It is grammatically incorrect to say, “I is (so-and-so),” because the verb for the first person singular is “am.”

But V.S. Naipaul, who won the 2001 Nobel Prize in Literature, freely used that sort of “colonial English” in his works.

The author, full name Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul, was born of Indian ancestry in the Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago when it was a British colony.

I am embarrassed to admit that I had never read Naipaul until I learned of his recent death at age 85.

But once I started reading a few titles, I was charmed by the endearingly clumsy language spoken by his characters.

They include a self-professed greatest poet in the world, a garbage collector inexplicably clad in the finest attire, a mysterious masseur, and so on.

The characters were inspired by the islanders Naipaul knew as a child. I was delighted to be made to feel as if I was taking a peek at neighborhood back streets, where families hang out or a married couple have a spat.

Naipaul was hailed as one of those who introduced to the British literary scene the colorful and variegated “colonial English” that few had bothered with.

While living in England, he also wrote on his extensive trips to countries including Iran, Pakistan and his ancestral India.

But his travelogues met with criticism for representing only the viewpoint of colonial overlords and lacking in empathy with the exploited and oppressed.

However, his fame remained unshaken, and he was awarded a number of prestigious literary prizes. He was made a knight in 1990.

As a person, Naipaul appeared to be difficult to deal with.

He once walked off from a lecture in a huff when he found out that some members of the audience had not read his works. He was known to angrily demand of reporters who were interviewing him that they tell him honestly which of his books they had read.

Still, the depth of his works is apparent even to someone like me, who is no foreign literature expert.

Belatedly, I wish I had started reading Naipaul much earlier.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 16

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.