Click here to read reviewer Deborah Adams' take on A Perfect Pledge.
Narpat Dubay lives quietly in a small village in 1956 Trinidad, a father of four who tends his sugar cane patch and designs ingenious contraptions to make their lives easier. Narpat is an organized man who thrives on responsibility, opinionated about diet, health and the purification of the body; and he is an optimist who believes that any difficulty can be transformed into opportunity, turned to one’s advantage.
Irritated by undisciplined Trinidadian politics, Narpat rants against the prevalent superstitious notions of his fellows, those who believe floods are sent by God, when clearly such matters can be rectified with a little ingenuity. Disturbed as well by an influx of “Outsiders” who squat in empty houses and take them as their own, Narpat is determined to run them out and restore order to a country filled with corruption and graft: “Just like the invaders of India, the Outsiders were introducing a system of values alien to the village.”
In contrast to her husband, Dulari is concerned with the safety of her children, anxious when her daughters take public transportation to school, unprotected until they return home, sometimes after hours of waiting and walking and waiting. Borrowing money from her more successful brother, Dulari buys new school clothes for the children and hires a driver to take the older girls to and from school.
Since he routinely attempts to instill good habits and independence in Jeeves, Chandra, Kala and Shushilla, Narpat is enraged by his wife’s duplicity, his authority threatened, convinced that such exercise is beneficial and character-building. But then Narpat expects every inconvenience to be turned into a learning experience, ready with homilies to instruct his children on the virtues of hard work.
Trinidad’s much-anticipated Independence Day is August 31, 1962. In reaction to the crooked politicians running for election, Narpat throws his hat into the ring, running for county councilor, armed with a long-term agenda: that the sugar cane farmers should own the deeds to their land. Out of step in this island society, dedicated to fighting corruption and bureaucracy, Narpat eventually builds a factory, cloaked in his own authority. His philosophy too large for his world, Narpat is sure to disappoint, but it is his nature to pursue his dream.
The most telling exchanges are between husband and wife behind closed doors. Dulari and the children are held hostage to his ideals; the purpose-driven Narpat is resolute in adhering to the high moral path he has chosen, unwilling to bend his principles. Essentially powerless, Dulari’s fragile sanity is preserved only by “this numbing ritual of sweeping, cooking, cleaning and washing, this silencing of my mind.” Trapped in the emotional turmoil of futile arguments between their parents, the children question their father’s dogmatic approach to existence as they mature.
This is a land in flux, corruption a natural outgrowth of its evolution. Peppered with the idiomatic speech of eccentric characters, village life is insignificant in the larger scope of things, a microcosm for universal principles. The unique voices of Narpat, Dulari, their children and other quirky individuals fill this tale with the dreams and laments of the ages, a template for humanity, with all its sturm und drang.