hello?

Editor1: Hi. Okay. Could we try this one more time?

VN: Let’s try it. Let’s try it one more… one more time.

AK: Yeah. We’ll try one last time, I think.

Editor1: Okay. All right.

VN: Have you got — you have the questions now, the questions that
truly interest you? Can you hear me?

(No answer.)

VN: I think he’s —

Editor1: Akash?

VN: I think we’ve lost it.

AK: Hello?

VN: I think we’ve lost it.

Editor1: Akash, can you hear Naipaul?

AK: (sigh) I don’t. I don’t think that this is a problem
with the line to India. I think this is something weird with your
conference call — problem.

(Someone hangs up. Silence.)

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