Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Grating Indian Bizarre of Paul Theroux

Last week attended a talk by Paul Theroux, who luxuriated in the attention of the great and good at a talk in Delhi's American centre. I've never read a book by the 68-year-old author (he's written dozens) and after this session I never will.

Mr Theroux had nothing illuminating to say about his wanderings only remarking , immodestly, that he was one of the few travel writers to go back and retrace their steps. chatwin never did, he said with pride.

Paul Theroux went to find a tree he had planted in Kenya in teh 1960s. He talked at length about the trip, with the vim of some editor of Lonely Planet Africa. He went from London to north eastern India decades ago and said he'd done it again. And written about it again. Fascinating. Mr Theroux, like the V S Naipaul he condemns and so obviously admires, appeared supremely self-confident.

The audience had some interesting questions, among the foamy appreciation. Had he ever been wrong? (No). What civilisation did he most admire? (Vietnam because they forgave America). To a Sikh Mr Theroux went on about how he must know how difficult it must be to invade Afghanistan. he said here must be something wrong with giving aid to africa because the locals all had gone off to be English teachers in the west not in Africa. Given the difficulty of travelling for poor africans to America he sounded like some colonial worrying about uppity locals.

What Paul Theroux gave was a performance, a strut amongst the natives. Perhaps he should never have left home.

No comments: