Back in India, Ranjit Singh commanded an elite army squad. But that was years ago, before his Army career ended in dishonor, shattering his reputation. Driven from his homeland, he is now a caretaker on the exclusive resort island of Martha’s Vineyard, looking after the vacation homes of the rich and powerful.
One harsh winter, faced with no other choice, he secretly moves his family into the house of one of his clients, an African-American Senator. Here, his wife and daughter are happy, and he feels safe for the first time in ages. But Ranjit’s idyll is shattered when mysterious men break into the house. Pursued and hunted, Ranjit is forced to enter the Senator’s shadowy world, and his only ally is Anna, the Senator’s beautiful wife, who has secrets of her own.
Together, they uncover a trail of deception that leads from the calm shores of the Vineyard to countries half a world away. And when his investigation stirs up long forgotten events, the caretaker must finally face the one careless decision that ruined his life- and forced him to leave India.
A gripping tale of hidden histories, political intrigue and dangerous attractions, A. X. Ahmad’s The Caretaker introduces a new hero for our times: an immigrant caught between two worlds and a man caught between two loves.
**Mild spoilers follow. Please leave if you want to read the book without knowing the spoilers**
Ranjit Singh is haunted by memories of his final mission in the army and how he feels guilty for the blood of innocent soldiers on his hands. This portion reminds readers quite a bit of Macbeth and how Lady Macbeth is continuously haunted by the ghost of King Duncan who she arranged to have killed. However, the difference in this case is that Sergeant Khandelkar, who Ranjit feels guilty for having ordered him to a certain death, seems to be his sounding board, the one person that he can rely on to provide him with sound advice. These portions of the book where Ranjit is probably hallucinating and reminisces on his last mission in the army make for good reading as they provide a good insight into the psyche of an army officer in the extremely trying conditions of the Siachen glacier on the India-Pakistan border.
Ranjit’s life is as good as an illegal immigrant’s life can get in Martha’s Vineyard. Although faced with the occasional racist taunt given his Sikh origins, his beard, long hair and a turban, Ranjit has learnt to take these in his stride and lives a life by providing gardening, house remodeling and caretaking services. Things take an awkward turn when he gets romantically involved with Senator Clayton Neals’ wife despite the fact that he is married with a young daughter.
Things go from bad to worse when Ranjit secretly moves into the Senator’s house with his family. A robbery attempt at the house puts the entire family on the run and the thieves seem to have more on their mind than just a simple robbery. The action then shifts between Boston where the family runs to and the Indo-Pak border on which some shadowy deals negotiated by the Senator in the past come back to haunt him.
With his wife and daughter being picked up by Homeland Immigration for visa fraud, Ranjit is now running against the clock, trying to get them out of jail with just one bargaining chip which he happens to find in the Senator’s house. The story then gets a little complicated with too many things happening at the same time and some unexpected (and probably unnecessary) twists and turns.
How it all ends up forms the crux of the third and final portion of the book.
What I liked about the book was that the author chose an illegal immigrant who happened to be an ex-Indian army officer as the protagonist. Although it was probably chosen so to make the plot points a little more believable, it made for an interesting character in Ranjit Singh. The detailing of the layers of this man also made for some interesting reading.
The plot itself is a little convoluted, although believable. But my personal opinion is that the entire romantic angle between Ranjit and the Senator’s wife is a little too contrived and in hindsight even unnecessary.
Overall, a decent one time read, no doubt. But would I rate it very high, probably not.