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, Leela, 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, J. Vijay Maharaj creates a quite different kind of story for Leela, 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 Leela 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 Leela after Naipaul’s novel ends. Maharaj creates for Leela an utterly convincing and compelling voice -- earthy, shrewd and in love with life -- of a woman who not only has 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 and rejected as absurd. J. Vijay Maharaj’s triumph is to have created something quite remarkable, a novel that has all the dynamic and voice we expect from fiction, and a depth of insight into the texture of Indo-Trinidadian culture that has few parallels.
The Mystic Masseur's Wife
J. Vijay Maharaj invents the hidden life of Leela 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
Trinidad and Tobago
21 Apr 2022