Chapter 5 - An American Journalist Interviews Mash

The Prime Minister of Tawa: Chapter 5

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Whilst Judy was taking stock of her situation, Mash was having a tough time with Stephen Seymour. Stephen had arrived punctually at seven by which time Mash had recovered from his ordeal at the Palace and had changed into comfortable slack shirt and trousers. The interview had got off to a quiet and pleasant start.

‘I did see you along with the other journalists when I got off the plane. I wish I could have had a brief chat with you then. But I was sort of tired and …’

‘That’s fine Mr. Zoloda. I do understand perfectly.’

And there were quite a few journalists around. If it had been just you, I could have ……’

“I understand Mr. Zoloda. In any event, I had fixed up this interview last week itself. The airport tarmac is not a good place to talk to people.’

 ‘Please do call me Mash. All my friends call me Mash. Maheshdas is quite a mouthful, isn’t it?’

‘Maybe we should call you Birbal. It’s not too long either.’

‘You know quite a bit about Tawa and our culture, don’t you?  Someone did tell me that you have been covering Tawa for quite a few years now.’

‘Yes, I do. I have been covering Tawa for almost twenty-three years now. Plus, my wife is Tawan.

‘But you are not based in Hepara, are you?’

I am based in Colombo and I cover Tawa and Maldives in addition to Sri Lanka.’

‘If your wife is Tawan, why aren’t you based in Hepara, rather than Colombo?’

‘That’s a policy decision made by the honchos in New York. I would be happy if I could be based out of Hepara. Laimee would be even happier. But you know it is all a question of market demand. Currently there is more interest in Sri Lanka than in Tawa. Maybe if things become exciting here, I may be able to persuade my paper to allow me to base myself here.’

‘I hope we don’t become exciting the Sri Lankan way!’

‘Oh! I did not mean that. But we’ll come to the Seeda issue in a while.’

On the face of it, it appeared to be a polite and civilised conversation between a British trained politician and an American journalist, but soon Stephen’s questions started to bite.

‘It was interesting to see you wear traditional clothes while getting out of the aircraft. I will not ask you if changed in the aircraft, but is this a sign of what the future will be - a mix of the modern and the traditional?

‘Well, you could say so. I used to wear a suit all the time. I used to be a tax adviser at an accounting firm in the West End you know. But now that I am back in Tawa, I feel that I must dress like the rest of my countrymen.’

‘Is Mrs. Zoloda happy to wear a doree, sarong and thuli and live in Tawa? She was employed as a teacher in London, wasn’t she?’

‘Yes, she used to teach at a grammar school in Watford where we lived. That’s north-west London.’

‘So Mrs. Zoloda did not have to commute much, while you did a fair amount of commuting?’

‘Yes, that’s right. We lived just five minutes away from Judy’s school. I used to work for an accounting firm called Halboroughs. Its offices were on Goodge Street, off Tottenham Road. It used to take me an hour to commute to Goodge Street every day.’

‘Ha! Ha! But that is the way it ought to be, right?’

‘Well, that way Judy got to spend a lot of time with Heather.’

‘What made you want to come back? Or rather, why didn’t you come back earlier?’

This was the question that Mash dreaded. It was bound to be asked and there was no way he could answer it to anyone’s satisfaction. ‘I always wanted to return to Tawa. It was just a question of when. When General Naranin fled the country, I just was not ready to return and lead the country. And till recently, I did not have the confidence to return and lead the country. But then one day I decided that there was nothing like perfect preparation. The longer I delayed my return, the tougher it would be for me to return. And so, without planning too much, we just packed our bags and came back.’

‘Did you ever consider the possibility of returning to this country and not being a politician? I mean, to come back to lead a quiet life.

‘I don’t think I can do that. My family has always served the people of Tawa. I don’t think I will be any different.’

‘And you never considered the possibility of returning to a non-leadership position? Say, to return to Tawa and serve as a mere functionary of the TFP rather than its leader and candidate for Prime Minister if the TFP were to win the elections?’

What the heck was Stephen implying? That he was power hungry? Mash quickly said, ‘these things are decided by the will of the people. Tawa is a democracy. If the people do not like me or trust me, they will not vote for me. Let the people decide.’

‘But don’t you think it is unfair when a senior leader like Horan Samiban is asked to step down just because you have returned from England? You don’t have any political experience or a track record!’

‘Horan-raan is stepping down voluntarily. The TFP has its finger on the pulse on the people. We have some idea as to what the people want. They would not welcome me with open arms if they thought I was unlikely to lead them to power. And ultimately the people will decide.’

‘Were you involved in the process of selecting TFP candidates for the coming elections? Or do you wish you could have come back slightly earlier so that you could have been involved in selecting the TFP’s candidates? 

 ‘I was fully involved in the selection of candidates. We used to hold discussions over the phone. These days you can do a lot my phone and email.’ Stephen was tempted to ask which of the TFP politicians used email on a regular basis but desisted.

‘The Seeda problem, things are quiet for the moment. But there is no sign of a lasting solution yet. Do you have any fresh ideas?’

‘I will do my best to solve the problems faced by the Seedas. But it will have to be without compromising on Tawa’s unity and integrity.’

‘So, what exactly do you plan to do?’

‘I’m afraid you’ll have to wait and see. It’s a bit too early for me to reveal my plans.’

‘Were you happy with the way the Prime Minister allowed General Naranin to flee the country and go to Switzerland?’

‘I am sure Horan-raan acted in the best interests of the country. There could have been a bloodbath if General Naranin was not allowed to leave. I was not around at that time. I have no complaints at all.’

‘But the TFP government went out of its way to make life easy for General Naranin, didn’t it? It informed the Swiss government that it had no charges or claims against General Naranin and that General Naranin was free to go where he wanted. If the TFP government had not said that, General Naranin would not have been allowed to travel to Switzerland and live there. To obtain a residency permit in Switzerland, General Naranin has invested a substantial amount of money in a local Swiss company. Again, no questions were asked regarding the source of such funds. Mr. Horan Samiban’s government never asked if the General had stashed away any money in secret bank accounts in Switzerland or Luxembourg. What do you think of all that?’

‘As I just said, I wasn’t around at that time. I have no right to judge the events that took place five years ago.’

‘Next, the money which Tawa owes the United States. Almost a billion dollars, which was borrowed mainly during General Naranin’s time. When do you think Tawa will repay this money? Or are you hoping for a loan waiver?

‘Ha! Ha! I would not complain if we got a loan waiver. If the economy picks up, and I am sure that it will, we will be able to repay our debts easily.’

‘If you were to win the elections, will you try to get a World Bank loan? Now that you are back, it may be easier for Tawa to get a large World Bank loan.’

‘Again, it’s too early to decide.  I haven’t won the elections yet!’

‘Now that you are back, would you be staying here permanently?’

‘Yes, of course. I do not see myself going back. Ever.’

Good riddance, Mash told himself as Stephen Seymour left.

That night Mash had his usual recurring nightmare. He was walking through a dark forest when he fell into large manhole. A gang of smelly ruffians fell on him and started to beat him up. Mash begged them for mercy, but they would not stop. When they finally did, they trussed him up and threw him into a small cupboard. One of the gangsters asked his leader, ‘why don’t we kill this guy right away?’ To which the leader replied, ‘no, that won’t do. His father was also tied up for many days.’ Mash thrashed about with the ropes around him and finally woke up, panting.  Judy was softly snoring by his side. It was only three in the morning. He went to the toilet to relieve himself, drank some water and tried to go back to sleep.

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More by :  Vinod Joseph

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