Chapter 15 - Mash Plots to Sideline an Old Loyalist

The Prime Minister of Tawa - 15

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Barbara called up Mash to tell him that Urushambo was running late.

‘Oh, it doesn’t matter. From what I remember, Urush was always late. In fact, I remember him being late for school all the time.’

‘Ha Ha. Is that right?’

‘No, I was just joking. It doesn’t matter. We have plenty of time today.’

‘Actually, it’s my fault. I asked him to help me assemble a plane and he lost track of time.’

‘So, are you going to be flying off somewhere in your plane?’

‘Ah Ha Ha Ha. You have such a sense of humour Mash. No, it’s only a toy plane. We had gifted it to Veseem for his birthday last week. He spent two days trying to assemble it himself and he could not. Then I promised to help him, and I could not either. So, I got Urush to do it this morning. And Urush took such a long time to do it, he lost track of time while, you know ….’

‘Judy is here. Let me give her the phone.’

Judy took the phone and asked, ‘Why didn’t you come over with Urush?’

Mash plonked down on the bed and started to flip through the file in his hand. One couldn’t be too careful when one plans a coup. For that was exactly what Mash was planning with the help of Urushambo! The election were just two more weeks away and the coup would take place immediately after that.

It was a lucky break that he got to know of Urush’s existence. The break had come via Judy’s hairdresser. The hairdresser had told Judy of an Australian lady who was married to a Tawan plantation owner. Barbara was one of her best clients and the hairdresser was sure that Judy and Barbara would hit off. ‘You both have a lot in common,’ the hairdresser had assured Judy. Judy, who was by now bored out of her wits, had invited Barbara over for tea. Things happened fast after that. Barbara casually mentioned that her husband had gone to the same school as Mash had – the Royal Moshee High School. In fact, Urushambo had been just a year senior to Mash. Judy had enjoyed having tea with Barbara. Finally, she had found someone she had a little bit in common with. Mash had a very vague memory of Urushambo, but agreed to meet with him, nevertheless. Urushambo and Barbara came for dinner one day with their children Vanamola and Veseem. Vanamola was the same age as Heather and Veseem was six. The children had hit off immediately. Urushambo owned a couple of plantations which he had inherited from his father. His family had owned three more which had been nationalised by General Naranin. When he was younger, Urush had spent a couple of years in Australia at the Charles Darwin University. Not that he got a degree at the end of it, but he did have a good time and had learnt a thing or two about having a good time. Barbara had played a key role in the good times he had, and they had decided to get married before Urush returned to Tawa.

But the best thing was that Urush was quite well versed with all the ins and outs of Tawan politics. Right from the first meeting, Mash realised that Urush was exactly the sort of friend he was desperately looking for. And Urush was quite happy to explain the nuances of Tawan politics to Mash.

‘Nedeem Balvanee and Horan do not get along,’ Urush informed Mash. Looking back, the mutual dislike between the General Secretary and the Prime Minister was so obvious that Mash realised that he ought to have guessed it.  Nedeem was an ambitious man, but Horan had cut him down to size. He was not given any ministerial posts and had to settle for the post of general secretary in the TFP.  ‘Vikan Messenee is a good man. Make him yours’, Urush had advised. Mash couldn’t agree more. ‘The few days after the elections are the most crucial. That’s when the ministries are allotted. Horan Samiban and Peelee Threeman will try to make sure their men get all the ministerial berths,’ Urush prophesised. ‘That’s when you ought to put your foot down. You need Horan and Peelee for the moment. You cannot run the election campaign on your own.’ Which was very true. The election campaign was quite well-run, Mash had to admit. Despite having been warned of a hectic time, Mash had not suffered too much. He attended a meeting or a rally a day on average. Certain days were more hectic, but on the whole life was quite good. Since Tawa was not a very large island, it didn’t take more than four hours to drive from Hepara, which was on the southwest coast, to the northern tip of the country. The Central Hill District and the east coast were relatively less developed and took longer to reach. They had spent four days touring various places on the east coast. Then they had spent a day at Eko, the main town in the Central Hill District, and another day touring various villages in the Central Hill District. Except during those six days, Mash had managed to get back to the bungalow every night.

The coup was to take place immediately after the election results came in. Everyone predicted a sweeping victory for the TFP. As soon as the victorious TFP MPs sat down to discuss ministerial allotments, Mash would produce his pre-determined list. He would allow the MPs to discuss the list, but it would stop at that. His list would be more or less final. If Horan or Peelee tried to tell Mash who ought to be a minister and who ought to be kept out of the cabinet, they would be asked to take a hike. And Mash would no longer be at their mercy. He would have Urushambo and Nedeem Balvanee to guide him. Nedeem Balvanee, who was now firmly on their side, would be given the crucial interior and defence ministry. Vikan Messenee would be the minister for public utilities. Peelee would be offered something not so insignificant. Something like the ministry for land transport and shipping, but nothing as powerful as the interior and defence ministry which he now held. He would have to be given cabinet rank, otherwise it would be too much of a demotion. Horan Samiban would be requested to become the general secretary of the party and guide them. The foreign ministry that was now held by Horan, would be held by Mash. ‘Let’s follow your practice. Let the Prime Minister keep the foreign portfolio,’ Horan would be told. Which left the economic affairs ministry to be filled by someone not too close to Horan or Peelee. Currently it was held by a crony of Horan whose main qualification was that he had played an active role in the struggle against General Naranin. Vikan had suggested that Dimanan Yaree’s name and Nedeem had approved the suggestion. Dimanan was a MP from the northern Nalvettipura district who used to be a professor of Economics at the Humayun University during General Naranin’s time. Mash had met Dimanan a few times at TFP party meetings but had never exchanged anything beyond mere pleasantries with him so far. The economic affairs minister would play a crucial role in Mash’s grand scheme of things and he had deferred his decision until he had a chance to meet with Dimanan and get to know him better.

Though they had spent a lot of time over the phone discussing the list, it was not yet final. Mash was worried that his phone would be tapped. But Urush and Nedeem had both assured him that the no DCI official would have the guts to do it since it was so obvious that Mash would be in power pretty soon.

‘Mash, do you think we will come home from the sacred grove thingeee by four tomorrow?’ Judy asked with the receiver held in one hand. With her free hand, she ran her fingers over her hair which was tied into a small ponytail.

‘I should think so, hon. It’s scheduled for eleven in the morning isn’t it? And it is only an hour’s drive. We ought to be back by one-thirty. Tops two. Why?’

‘Barbara wants to know if Heather would like to go to their place for tea. Apparently the first jackfruit of the season has just ripened, and they are throwing a party for that.’

‘Yeah, why not?’

Why not? As long as Heather was happy, why on earth not?

It took another thirty minutes before a servant knocked on the bedroom door and announced that Urush had arrived. Judy got up drawing the strings of her housecoat around her and went to the main reception room. ‘Tell Urush I’ll be there in a few minutes,’ Mash told Judy and started to change out of his dressing gown.

‘So, you finally made it,’ Judy told Urushambo by way of welcome.

‘I’m so sorry, I didn’t realise how time had flown.’ 

‘Would you like a cup of tea?’ Judy asked.

‘Why not?’

‘And what sort of tea do you like today? English breakfast tea or Tawan tea?’

‘I don’t want to drink up all your Earl Grey. I’ll have some Tawan tea.’ Tawans drank their tea after cooking it for five minutes or so in boiling water. With a lot of milk and sugar in it.  If Judy were asked to pick out the thing, she hated the most about Tawa, she would have said ‘tea’ without a second’s thought. She had never thought anyone could be so cruel to ‘tea’. However, the housekeeper had managed to get hold of a carton of Earl Grey tea bags from somewhere and saved Judy’s life.

‘Are you sure? I’m sure we have enough tea bags to last us for a while. At least till the elections get over.’

‘No. I’m fine with some ordinary tea.’ Urush leaned back on the sofa and crossed his legs. He was one of those tall athletic men who, after reaching middle age, had put on weight, but because he carried his weight well, did not come across as someone fat or chubby.

Judy searched the room for a servant. There was one standing in the corner dusting the window. ‘Tea. One cup. ‘Powder tea. No bag tea. Powder tea.’ Urush smiled to himself and opened his mouth to interpret, but before he could do so, the servant nodded her head and went off.

In the five weeks they had been there, Judy had worked out a system of communicating with the servants. If it was something simple, like a cup of tea, there was no problem. Anything else had to be broken down into simple sentences. Else, the housekeeper who managed a smattering of English would be summoned from wherever she was to interpret.

‘Where’s Heather?’

‘She’s playing outside. There’s a swing behind the house. She’ll be on that.’

Mash made his appearance in short sleeved shirt and slacks, with the file under his arm. If Urushambo weren’t there, Judy would have hugged him. It had been so long since he had worn anything other than those miserable kirees and sarongs. It seemed as if a decade had passed from the time when Mash got up every morning to put on a suit, tie and cufflinks and went off to catch a train to Euston. He had put on a fair bit of weight after reaching Tawa. The small paunch he had while they lived in London was now quite pronounced. While working in London, he had never been able to go to a gym or do any form of regular exercise. However, his daily commute and sandwich diet had combined to make him look trim. After coming to Tawa, he did not get to walk around at all. Plus, he was eating at least three large meals a day. 

‘Mash, would you like some tea?’ Judy asked.

‘Nope. No tea for me.’ After coming to Tawa, Judy had been shocked to find out that Mash did not mind drinking the milky tea which the servants prepared. Or even the coffee which came with an equal amount of milk and sugar. ‘I grew up here, you know. My taste buds are used to this type of tea,’ he had justified his taste. But he did not deny that tea should not be cooked and the best way to drink it was to keep its touch light.

Urush finished his tea.

‘Shall we leave?’ Mash asked.

‘Why don’t I call Nedeem and tell him that we are on our way?’ Urush asked.

‘Good idea.’

Urush took out his mobile and dialled a number. ‘You could have used our home phone,’ Mash said. Urush shrugged his shoulders and held the phone to his ear.

‘Hello, can I speak with Nedeem-raan?’

‘I’m Nedeem-raan’s friend. My name is Urushambo.’ There was a long silence as Urushambo listened to the person at the other end.

‘He has left for a meeting, has he?’

‘They have left already. Shall I call Nedeem on his mobile and tell him we are about to leave?’

‘Don’t bother,’ Mash told Urushambo. ‘Let them wait for us there.’

Heather ran into the house. She too was pleasantly surprised to see Mash wear a shirt and trousers. “Daddy why are you dressed like this?’

‘I’m going for a meeting honey.’

‘But why aren’t you wearing that thing you wear out here?’

‘You won’t understand honey.’

‘I will understand.’

Urushambo chucked and said,’ your Daddy is only meeting a few friends. So he can dress the way he wants.’ That seemed to satisfy Heather.

‘And you are coming over to our house tomorrow, aren’t you?’ Urushambo asked Heather.

‘I haven’t told her yet,’ Judy said. ‘There’s a party at Urush’s house tomorrow evening. They’ve invited you.’

‘Yipee!’ Heather shouted. Life seemed to be one long party. She would start school only in September. The days at Watford where she spent at least an hour every day helping her mother with various chores seemed to be a distant memory.

Mash and Urush walked into the verandah and the four policemen and driver sitting around idly, jumped to attention.

‘I won’t need the car. This gentleman here is driving me. You can follow me, though,’ Mash told the policemen.

‘Sir, where are you going?’ the policeman in charge asked Mash.

‘We are going to this gentleman’s coconut plantation. It’s in Hakksadhra.’

‘The Shimanee Plantation,’ Urushambo added.

‘Sir, should one of us travel in your car?’

‘No, that won’t be necessary. But you can follow us, if you like.’

The policeman looked at Urushambo as if he was not sure he could trust him. However, he had no choice, other than to do what Mash suggested. The driver sat back with a sigh.

Urushambo drove a battered Toyota which went his image of a well-to-do man who did everything effortlessly. Hakksadhra was just outside the city limits of Hepara and Urushambo took a slightly roundabout route so that he did not have to pass through Cornovee or other crowded areas.

‘So, once Dimanan Yaree is in the bag, we are all set, aren’t we?’

‘Dimanan should fall in. Nedeem tells me that he does not like Horan at all.’

‘I just hope he does not go to Horan and snitch. The last thing I want is a confrontation with Horan before the elections.’

‘Oh, he won’t. And if you were to ask me, there’s very little Horan can do at this stage. You are all set to win. Even if you decided that you did not want to win, you will win.’

‘So, did you say Nedeem will collect Vikan and Dimanan and then drive to your place?’

‘That’s the idea.’

‘I am finding it so difficult to call these chaps raan. Horan-raan, Peelee-raan, Nedeem-raan. I guess it will have to be Dimanan-raan?’

‘Well, he is almost sixty. You don’t really have a choice, my friend.’

‘What’s the point of giving people names if you can’t call them by those names?’

Urushambo chuckled.

‘I haven’t been calling Vikan, Vikan-raan. Do you think he minds?’

‘He can’t afford to mind. You are going to induct him into the cabinet.’

‘I hope this Dimanan turns out to be a sensible chap.’

‘He used to teach Economics.’

‘Yes, but will he be able to do the job as economic affairs minister?’

‘He can’t be worse that the current one. They couldn’t have done a worse job.’

‘I think Horan ought to have denationalised the plantations as soon as he took over. First the banks and the insurance company. Both the banks and the insurance company in one go. After that the factories. Finally, the plantations.’

‘You are right,’ Urushambo agreed. ‘Now it will be a tough act to privatise those plantations. Do you know how much money the government loses every month on account of those plantations? I am not saying this because the government took over three of our plantations. All of them were extremely profitable, you know. Now, I don’t think the government makes any money out of those properties.’

‘Running a plantation is not the government’s business. We ought to stick to our core competencies. The government’s job is to do as little harm as possible. The government ought to establish the right infrastructure, make it easy for people to do business and keep out of the way.’

‘I’m so glad you’ve come back. This country needs you.’

‘Well, if I have the right economic affairs minister, I may be able to get your plantations back to you. Let’s see if Dimanan is the right guy for this job.’

‘The shack I have at the plantation will not be particularly comfortable, you know.’

‘That’s fine. As long as Horan doesn’t get wind of this meeting, I don’t care.’

They drove in silence for the rest of the way. Mash’s security guards followed then. The roads were potholed and badly in need of repair. Mash shuddered to think how bad it could get once the monsoon rains started. Thank God the elections were being held before the monsoon set in.

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More by :  Vinod Joseph

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