Feb 21, 2024
Feb 21, 2024
by Vinod Joseph
The Prime Minister of Tawa: Chapter 10
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The hairdresser arrived at the bungalow punctually at three thirty. Judy hadn’t really wanted the hairdresser to come to the bungalow, but she had been assured that it was far easier to get the hairdresser to come to her than for her to go to the hairdresser. Security arrangements would be a nightmare, she was told, if she had to go to a hairdresser’s. Actually, she hadn’t really wanted to see a hairdresser, not within a day of arriving in Tawa. She had merely wondered aloud where she could get her hair done. The housekeeper who controlled all the servants in the bungalow made a phone call and was told of a very good hairdresser who worked in the saloon at Hepara Bay in the mornings and made house visits in the afternoons. The hairdresser was a Sri Lankan from Colombo and was very good, she was assured. Even the Prime Minister’s wife used her services.
Judy was inside her bedroom when the hairdresser arrived. However, no one announced the hairdresser’s arrival since they thought that Judy might be sleeping and did not want to disturb her. And so when Judy came out of her room to find out if the hairdresser had arrived, she found that the hairdresser had been waiting for over fifteen minutes. ‘Why didn’t someone tell me?’ She railed.
‘I’m so sorry to have kept you waiting’ she apologised to the hairdresser who did not seem to mind that she had been kept waiting. ‘These things okay Judee-ree,’ she told Judy in reasonable English. Maybe because she was Sri Lankan, she was not wearing the traditional three-piece doree, thuli and sarong. Instead, she was wearing a western dress that came just below her knees. She was in her late forties and seemed to have an eternal smile. They went into a smaller bedroom which was to serve as the saloon.
‘What would Ree like?’ the hairdresser asked opening the large box she had with her, as Judy sat on the bed in her dressing gown.
‘A shampoo and a blow dry is what I generally get done when I go to a hairdresser back home,’ Judy said hesitantly.
‘No problem,’ the hairdresser assured Judy as she opened the trunk to reveal an assortment of creams, shampoos, conditioners, hairsprays, cosmetics and the like. The servants brought in large plastic basins and soon Judy’s hair, which was in a mess after all that travelling, was covered in soap suds. Yesterday had been a nightmare. They had insisted that she wear a doree, thuli and sarong and do up her hair in a bun as she came out of the aircraft. It had been highly irritating. However, she had gone along in the hope that it would make a difference to Mash’s election prospects.
As the hairdresser shampooed her hair, Judy stared straight ahead into a mirror on the wall opposite her. She was no longer good looking. Thanks to her English mother, she was a lot fairer than the average Tawan woman. When she was younger, she had been petite and charming with her long, straight hair falling over her eyes perpetually. As she grew older, she had put on some weight, a bit more than what was suitable for her five feet three-inch frame. Her long hair was now cut short and fell just above her shoulders, which were a little too rounded and heavyset than was good for her. But her undoing was that her face had puffed up in a way that made her look stouter than she was. And to top it all, she had a perpetual schoolteacher look which made her look cruel and ruthless, though she was neither.
After a few minutes, the hairdresser tentatively started a conversation.
'Ree likes Tawa a lot?'
‘Yes of course. It is a nice place. This is where my Dad came from’.
‘I know your Daddy no more. I am right?’
Judy moved her head slightly in an attempt to make eye contact with the hairdresser before giving an answer.
‘Yes, you are right. But how do you know?’, Judy wanted to know. If she had more energy, she would have demanded to know how the hairdresser knew.
‘We all know. Your Daddy dead, your Mummy is divorced and married to a plumber.’
‘But how do you know?’ The hairdresser didn’t make it sound very nice.
‘Our newspapers, after General Naranin leave, they write your stories a lot.’
‘No. All stories. Maheshdas-raan’s stories. Judee-ree’s stories. Heather-ree’s stories. All stories.’
Did that mean they all knew Mash had returned because he did not make partner? But she couldn’t ask such a direct question to the hairdresser.
‘Tell me, do many people wear dresses like yours in Tawa?’
‘Noooo,’ the hair dresser said in a way that suggested she was still thinking over Judy’s question and that a lengthy explanation was forthcoming. ‘Not people my age. But some young people do wear skirts and dresses.’
‘Maybe I should also wear something like that, rather than a doree, thuli and sarong.’
‘No,’ the hairdresser said, this time in a voice that conveyed her shock. ‘No no. You are Maheshdas-raan’s wife.’
‘So what if I am?’
The hairdresser did not clarify. She just giggled and said, ‘I don’t know Judee-ree.’ But Judy did understand. She would be the Prime Minister’s wife and she would have to wear the traditional dress whenever she went out. It was a bit of a pain, especially because she always felt as if her sarong would fall off at any moment.
‘You’re Sri Lankan and yet you speak Keenda, don’t you? How long did it take you to learn Keenda?’
‘One year. When I come here first, come from Colombo, I cannot speak Keenda. But I learn fast. I meet many people and they all speak Keenda.’
‘Is it similar to your language? You are Sinhalese aren’t you?’
‘No, no. It is not similar. Very, very different. Completely different.’
‘And what made you move to Hepara?’
‘My husband. He works here. For Sri Lankan Airlines office here in Hepara.
At that moment, a woman breezed into the room. She seemed to be in her late fifties and wore a loose blue doree which covered up her ample figure, a red thuli which was threadbare and a faded orange sarong which did not match the doree. The hairdresser seemed to know her well for she straightened herself up and stood aside for a moment.
Judy gave the newcomer a quizzical look.
'Alakom Judee-ree. I am Fennee,' the woman introduced herself.
Judy continued to stare blankly.
'The Prime Minister's wife,' the woman added.
Judy opened her mouth to reply to the woman who walked into her bedroom and spoke to her in a tongue she did not understand, but no words came.
'I am Mrs. Fennee Samiban, wife of Mr. Horan Samiban-raan, the Prime Minister.' Fennee spoke in Keenda and Judy did not understand a word.
'Could you please ask this person to wait outside?' Judy asked the hairdresser, her finger pointed at Fennee. 'As she can obviously see, I am having my hair done.' Judy was slightly irritated, and the irritation showed in her voice.
Fennee was speechless for a moment. Thankfully, the hairdresser saved the day for Judy. 'This is Fennee-ree, Prime Minister Horan Samiban’s wife,’ the hairdresser told Judy in English.
‘Oh! I’m so sorry. I didn’t realise,’ Judy made as if to get up. Fennee waved her down.
‘No, No, No. Don’t get up Judee-ree. Please don’t get up.’ Fennee planted herself right next to Judy on the bed. The hairdresser continued with her work.
‘Mrs Samiban, I am honoured to meet you finally.’ The hairdresser translated it into Keenda.
‘Alakom,’ Judy added.
‘I am so happy that you have brought your husband back to Tawa.’
‘I am glad we are back.’
‘We will win the elections.’
‘Yes, I hope that we win the elections.’
‘Your family has sacrificed so much. We all admire the Zoloda family. Great family. Noble family.’
‘Well, my husband’s father, my father-in-law, did sacrifice his life for the country. The hairdresser translated what Judy said. Then she added in English, ‘Horan-raan also make many sacrifices for the country. He go to jail.’ She then turned to Fennee and repeated that in Keenda. Fennee looked gratified. ‘Yes. My husband has made many sacrifices for the country. He was sent to jail by that General Naranin. But he did not make compromises, unlike that Kemon Padusee. Did Judy know how much Seleem-raan cared for both Horan-raan and Kemon? And Kemon betrayed Seleem-raan so badly.’ It took a while for the hairdresser to translate all that into English for Judy. Judy did know that both Horan Samiban and Kemon Padusee were junior ministers in Seleem Zoloda’s cabinet when the coup took place. One of them turned traitor whilst the other stayed true.
Judy got into the spirit of the game. ‘Yes, I know that your husband was sent to jail by General Naranin. He has done a lot for Tawa.’
‘Not so much as your husband.’
‘My husband has done nothing. Yet.’
‘My husband works very hard,’ Fennee said.
‘Mash has always worked very hard. I don’t think it will be any different here.’ There was something in the translation that made Judy feel that the hairdresser had used a very polite term to denote “husband” rather than say Mash.
Judy’s hair was now shampooed, and the hairdresser started to blow-dry the hair. The talk soon turned to their children. The game continued.
‘Both my sons are very intelligent. My eldest son is a successful businessman. My second son is a doctor.’
‘My daughter is quite smart as well.’
‘Did she study in the grammar school where Judee-ree taught?
‘Yes, she did. For the last two years, though I didn’t take any of her classes. Grammar schools start from year seven. Heather used to go to a nearby junior school until she was seven. She had to take a very tough entrance exam to get into the Watford Grammar School for Girls.’
For some reason Fennee did not seem to be too much impressed by claims of Heather’s intelligence or hard work. Moreover, the hairdresser did not seem to have translated the bit about the grammar school right.
‘Don’t you want to have a son?’ Fennee asked.
‘It doesn’t make a difference these days, does it?’ Fennee did not seem to be fully convinced.
Judy wanted Fennee to leave. This was a bit too much. To turn up without informing her in advance and to dump herself on her bed, when she was having her hair done. Did Fennee plan to stay on for tea? Fennee showed all signs of wanting to hang on.
‘Did you have a big house in London?’ Fennee wanted to know.
‘Reasonably big,’ Judy replied.
‘Bigger than this house?’
‘No. Most definitely not. It was just a two bedroom flat at a place called Watford. A short walk from the school where I used to teach.’
‘Ah! Of course. Judee-ree used to be a teacher. A pity she can’t teach in Tawa as well.’
Judy did not take that lying down. ‘Why not? After we settle down, I might start teaching at a school here. I wouldn’t want to sit at home all the time.’
At that Fennee burst out laughing. Of course not. How could she teach? It would be a nightmare to provide security, wouldn’t it?’
‘Why would I need security?’ Judy wondered. She knew that there had been an insurgency. That there was sporadic violence. But was it so bad that she wouldn’t be able to teach in a school if she wanted to?’
Fennee’s face grew serious. ‘Yes, it is very bad. The Seeda terrorists are totally ruthless. General Naranin had cut them down to size. But now they have started to cause trouble once more. There are occasional bomb blasts in Hepara. As for the Central Hill District, that is a Seeda strong hold. It is not possible to go there, unless there is a lot of security.’
‘So, you never appear in public, unless there is security?’ Judy asked Fennee.
‘Of course not. The security guards won’t allow you to do that, even if you wanted to.’
‘What about your children? What about your sons? Didn’t they ever go to play football in a football field?’
‘When they went to school, the Seedas were not causing much trouble. It’s only in the last eight years that the Seeda beast has reared its head once more.’
The blow-dry was complete. The hairdresser gathered up her things. Fennee showed no signs of wanting to leave.
‘How do I pay you?’ Judy asked the hairdresser who seemed surprised and at a loss for words. After a few seconds, she said, ‘I’ll claim it from Maheshdas-raan’s secretary.’
‘Maheshdas-raan will soon have his own secretary. I will claim it from him.’
‘And how will Mash’s - I mean Maheshdas-raan’s secretary get the money?’
‘I don’t know. We don’t have to know about those things.’
‘You mean, I don’t have to pay you now?’
‘Of course not. I claim from the Prime Minister’s secretary for whatever I do for Fennee-ree.’
Judy was pleasantly surprised. ‘And what are your charges for a shampoo and blow-dry?’
‘Three hundred puvees.’ Which seemed a lot since Judy remembered hearing somewhere that the average household income in Tawa was something like ten thousand puvees a year.
‘So, I don’t pay you anything now?’ Judy wanted confirmation.
‘No, of course not.’
Fennee asked the hairdresser something and Fennee replied in Keenda. Fennee burst out laughing.
‘Don’t worry,’ she told Judy. ‘We will take care of you. Your husband is serving the people of Tawa. You don’t have to worry about these things.’
As they came out of the room, Judy saw that tea had been laid out for two people on the table. The housekeeper stood there with an expectant look on her face.
‘Goodbye Ree, Good bye Ree’ the hairdresser bid goodbye to both Fennee and Judy and walked off quickly her box tucked under her arm.
As soon as the hairdresser left, Fennee announced with a wave of her hands ‘I don’t think I will stay for tea.’ The exaggerated action was meant to compensate for her inability to speak in English, Judy realised. Judy felt irritated. So, should all this tea and food go waste, you stupid cow? she wanted to ask Fennee. Instead, she smiled very politely at Fennee who waited for a couple of minutes and walked out.
The housekeeper did not seem to be upset in the least. She summoned a servant who started to take the tea things away. ‘What happens to all this?’ Judy asked the housekeeper who managed a smattering of English.
‘This? Oh! We don’t waste. The biscuits - put back in the tins, the cakes - in the box, then we…’
‘What happens to the food that is not eaten? What do you do?’
‘We take it home,’ Madam. The housekeeper did not make it sound like a big deal. It seemed to be more of a right to take the leftover food home.
Judy walked over to the kitchen which was swarming with servants. There seemed to be more servants around today than yesterday. And the kitchen was quite dirty. She was about to enter the kitchen when she remembered Mash’s advice to her yesterday night. ‘Stay out of the kitchen,’ Mash had told her. ‘It’s a place for servants, not for the mistress of the house.’
No wonder the kitchen was no primitive and badly equipped. It was not a place where the mistress of the house ever spent any time. Judy decided that henceforth she would stay away from the kitchen.
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More by : Vinod Joseph