Conrad, Naipaul, Achebe, and Darkness

Kirpal Singh, National Institute of Education, NTU, Singapore

The fact that my grandmother taught me how to milk cows and look after a herd is, for present purposes, not as significant as my memory of statements my grandmother used to utter in the company of adults in which I was almost always a silent listener. One such statement is forever present in my consciousness:

Jeredh insaan neh lambi raat nahi dekhi, nehra nahi
dekha, othi zindighi kathey waste paki nahi

Throughout her ninety years my grandmother's English vocabulary did not go beyond 'Hello,' but in a rough transliteration of her statement, we get the following:

That human being who has not seen a long night, who has
not seen darkness, his life can never be said to be ripe.

To put my grandmother's statement more succinctly: he who has not known nights and days has not lived. Suffering ennobles, but it does this only if there is growth (my grandmother's idea of 'ripeness'). We all know of people who suffer but refuse, or are incapable, of any growth. From my perspective, limited as it invariably is, countries such as Australia and Singapore have not yet seen nights and days. In fact, the worry could be that these countries have seen too many days that the revelations which experience of the dark inevitably bestows have so far been denied them. I wish to submit to you that Conrad, Naipaul and Achebe, have each been through long nights and days and have emerged from the experience in different states of 'limbo.'


Kirpal Singh. "Conrad, Naipul and Achebe: Literary Imperatives and Cultural Impediments." Institutions in Cultures, Theory, and Practice. Ed. Robert Lumsden and Rajeev Patke. 287-94.

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