The Prime Minister of Tawa: Chapter 2
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Stephen Seymour was starting to feel quite exasperated with Horan Samiban. Mash and his family had driven off from the airport more than fifteen minutes ago. Stephen had been promised that the Prime Minister planned to drive back to his office immediately after Mash and his family left the airport. In all the years he had known Horan, Horan had never kept him waiting intentionally. Stephen knew most politicians in Tawa very well. He had known Horan ever since he first came to Tawa, almost twenty three years ago. Many a politician in the patch he covered had the habit of turning up late just to show off his importance. Horan did not fall in that category. However, Stephen had a feeling that today Horan was intentionally delaying things. The room in which he was kept waiting was most probably the office of a mid-level manager at Hepara Airport. It was not air-conditioned and the chair on which he was sitting was none too comfortable. I hope he doesn’t get cold feet and change his mind, Stephen thought. He had been offered the option of interviewing Horan on the eve of Maheshdas Zoloda’s arrival. However, he had insisted on having the interview with Horan after Maheshdas Zoloda arrived. Horan had agreed on the condition that he come to the airport and drive back to the Prime Minister’s residence with him. The interview would have to be conducted in the car as they drove back. He had also been promised an interview with Maheshdas Zoloda in the evening. Both interviews combined would hopefully make a story interesting enough to make it to the pages of the Independent Times. It was so much difficult to get the editors in New York to expend more than a few inches on Tawa. With the arrival of Maheshdas, there would hopefully be greater interest in Tawa.
Thirty minutes later, an orderly appeared and told him that the Prime Minister was ready to drive back. He followed the man who led him to the Prime Minister’s official Rolls Royce. Horan Samiban was not yet inside the car. Rather than wait outside the car in the sweltering heat for Horan to arrive, Stephen got inside the air conditioned Rolls. Once inside, Stephen did not really mind if Horan Samiban took a while longer to appear. For a few moments, Stephen was grateful to General Naranin who had acquired this Rolls Royce and a fleet of limousines while he was in power. Blessed are the downtrodden and the exploited, but it is pleasant to be in power, he thought. Horan soon made his appearance along with a bodyguard who opened the rear door for Horan to get inside. As soon as Horan was inside, the bodyguard shut the door and got into the front seat next to the driver. The driver started the engine and they drove off. Horan Samiban turned to face Stephen with a smile.
'Good morning Mr. Seymour. And how are things with you?' How is Mrs. Seymour? Horan had a smile on his face. Stephen had spent enough time with Horan to realise that he did not understand him. And he was unlikely to, even if he spent another twenty years covering Tawa.
‘Alakom Prime Minister. I am fine. Laimee is fine as well.’ When he had just arrived in Tawa, Stephen had tried to get Horan to use first names. He now knew better. Horan usually called him Mr. Seymour. Sometimes he called him Mr. Stephen. Once in a while it was Stephen-raan.
‘Has she come here with you this time?’
‘Yes, she has. We’re here for a week.’
‘I do apologize for being late. Some of the ministers wanted to talk with me after Maheshdas-raan left and I just couldn’t get away.’
‘That’s fine Prime Minister. I guess you will be busier than ever now that Mr. Zoloda is here and your election campaign picks up steam.’
‘Yes, I will be, but I assure you Mr. Seymour, I shall always make time for my friends.’ The car crossed the bridge across the mighty Quaree River which emptied into the Indian Ocean at Hepara. Within a few minutes of crossing the bridge, the car entered a very noisy market. However, not a peep could be heard inside the air conditioned comfort of the Rolls.
Stephen held up his tape-recorder and switched it on. 'Are you unhappy about having to give up power in a few weeks’ time?' He asked Horan point blank, the smile on his face the only hint that he knew what Horan Samiban’s response would be.
'Definitely not. Today is one of the happiest days in my life. Today I am as happy as I was on 24 January 1957 when we got our independence and our dear departed leader Seleem Zoloda started to rule this great country and its people. I was very, very happy then. And today, our great leader's son is coming home to take what is rightfully his. How can I not be just as happy today?'
'And what are your future plans?' Stephen probed.
'I will continue to serve the party and my people.'
‘What exactly does that mean?’
‘The elections will reveal the will of the people. We will make our decisions after that.’
'Do you think your party's policies will undergo much change?' The road they were driving on ran alongside the edges of Cornovee, the slum which housed one-fourth of Hepara’s population. They were passing by the Keenda portion. The Seeda section, which was much smaller, was on the other side. Through his window, Stephen could see a long queue of women waiting to collect water from a common bore well using a hand-pump. A few boys seemed to be taking turns to work the hand-pump for their mothers.
'Now that Maheshdas-raan is here, you better ask him that question. All I can say is that the will of the people will continue to prevail. All that was done in the past by the TFP was done after ascertaining the will of the people. And all that will be done in the future by our party and its leaders will be in accordance with the wishes of the people.'
'What do you think are the chances of your party being returned to power?' Wherever I go, people say that there is a good chance of the PDA capturing power. What do you say about that?'
‘The People's Democratic Alliance is a party created by a dictator who was forced to give up power and flee from this country. How can such a party hope to win power? If the PDA were to win, it would be almost as if the people are voting for a return to military dictatorship. I am hundred percent confident that the people of Tawa will vote for us and that we will, under the leadership of Maheshdas-raan, retain power.'
‘Am I right in saying that if Mr. Maheshdas Zoloda had not returned, the TFP would have found it very difficult to counter the PDA?
‘Not really. But I will be the last person to deny that Maheshdas-raan’s arrival is going to help the TFP. Soon they left Cornovee behind and entered a lonely stretch of road that would lead to the Prime Minister’s residence.
Stephen decided to end the interview. 'Thanks a lot Mr. Samiban. I really appreciate it,' Stephen told Horan and switched off his tape-recorder. There was no point in expending anymore time on this interview, not when he would be lucky to get four half-page columns for the whole piece. Horan was very unlikely to make an earth shattering revelation, however long he was interviewed. The interview with Maheshdas Zoloda in the evening would be the main focus of his piece. He had not met Maheshdas before. It would be interesting to find out the sort of person he was. Stephen had tried to arrange for Maheshdas to be interviewed while he was still in London. The London office had agreed to do the needful, but for some reason, Stephen’s colleague who was supposed to interview Maheshdas kept rescheduling the interview, which finally never took place. If Stephen were younger, he would have been really annoyed. But he had been a journalist for over thirty years now. Countries such as Tawa never merited much space or time in the eyes of the honchos in New York.
Stephen Seymour and Horan Samiban sat in companionable silence for a while. They were driving by the coast and the tide was out. The waves were quite far away. Stephen was tempted to request Horan to tell him off the record whether there was a small possibility that the PDA might win the election. He decided not to. Even if Horan thought that the PDA might win, he was too disciplined a foot soldier of the TFP to express such an opinion.
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