In the Green Room

Nothing like V.S. Naipaul

Naipaul’s Biographer, India Expert Patrick French, Takes Questions in the Green Room

Patrick French is the author of India: A Portrait and The World Is What It Is: The Authorized Biography of V.S. Naipaul. He claims that he has little in common with the subject of the latter. Before giving a talk on the rich and poor faces of the new India, French laughed his way through an interview on subjects ranging from UFO sightings and reincarnation to fistfights.

Q. What’s your favorite city in India?

A. Bombay, otherwise known as Mumbai.

Q. What was the last thing you Tweeted?

A. R.I.P. Steve Jobs, and the reason I did that-I’m going over 140 characters here-was that I was a true believer from 1990 or 1991, and I stuck with Apple through the dark days when all the techies were saying Apple was finished.

Q. How do you relax?

A. I’d say the three things I do to relax are Pilates, swimming, and sleeping.

Q. Who is your greatest influence?

A. The thing is, I’ve never really had a mentor of any kind. I look back and wonder whether that was a mistake. Essentially, I feel that I’m self-made as a writer.

Where can we find you at 9:00 on a Friday night?

A. That would depend on whether my children were with me that evening or not. Most likely I would be at home, chatting.

Q. What personality quirks, if any, do you share with V.S. Naipaul?

[Laughs.] In terms of personality, I’m not really very like him. Can you say that living for quite a lot of your life in Wiltshire and in London could count as a personality trait, in which we’ve both done that? You could say that any writer has a personality which is formed by the process of spending long periods of time alone writing, but that would be about it.

Q. Have you ever experienced a UFO sighting?

A. No, but I have seen a triple rainbow-in a place called French, New Mexico, which was a pretty much abandoned village named after my great-great uncle. A triple rainbow is a seriously weird thing. In Tibetan mythology it’s of hugely good significance for the person who sees it and for the country where it’s seen.

Q. Who was the last person to leave you a voicemail?

A. Want me to check? I think it’s my wife. People don’t leave voicemails so much these days, do they? [Checks phone.] Yeah, it’d be my wife.

Q. What’s something crazy you’ve done lately?

A. I kind of stopped doing crazy things in about the early 2000s. Unless you count coming to L.A. for less than 24 hours as crazy. But that’s not that crazy.

Q. Have you ever punched somebody-or been punched by somebody?

A. Not really is the answer to the first, and yes is the answer to the second.

Q. Do you believe in reincarnation?

A. There’ve been moments in my life when I’ve believed in it, which is when I’ve met pretty impressive reincarnations of Tibetan monks, Tibetan lamas.

Q. Who’s your favorite Beatle?

I don’t have one. I prefer the Stones-if I had to make that choice.

*Photo by Aaron Salcido