The Caretaker: A Ranjit Singh Novel
Will a turban-wearing Sikh become a new model for the anti-establishment action thriller hero?
Ranjit Singh is a former Indian Army officer, drummed from the corps after serving time in prison for a mysterious border incident between India and Pakistan. His former commanding officer has vowed revenge on his family, causing Ranjit to flee India for Boston with his wife and young daughter to stay with his in-laws. Although his father-in-law has promised green cards for his family on the condition that Ranjit learns the produce business in his market, he chafes at toiling under the baleful eyes of his in-laws in crowded living conditions and the hostile environment beyond the cloistered neighborhood. He finds odd jobs as a self-employed landscaper in the plush Martha’s Vineyard island summer estates where he can be his own boss. He temporarily moves his small family to the island.
"This debut novel, the first in a trilogy, promises a new, exotic hero for intrigue-loving readers. It also offers a rare look at the deep philosophy of the Sikh religion, something new in American literature."
One of Ranjit’s customers is an African American United States Senator whose wife offers him a job to take care of their summer home during the coming winter. Relieved that he won’t have to return to Boston, where his traditional Sikh turban and long beard draw more attention than on the sparsely populated island, he jumps at the opportunity. After an altercation with local thugs, he moves his wife and daughter from their island apartment into a wing of the empty mansion. Any encounter with local authorities will reveal that he is there on an expired visa, and his irate father-in-law has already made it clear that if he breaks their agreement, he runs the chance of deportation. He needs to find a place to hide his family away from the local police and the watchful eye of the INS.
They are nearly discovered when armed intruders break in and ransack the Senator’s house in a search for something very specific. Is the Senator in danger, or is he involved in some underhanded scheme? Or is it Ranjit who is the focus of the relentless search that threatens his life and that of his family?
This tense thriller plays out against the austere tranquility of the winterscape of a Massachusetts luxury retreat as the mysterious gunmen relentlessly pursue Ranjit. He, in turn, is haunted by ghostly flashbacks to the treacherous night in no man’s land when events went so terribly wrong. Perhaps the Indian Army general’s men still seek revenge.
Ranjit turns to the Senator’s wife, Anna, for help and the complications soar to new heights as the Senator’s various trips and questionable connections are uncovered. Cultural clashes, international events and a complex love story come together to enmesh Ranjit in a deadly game of cat and mouse. As he inadvertently walks into a potential Washington scandal, Ranjit must face his ghostly demons and make moral decisions that will affect his family and future.
This debut novel, the first in a trilogy, promises a new, exotic hero for intrigue-loving readers. It also offers a rare look at the deep philosophy of the Sikh religion, something new in American literature. As timely as today’s headlines, the issues of immigration, political prisoners, religious persecution and Washington politics come together. It may sound like dry stuff, but A. X. Ahmad, himself an immigrant with well-honed writing skills, has created a three-dimensional character facing the challenges of assimilation into a different society.
Reviewed by Roz Shea on June 14, 2013