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The Mystic Masseur's Wife

Vijay Maharaj invents the hidden life of Leila Ramsumair, the mostly silent wife of the Ganesh Ramsumair, the protagonist of V.S. Naipaul's satire on Trinidadian Hinduism, The Mystic Masseur

J. Vijay Maharaj
Historical fiction, Religion, Novel
Trinidad and Tobago
Date published
7 Apr 2022

At the end of V.S. Naipaul’s satire on Hindu life in Trinidad, The Mystic Masseur, the protagonist, Ganesh Ramsumair, caps his rise to fame as a colonial politician, by transforming himself into an English gentleman, G. Ramsay Muir, and heading off to England. In Naipaul’s novel, Ganesh’s wife, Leila, plays a very secondary, indeed recessive role, though there are occasional clues that she has a clearer grasp of reality than her husband. In the hidden spaces of Naipaul’s novel, Vijay Maharaj creates a quite different kind of story for Leila, who decides that when her husband abandons Trinidad for England, she is too much attached to her life on the island to follow him. All this is relayed to the author by Leila in her later years, in a series of tape-recordings, which form the basis for the novel. This is much more than a necessary rewriting of the male-centredness of VS Naipaul’s perspective, though Maharaj creates an inventive and often richly humorous counter-narrative within that novel’s plotlines, as well as a dynamic afterlife for Leila after Naipaul’s novel ends. Maharaj creates for Leila an utterly convincing and compelling voice -- earthy, shrewd and in love with life -- of a woman who has not only a clear vision of her place in the world, but is a vigorous advocate for the inner vitality of Indo-Trinidadian life in the 1940s and 1950s, a world that V.S. Naipaul seems only to have known at its fringes. Vijay Maharaj’s triumph is to have created something quite remarkable, a novel that has all the “fizz” and voice we expect from fiction, and a depth of insight into the texture of Indo-Trinidadian culture that has few parallels.

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J. Vijay Maharaj

Vijay Maharaj has lectured at the University of the West Indies since August 2000 and specialises in cultural identity and cultural citizenship in Caribbean Studies. She has essays published in a number of important collections including: Fires of Hope: Fifty Years of Independence in Trinidad and Tobago; Beyond Calypso: Re-reading Samuel Selvon; Contemporary Caribbean Dynamics: Reconfiguring Caribbean Culture; Postscripts: Caribbean Perspectives on the British Canon from Shakespeare to Dickens; V.S. Naipaul’s A House for Mr Biswas: Critical Perspectives; Critical Perspectives on Indo-Caribbean Women’s Literature and Created in the West Indies: Caribbean Perspectives on V.S. Naipaul as well as in journals such as Anthurium: A Caribbean Studies Journal, Tout Moun: A Journal of Caribbean Cultural Studies, Journal of the Department of Behavioural Sciences, and The Journal of West Indian Literature.

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