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The Suffrage of Elvira by Sir V S Naipaul | Book Review

Published in 1958, “The suffrage of Elvira” is second fiction novel by Sir V S Naipaul (after The Mystic Masseur) and is set in the colonial world of Trinidad.

The story revolves around election in the small town of Elvira portraying variety of characters, each eccentric in its own way but ruthlessly real and tells the story of the transition phase of Trinidad from British Rule to democracy.

Boook : The Suffrage of Elvira
Author : V S Naipaul
Genre : Comic Novel
Publisher : Penguin and Others

Mr Harbans is one of the candidates for an upcoming election in Elvira and we meet him one morning when he is going to meet the prominent personages of Elvira. These include Baksh, who allegedly controls the Muslim vote and a goldsmith Chittranjan who has significant influence over Hindus and Spaniards. But Baksh needs a new campaign van and his son Foreman aka Foam has to be made the campaign manager (with a handsome monthly salary) while Chitranjan makes sure that Mr Harbans is ready to accept his daughter Nalini as her future daughter-in-law, before they officially consent to support Mr. Harbans.

While both Baksh and Chitranjan declare that there is no chance of Mr Harbans losing the election as together they will make sure he will get six thousand out of eight thousand total votes, magically this figure starts to dwindle with every passing day. The votes of Spaniards are lost to two American women going around distributing pamphlets about the end of the world. The Hindu votes are divided due to a “traitor” Lorkhoor, an arch-rival of Foam and an established loud-speaker van advertiser in Elvira. With increased importance of Muslim votes, Baksh comes up with new demand every other day.

As days pass on, Mr. Harbans’ account keeps depleting with costs incurred on liquor, transportation, posters, advertising and charity to voters. There are hilarious side tracks of “Tiger”-the dog’s appearance, the competition between Lorkhoor and Foam, Baksh’s interesting home life, disappearance of the pundit’s daughter-in-law, quarrels between Chittranjan and his neighbour etc.

The election in Elvira invariably reminds us of the same in India and the irony of the process is impossible to ignore. We can’t help appreciating the bitter facts captured here about politicians’ behavior before election and after election, especially when they win, and in an instant become a king from a beggar.

Like Trinidad, in India also, first few elections after independence were held amongst a lot of confusion on the voter’s side, as the masses gradually grasped the concept of democracy and slowly moved-on to accept the process of election to decide their leaders rather than the customary ancestral kings. A lot of candidates made it to the assemblies those days in spite of the lack of capabilities and ground work on their part in their constituencies. The elections were more like a festival for the voters where they got free food, drink and promises for a few days and then everything went to “as-before” condition.

The entire book is so much fun to read once you become familiar with the dialect. A humorous, satiric tale worth enjoying…..

Some Interesting Facts

  • First published by: Andre Deutsch
  • First published in year: 1958
  • The book is followed by The Miguel Street, which is complete in itself

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