Thursday 1st March, 2007

 

VS Naipaul’s The Suffrage of Elvira

The loudspeaker van

 
 
 
 
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I ain’t even start my campaign proper yet and already I spend more than $2,000. Don’t ask me what on, because I ain’t know.

Illustration: Louis Legendre

Haa!” Harbans chuckled. “I was only fooling you. Haa! I was only making joke, Baksh.”

Damn funny sorta joke,” Foam said.

You going to get your van,” Harbans said. “And you going to get your loudspeaker. You sure we want loudspeaker?”

Bound to have one, man. For the boy.”

Boy?”

Who else?” Foam asked. “I did always want to take up loudspeaking.

A lot of people tell me I have the voice for it.”

Hundred per cent better than that Lorkhoor,” Baksh said.

Lorkhoor was the brightest young man in Elvira and Foam’s natural rival. He was only two-and-a-half years older than Foam but he was already making his mark on the world. He ran about the remoter districts of Central Trinidad with a loudspeaker van, advertising for the cinemas in Caroni.

Lorkhoor is only a big show-offer,” Foam said. “Ever hear him, Mr Harbans? ‘This is the voice of the ever popular Lorkhoor,’ he does say, ‘begging you and imploring you and entreating you and beseeching you to go to the New Theatre.’ Is just those three big words he knew, you know. Talk about a show-offer!”

The family is like that,” Baksh said.

We want another stand-pipe in Elvira,” Harbans said. “Elvira is a big place and it only have one school. And the roads!”

Foam said, “Mr Harbans, Lorkhoor start loudspeaking against you, you know.”

What! But I ain’t do the boy or the boy family nothing at all. Why he turning against a old man like me?”

Neither Baksh nor Foam could help him there. Lorkhoor had said so often he didn’t care for politics that it had come as a surprise to all Elvira when he suddenly declared for the other candidate, the man they called Preacher. Even Preacher’s supporters were surprised.

But I is a Hindu,” Harbans cried. “Lorkhoor is a Hindu. Preacher is Negro.”

Baksh saw an opening. “Preacher giving out money hands down. Lorkhoor managing Preacher campaign. Hundred dollars a month.”

Where Preacher getting that sort of money?”

Baksh began to invent. “Preacher tell me pussonal”—the word had enormous vogue in Elvira in 1950—“that ever since he was a boy, even before this democracy and universal suffrage business, he had a ambition to go up to the Legislative Council.

He say God send him this chance.” Baksh paused for inspiration. It didn’t come. “He been saving up,” Baksh went on lamely. “Saving up for a long long time.”

He shifted the subject. “To be frank with you, Mr Harbans, Preacher have me a little worried. He acting too funny. He ain’t making no big noise or nothing. He just walking about quiet quiet and brisk brisk from house to house. He ain’t stick up no posters or nothing.”

House-to-house campaign,” Harbans said gloomily.

And Lorkhoor,” Foam said. “He winning over a lot of stupid people with his big talk.”

Harbans remembered the sign he had that afternoon: the women, the dog, the engine stalling twice. And he hadn’t been half-an-hour in Elvira before so many unexpected things had happened.

Baksh wasn’t sticking to the original bargain. He was demanding a loudspeaker van; he had brought Foam and Harbans felt that Foam was almost certain to make trouble. And there was this news about Lorkhoor.

Traitor!” Harbans exclaimed. “This Lorkhoor is a damn traitor!”

The family is like that,” Baksh said, as though it were a consolation.

I ain’t even start my campaign proper yet and already I spend more than $2,000. Don’t ask me what on, because I ain’t know.”

Baksh laughed. “You talking like Foam mother.”

Don’t worry, Mr Harbans,” Foam said. “When we put you in the Leg Co you going to make it back. Don’t worry too much with Lorkhoor. He ain’t even got a vote. He too young.”

But he making $100 a month,” Baksh said.

Baksh, we really want a loudspeaker van?”

To be frank, boss, I ain’t want it so much for the elections as for afterwards. Announcing at all sort of things Sports, Weddings, Funerals. It have a lot of money in that nowadays, boss, especially for a poor man”—Baksh waved his hands about the room again—“who ain’t got much in the way of furnishings, as you see. And Foam here could manage your whole campaign for $80 a month. No hardship.”

Harbans accepted the loudspeaker van sorrowfully. He tried again.

But, Baksh, I ain’t want no campaign manager.”

Foam said, “You ain’t want no Muslim vote.”

Harbans looked at Foam in surprise. Foam was tacking slowly, steadily, drawing out his needle high.

Baksh said, “I promise you the boy going to work night and day for you.” And the Muslim leader kissed his crossed index fingers.

Seventy dollars a month.”

All right, boss.”

Foam said, “Eh, I could talk for myself, you hear. Seventy-five.”

Ooh. Children, Baksh.”

They is like that, boss. But the boy have a point. Make it 75.”

Harbans hung his head.

The formal negotiations were over.

Baksh said, “Foam, cut across to Haq and bring some sweet drink and cake for the boss.”

Baksh led Harbans through the dark shop, up the dark stairs, through a cluttered bedroom into the veranda where Mrs Baksh and six little Bakshes—dressed for the occasion in their school clothes—were introduced to him.

(Part five tomorrow)

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