The section encompassing Naipaul‟s journey is entitled as ‘Conversations inMalaysia’ with a subtitle The Primitive Faith. It starts with the excerpts from JosephConrad‟s work on Malaysia An Outcast Of the Islandsin which a Malay is described assomeone primitive, deprived and with a poor temperament. The second extract is fromPortraits from Memoryby Bertrand Russell which describes Malays as being emotionallypoor and historical orphans. They have little to pass on to their generations as compared tothose nations whose history is the achievement of slow and steady struggle i.e the Europeans.First Conversations with Shafi: The Journey Out Of ParadiseMalaysia has been approached by many religions Buddhism and Hinduism throughmerchants and priests. It was in fourteenth or fifteenth century that Islam reached Malaysiathrough an Indian traveller. Islam spread as an idea here. It came as a purification of themixed religion and the most passionate missionaries came. Naipaul believes that the greaterthe distance from Arabia, the more ferocity in the Muslim faith. Malaysia is a land of Malaysultans, warriors, tribal men and Chinese peasants. The Europeans reached this region fromthe coast.Malaysiais rich in natural resources. Malaysia‟s economy is based on colonialfoundations and the hard work of the Chinese slaves that were imported to work there.Chinese have advanced in economy and technology but they are kept out of the politicalstream. The government remains in the hands of royal or old Malay families. Malaysia is ahumid country with cloudy weather most of the time. The old colonial town of Kuala Lumpuris surviving with the buildings from British era. The newly-built sky scrapers cover. Theregion is densely covered by forests with occasional habitations. The Malays dress like Arabswith turbans and gowns and women wear veils.
The money generated from the naturalresources goes down to the villages creating aneducated class. The young people, now adorned with modern civilization feel that theycannot go back to their village. With limited skills, they feel every way is blocked. Theirvillages are no more the same and they cannot fit in the fast lives of the cities so they feelalienated. Islam serves them to get even with the world, to justify their social rage and racialhate. Islam teaches them to pull down materialism and work for an Islamic state. ForNaipaul, Islam is a passion without a constructive programme.The guide who accompanied Naipaul was Shafi. He had come to Kaula Lumpur fromm his village in the north as part of his scouts group and then never returned. He was nowpart of an Islamic movement ABIM run by Muslim youth. Shafi still had that disturbance ofmigration. He missed his village in every way. He believed that the embellishments of thecity life had made him forgot his religious duties and commitments. It was if he was losinghimself.Shafi said that the city life was freer without any restrictions like that of village.People roamed about like stray goats. However, freedom must be within a certain framework.One should know where should know where he wants to go and what he wants to do. Hisprimary aim in coming to the capital was education but now it contradicted with the freedomhere. All the people coming from the village were used to live under religious bounds. Herethe values contradicted.Shafi was brought up in bare minimum resources. Life was simpler and meaningful.The city life was a waste in every aspect. People are running after the facilities the modernworld has brought. The trade takes away the produce of the village people and brings inreturn the products of modern world like televisions, refrigerators etc. Shafi wanted to goback to the village and live in a well-knit community. It is devoid of wastefulness.It was free
of physical, mental and social pollution.The relations between men and women were notallowed outside wedlock and blood relations.Shafi worked full-time for ABIM which was founded by Anwar Ibrahim. Anwar gothis education from a British-founded school. Due to his interest in religion he began studingit more keenly and started giving speeches about Islam. He had met Ayatollah Khomeini andbelieved that Islam was the sole remedy for Malaysia‟s social, cultural, political and moralproblems. He believed in the Islamic economic system and travelled extensively to propagateIslamic beliefs.It was the Festival of sacrifice that Shafi came. He was well-dressed. After two daysof spending time with Naipaul, his hesitation had dissolvedand now he was more eager toanswer questions. Naipaul wanted to know about Shafi himself so they went and sat in thecoffee shop. He asked him what he thought about pools and the white women. Shafi repliedthat they were simply foreigners for him. They had more clear and natural pools in theirvillages. When he was young they used to hunt birds with a catapult.Recitation of Koran was one of the other activities of Shafi‟s childhood. Religiouseducation was mandatory for everyone, big and small. The verses were to be obeyed althoughone did not understand them. The Mullah instructed on cleanliness and how to pray. Firsttime the books were given free. Any child who missed the religious lessons was punishedwithout the parents‟ intervention. They were taught how to maintain human relations andvalue them.The people of the village were very much enterprising. They knit their ownclothes and grew their own plantations. They owned lands and houses. The village people hadcontempt for Chinese people, their culture and literature. Astray pigs and dogs from theneighbouring Chinese village were stoned.
Intellectual pursuits were not of much concern for the villagers. All school educationwas in Malay; however, religious education was mandatory. This made them lag behind intechnical and secular modern learning. They were baffled by the latest technologicaldevelopments. But Shafi was satisfied in being a backward but morally stronger man. Hethought that the village would be there as it is so they needed some basic amenities likeschools, bus services etc. By the end of the conversation Shafi was tired and depressed by thehotel environment of wastefulness, strangers and indifference to the rules.Shafi‟s grief and passion in multi-racial Malaysia was immediate. His wish to re-establish rules was also a wish recreate security of his childhood, the Malay village life hehad lost. He felt like a man expelled from paradise.Brave GirlsSuffering from insomnia, Naipaul had been waking up in the middle of night. Thenearest coffee-shop would be deserted having uninviting smell of cleaning chemicals.Ordering coffee from room service at around five in the morning too proved to be an ordeal.The coffee was made from sour milk so was the boy who brought it. A crowd had gathered inthe racecourse nearby, where there were no horses. Gambling on horse racing was prohibitedas par Malaysian Islamic law; these people were in fact gathered about a radio, transmitting arace somewhere else. Around the racecourse were trees Naipaul could remember from hischildhood: banana trees, frangipani, another tree with a yellow flower and the great CentralAmerican saman or rain tree.The exhaustion of sleeplessness from previous night had turned to anxieties andirritation: the bad milk had denied him coffee, unanswered cables. He went to complain aboutthem to the girl at the desk where he chanced to read the other cables from guests who hadpreviously stayed at the hotel. These comments described the scandalous lack of regard
towards hygiene in so many words as “urinating and purging” on hotel floors and cutlery.The disgusting nature of this revelation made Naipaul nauseous, which substantially reducedhis excitement for the day. He met Shafi and Nasar, a friend of Shafi‟s, at Equatorial Hotel.Nasar was a small and slight man of thirty-four, who like Shafi was a part themovement ABIM. They discussed how the white people just blended in the background,unnoticed and Shafi never thought of them. The white and the native Malays moved inseparate worlds. Neither of them touched the egg sandwich Naipual had ordered for them,cautious of eating non-Muslim food. Exiting the hotel, Naipaul observed the figure of the twofriends, Nasar, small and frail, limping down the language ramp with Shafi, tall andprotective, guiding him. He thought of Behzad and the girl in Iran, how revolutionaries likethem were invisible.Next day Shafi arrived to accompany Naipaul to ABIM and promised to find himsome „brave girls‟ who would talk to Naipaul. While stuck in a traffic jam, Naipaul askedShafi if he still felt the city strange, considering that Shafi was from a village in far northeast.Shafi said no, but he did felt like a stranger in his own village now, with things, places andpeople drastically changed. They arrived at the ABIM building, which had the schoolbuilding adjacent to it. Naipaul met a middle-aged Australian man with a skullcap andglasses, sitting by himself there to learn about Islam. He observed the young Malay menaround, who would light up at being told the purpose of Naipaul‟s visit. As Shafi had work todo, he left him with Nasar.Naipaul describes how supposedly Nasar‟s ancestors, once Arabic-educated andleaders in their own way had in modern Malaysia had become “a lower-middle class family”undergoing transformation in colonial and postcolonial era. Nasar himself had had a part ofhis education from England, a diploma in International relations. He opined how big powers
weren‟t really interested in peace; instead they were interested in their own spheres ofinfluence, selling arms. He wasn‟t impressed by the British ideals of Individualism, whichdenied the consequences. He understood that if modernization in Malaysia is not checked ittoo will disintegrate along the same lines as the Western society, lacking consolidated socialstructure. Technology should not affect the social fabric, which included prohibition ofalcohol and free-mixing of sexes, which was why they had separate school for girls and boys.The Western philosophy of women‟s liberation was problematic as it caused unemploymentfor men.Shafi and Nasar left for the Friday prayers, after introducing Naipaul to the bravegirls. The girls were of different racial types. One was brown-skinned and slender, the otherwas plump, pale and round faced. They both wore long dresses and had covered heads. Thebrown-girl had a slack looking black head-cover while the other was neater with pink head-cover. They both were students at the ABIM school and were a bit nervous about theinterview. The first question Naipaul asked was about their headdress, called tu-dong inMalay. They replied that the headdress was to cover the hair which shouldn‟t show. And itmust be covered so because men are sexually attracted to the beautiful hair. When asked whyit was bad, they replied that it was a sin for the woman to have men attracted to her. Girlscould only show her face, and hands. The question if feet should be covered too was decidedby a verdict which came from someone sitting outside.The main philosophy behind covering their beauty was to preserve their beauty andgentleness. Though they could not express why it was beneficial to remain veiled theyunderstood the purpose of it. They acknowledged their lack of knowledge, declaring they hadto learn Arabic to understand Koran. They criticized how the government schools focusedonly on academic and scientific studies neglecting religious studies; girls had no time to pray.These girls should be entreated gently to pray. For though it was not bad to pursue a career
and have a job, but one cannot always be materialist as the world was not eternal, one had tothink of the afterlife too. One had to mindful of the death that can come at any time. It wasdesirable to go to heaven where one would get to see the Prophet; nothing on earth iscomparable to that.When asked about reading, they replied that they had read Barbara Cartland, PerryMason and James Hadley Chase, which were short light romances, promoted incommonwealth countries meeting the imaginative needs of the people new to modern way oflife. A fact acknowledged by one of the girls but it was all fantasy they said. When asked ifthe life was better either in town or in the village, they two differed in their opinions. Onesaid it was more peaceful in village but the other felt that town was centre of all activityhence more exciting; it was also a hubbub of religious movement taking place. When askedabout the strangers they had to encounter in the town the girl in black scarf indicated thatnon-Malay i.e. Chinese were the cause of trouble as they are were immigrant brought byBritish rule. They monopolized the economy. Naipaul observed how even after so many theseChinese were still considered immigrant whereas the girl in black scarf whose ancestors werefrom Indonesia was accepted socially being a Muslim. To be Malay was to be Muslim.ArabyV.SNaipual talks about the Islamic commune in Kuala Lampur. They rejected modernways of living and also rejecting modern goods. They formed a little piece of land and livedlike old Arabs. They did not welcome visitors. When he visits to that community nothinghappened for many days. After that Khairul telephoned him. He one of te commune, hisEnglish accent was clipped and sharp just like Japanese. Khairul asks from him that for whatpurpose he is interested in that community? He answered him that spiritual purpose but heactually want to know about the economic ideas of some Islamic groups in Malaysia.
One evening Khairul with his three men visit to his place in their turban and longgreen gowns. Those men include khairul, haji, journalist and one man who look like Chinese.Khairul is the translator of all of them because he knows English. Haji told them that hisfather‟s family was head-hunters before converted in Islam, after that his father becamereligious teacher .When he died he left only one dollar. Haji says that his father taught meeverything like Koran, Arabic, Napoleon and Hitler. His father told that we cannot compareNapoleon with Khalid, because Napoleon withdraws his forces in order to meet his love. Onthe other hand Khalid sacrificed his life for Islam. Haji also tells him that there are stillHindus wedding ceremonies in villages. There is no sense of Islam in village lifeKhairul states that tobacco is not encourageable in Islam but not forbidden. Haji toldhim that they are using tobacco because it is manufactured by Jewish. They say that theymust not consume their products because they are the enemies of God. Haji also says that „ifyou know the Koran you know everything; economics, politics,family laws –and all theprinciples embedded in the Koran‟. Haji tells him that Jews are genius race. Another thing hetells him that before the time of Moses, there was a Jewish tribe in Arabian lands. Amongthem there is a prophet he ordered them to pray to God on Saturday. But they ignored thecommands of the prophet. God swore to convert the tribe to monkeys. This story is mentionin Torah in Koran. Haji says that as a Muslim we believe in the God and the Old Testament.Narrator argues about the past of haji father‟s family that they were head-hunters. Hajianswered that that was the wrong way of life due to which Islam come into being. He givesthe example of Caliph Omar who buries his daughter alive but after embracing Islam hebecome different person. Haji also claims that all the believers of Islam have a grace on theirfaces and spirituality and beauty in their lives. Khairulalso tell him about the dress code ofwomen and men in Islam. In Islam men have to cover them from the navel to the knee. Forwomen cover everything except the face the hands.
Khairulalso explains him that all matters fall in the five categories between allowanceand disallowance i.e haram and halaal, which would make things easy to understand. Naipaulasked him if coughing was haram or halaal, as if to test him. After leaving them, he moves inthe commune and describes the people who were dressed like Arabs and waiting for theprayer call. He hires a taxi back to his hotel.The Spoilt PlaygroundDuring his visit in Malaysia Naipaul went to Shafi‟s village Kota Bharu whichaccording to Shafi was “once unpolluted, the people were pious, dignified and notmaterialistic” unlike the present situation. When he enters Kota Bharu he designates savageimagery to the place. He describes the village as a rubber estate, a place covered with jungleand with a fusion of nonstop downpour. The village has “little low shops, little low houses,tiled roofs, and corrugated iron”. There he meets Rehman who is a government employee andthree head teachers. Among the three men there is a lecturer who is a professor of philosophy,a registrar and an Arabic teacher. During their conversation the lecturer shares his experiencewith Arabs at the Al-Azhar University in Cairo which becomes quite intriguing for Naipaulfor his further study on Arab people. The lecturer says that the Arabs were undisciplined andunreliable. While soon after making this statement he himself becomes an object of study forNaipaul as he wants to hear more about The Al-Azhar.Another man who is a registrar shares his three days experience that he spent inEngland. He builds a negative picture of people living in England. According to him theyhave absence of manners in their lives, no ethics and morality and no sense of decorum. Hegives example of three things which he finds immoral in England and compares it withpeople in Malaysia. Registrar says that people in England travel underground; there is aspeaker in Hyde Park which announces that 60 percent of men are homosexual and men and
women don‟t feel ashamed while embracing in public. For Rehman people in Malaysia don‟tmix their private life with their domestic life. There private life in secret and sacred for them.They feel that people living in West are lost in their own world. During their conversationthey are joined by an Arabic teacher who claims that people are turning to Koran as they aretired of novels because novels are also written by lost people who themselves have no senseof direction in their lives and thus provides no immediate cure to their problems.Naipaul assumes through their discussions that these people are happy and satisfiedwith their lives as they used the word “content” again and again during their conversation.Naipaul says that here at this part of Malaysia people are optimists, they have a strong believein their religion and they know that God will provide for their sustenance no matter how largetheir families are or how poor their condition is. Naipaul says that “Islam for these men ispart of their contentment” unlike Shafi‟s Islam which was “revolutionary, serving no cause”.The next stop during Naipaul‟s visit in Malaysia was Penang on the West coast.Unlike Kota Bharu the West coast was more developed with the British plantations andfactories working under energetic Chinese. Penang being more advance in nature also had aninternational airport. Here Naipaul meets Abdullah, a man of thirty four and Muhammad.They both are unlike Kota Bharu‟s people not at all content with their present situation.Abdullah talks about the city‟s dissolute condition and says that there are „internationalcompanies but low wages, the casualness of Malays, their inability to compete and the needfor Islam” is what Malaysia is nowadays facing.Emphasizing more on the colonial past Naipaul asserts that the people living inMalaysia with Chinese feel like strangers in their own land. There is a constant rift betweenChinese and Malay people which is quite visible in their faces. Naipaul when askMuhammad about his colonial past, Muhammad, says that there has always been a Christian
and alien atmosphere. Living under colonial dominance Islam was never been taught to us.Having a Muslim background their present was quite unIslamic and their identity fragmented.They were confused between the two schools of thoughts, things which were taught inChristian school and things which they believed throughout generations. Their ideas aboutlife, death, society and nature were a mixture of Christian and secular beliefs. For instancetheir idea of conquering nature was based on Western concept of ecology and environment.During this process they used to find an easy solution in Islam and their faith in God whichfor Naipaul is an abstract belief. These people are living their lives with no sense ofreformation, they are dependent on other people‟s ideas and thoughts and it is hard for themto get themselves out from these ideas.Naipaul has shown that the Malay people have no account of their history they areaimless people living in a limbo with no sense existence and direction. Their faith has madethem an abstract man living in a vague idea of utopian world. To be civilized for them is amatter of correct religious beliefs. The only difference between old and new Malay was thedifference between Chinese and Malay people. Chinese people were more humble towardsmodern life realities. They were more powerful and energetic unlike Malays. Naipaulbelieves that religion is diverting Malay people from their true purpose of life, it is the reasonthey are still retrograde. And for this reason they despise Chinese and call them commerciallovers while they are aesthetic devotees.
AnalysisNaipaul‟s writings also include „accurate ethnographic observations‟. His style givesthe text an anthropological touch through a certain objectivity and indifference. He describeslandscape, topography and people. Due to his detached perspective, he depicts humans as„objects‟. Since these details are the result of „colonial gaze‟, this style gives Naipaul acertain „narrative authority‟. He portrays the weather, buildings, dresses and locations withprofound detail. For example, in the opening chapter, Naipaul mentions, „Malaysia steams. Inthe rainy season in the morning the clouds build up‟. (228). He states that Malaysia „producesmany precious things: tin, rubber, palm oil, oil‟. Similarly in the second chapter, the treesaround the racecourse are described in detail. (244)While in Kuala Lumpur, he describes the old colonial town with „old tile-roofedprivate dwellings, originally British; the rows of narrow two-storey Chinese shop-houses, theshops downstairs, the pavement pillared, the pillars supporting the projecting upper storey‟.(228)He also mentions the attire of Malay people who „dressed as Arabs, with turbans andgowns‟. The girls wear veil, socks and gloves. (229). The head dress in Malay is called a „tu-dong’. When he meets the two girls in the second chapter, he describes their appearance inmuch detail from their dresses to skin colour. This detached description of human beingsmakes them treated as an object.The vulcanization of travel writing and fiction attains its height in Among theBelievers. He uses many fictional elements which blur the thin line between a travel writingand fiction. Naipaul incorporates the elements like theme, imagery, tone, characterisationsand use of dialogue. He integrates the themes of confusion, stagnation and decay.This work is not objective because it carries certain themes throughout. Thereare themes of futility and decay. Naipaul‟s eye only captures grotesque and ugly details. He
sees the Malaysian land or every Muslim land in general, with the corroded and dusty lens.The lodgings, streets, weather and people are all described in dark and stark vocabulary. Theconversations with the people carry a theme of confusion. The overall physical, emotionaland psychological picture of the Malays is that of despair, misery and lacking originality. Allthese themes are maintained through the apt use of imagery, tone, dialogues and characterdescriptions. All of them are addressed in the following passages.Be it landscapes, people or locations, the visual representations as given by Naipaulare grotesque and dark. In the third chapter, he has used harsh, hot and dry imagery forexample: „The heat which is in the town was hard to bear. The trees, cattle which would havenow suffered in the sun.‟(254) He uses disgusting imagery for these people e.g. the way hajicleans his nose with his finger. The imagery of decay is also visible where he describes thatin rainy season, the creepers race up the steel guy ropes of telegraph poles; the overwhelmdying coconut branches even before the branches fall of‟. (228)Naipaul‟s tone takes on various shades. Mostly it remains pessimistic throughout withoccasional glimpses of irony and satire. Shafi, his guide in Malaysia was a defiant of themodern world. Naipaul, however, mentions sarcastically that „Shafi…had been made by theworld that had released his intelligence; that was the world that had released his intelligence‟‟(234). He also remarks that ironically, „ritual cleanliness had nothing to do with thecleanliness for its own sake… There were rules for villages; there were no rules for towns.‟(244).In chapter two, the girls told him that it felt good to read English romances because itcontained big houses and big cars. The author comments satirically if „these Islamicducklings…already secret city swans‟ against the Islamic teachings to reject materialism(252). While asking from them about categories of halal and haram, he mocks the Islamic
principles by asking Khairul to describe coughing in these categories of permissibility andimpermissibility. (276).Another feature of fiction seen in Naipaul‟s travel writings is the characterisation of thepeople he meets on his journeys. He describes them as fictional characters with ample detail;from the tips of their hair to the soles of their feet. Whether it‟s Shafi, his guide, the twoschool girls or the ABIM founder Anwar Ibrahim, all are defined in all their facets. Forexample, while describing the two school girls he writes that „one was brown-skinned andslender; one was pale, plump, and round-faced. They both wore long dresses and had coveredheads. The brown girl had a head-cover in thin black cotton that had crinkled up and lookedslack; there was about her a general adolescent untidiness which was fetching. The round-faced girl was neater. A white kerchief was drawn tightly on her head, and over that she had apink head-cover that was pinned below her chin.‟The use of dialogues in Naipaul‟s narrative adds to the dramatic form of thetravelogue. The interviews he takes from various people as transformed into dialogues asbeing carried out between the characters of a fictional work. For example, the conversationbetween Rehman, the lecturer and the registrar is written in dialogue with Naipaul posingquestions and people answering them. Similarly, throughout the section, all conversations arepresented in this manner.An analysis of Among the Believers shows that Naipaul has amalgamated the genresof travel and fiction to create an entirely new one called „travelon‟ or „novelogue‟. The use ofvarious travel strategies through the tools of fiction produce a narrative that the readers findpleasing to read. The instances from history or journalistic sources give him an authorialauthenticity.His time to time commentary and critical views add to the validity of thenarrative. For him, the world is an arena with innumerable stories to be picked up and
reproduced.In short, Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey is not only a travelogue but acomplete aesthetic text in itself.