Sir V. S. Naipaul’s speech at the Nobel Banquet, 10 December 2001.
Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Honoured Laureates, Ladies and Gentlemen,
One of the things that happen to people who get the Nobel Prize is that they get a lot of media attention. Many interviews. So many that I begin to feel now that I have lost the capacity for spontaneous thought. I need the questions. So I thought I would begin this two-minute speech like the old-fashioned comedian. The man to whom things happen on the way to the studio.
Well, then. Something happened to me on the way to Stockholm. The strap of my wrist-watch broke. And for some surreal moments I found myself looking at my watch on the floor of the plane. This is no metaphor. Here is the strapless watch. What did it mean? What was the awful symbolism? The fact that all through the Nobel week I was to be without my watch.
The great Caesar, landing in Egypt, fell flat on his face on the wet shore. You can imagine the consternation of his officers, until the great and resourceful man shouted, “Africa, I’ve got you!” Some centuries later, the Emperor Julian, training one morning with his soldiers, lost the wicker part of his shield. He was left holding only the grip or the handle. How terrible for everybody until the Emperor shouted, “What I have I hold”.
Not having the resourcefulness of these great men, I could find no words to make the bad symbolism good. Until tonight, when I understood that time was to stop for me during this Nobel week, and that, when it began again, it would be truly new. Now my strapless watch, benign again, tells me without threat that my time is running out. My two minutes are up.