The Prime Minister of Tawa – 20
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Messages of congratulations poured in from various quarters. Except for the United States, China, India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives, very few states had a diplomatic presence in Tawa. Most countries covered Tawa through their diplomatic missions in Sri Lanka or India. The USA would not have had a mission in Tawa, had it not been for the naval base it had maintained there during General Naranin’s time. Even though Tawa had been a British colony, the UK did not have a diplomatic mission in Hepara. The UK’s mission in Colombo covered Maldives and Tawa. Russia did the same as well. Therefore, only a handful of foreign diplomats were actually present in Tawa. All those diplomats who were usually bored out of their minds made a beeline to the bungalow to meet with Mash after news of his election victory came in. A correspondent from the Guardian flew in to meet with and interview Mash. “London Accountant Crowned in Tawa,’ the Guardian headline said.
But the message that got Mash really chuffed was the one from Halboroughs. ‘We are all so proud of you,’ the large card, most probably bought from Clintons by Norman Lumley’s secretary, told Mash. All twenty-five accountants and twenty odd secretaries and other support staff at Halboroughs had signed it. It had been sent by special courier to reach Mash a day after the election results came in. The TFP had a landslide victory, winning fifty-five seats out of the total sixty seats, five seats more than what it had won in the first elections when it was led by Seleem Zoloda. The PDA had won four seats in a few of their traditional strongholds and the CPT had won a single seat in the Central Hill District.
Kemon himself had managed to win by the narrowest margin possible. He had pipped the TFP candidate contesting against him by a mere two hundred votes. The only bit of bad news was that TFP’s candidate from the Central Hill District, a Seeda, who would have become the minister for agriculture and fisheries, lost to the CPT. Mash wanted to make one of the four Seedas MPs who won from the Central Hill District the minister for agriculture and fisheries. However, none of them were particularly suitable to be made a minister and none of the Keenda MPs wanted more than one Seeda minister. Vikan himself was not too keen to have another Seeda made a minister. “Let the best men be made ministers Maheshdas-raan,’ Vikan said when Mash asked him for his opinion. Mash was forced to bow to the inevitable and give up his plans to have two Seeda ministers. Which meant that not a single Seeda from the Central Hill District would find a place in his ministry.
Norman Lumley called him up a day later.
‘Yes, I got the card.’ Mash told him. Norman was one of the three main equity partners at Halboroughs and was bound to have played a role in the decision to deny him partnership.
‘I’m sure things will only get better now that you are there. It was quite a job to get someone to transfer my call to you, you know.’
Mash had chuckled in reply. He would have liked to have said, ‘yes, it is not easy to get through to a Prime Minister. If you were to call up Whitehall and ask to be put through to the British Prime Minister, are you going to be speaking with Tony Blair in the next few seconds?’ But he merely said, ‘I’m sorry about that, but …..’
There was a pause. What was Norman waiting for? Did he expect Mash to rush off and tell whoever answered the telephone at the Residency to make sure all calls from Norman Lumley or anyone else at Halboroughs were put through to him immediately, or else they would be hanged and quartered?
‘As I was saying, things are bound to get better at Tawa,’ Norman repeated. ‘You ought to keep in touch. And please let us know if you need anything from here,’ Norman added.
‘But of course. I’ve got to go now Norman. I am in a bit of a rush.’ Mash hung up with a great deal of satisfaction. The last thing he planned to do was to keep in touch with Norman.
Mash moved into the Residency two days after the election results were officially announced. Mr. Cheung offered the use of the bungalow to Horan Samiban, who accepted the offer and moved in there.
The Prime Minister’s residence at 51 Veseem Khan Road was originally built by the British and occupied by various British Residents during the almost two hundred years of British rule in Tawa. After Tawa got independence, it was converted into the Prime Minister’s official residence but continued to be referred to as the Residency. After General Naranin staged his coup d’etat and took over power, he had considered the possibility of occupying it, but never did. Most probably it was because he perpetually claimed he was holding on to power for just another year till he could hold elections and hand over the country to a responsible civilian ruler. After the PDA was created and General Naranin installed Kemon Padusee as the Prime Minister of Tawa (without holding any elections), he allowed Kemon to live in the Residency. It was a huge rambling building made of stone that was very well preserved. The sea was just fifty metres away from the entrance to the Residency, on the other side of the road. The first British Resident had built it with the intention of having a residence that would be comparable to the palace occupied by the Moshees. Surprisingly, it had changed very little. Once Mash and his family moved there, it was as if he had never left the Residency, as if the twenty seven years he had been away in London had passed by in a blink. It was all still there, the room with two pillars so close to each other that a little boy could hide between them. The small piece of stone protruding from the rear wall of the building, on which one could sit and gaze into the gardens beyond. The bedroom which Mash and Judy occupied had a sea view, just like Mash’s old room which Heather now occupied. The only thing that seemed to be missing was the sound of his father shouting at a servant or his secretary or his mother singing softly to herself.
Mash vividly remembered the day he and his mother left for London for his mother’s treatment. It was April and the height of summer. He was about to start his final high school year in a few months time. His mother did not really want to go to London for her treatment, but her doctors had said if she were to go to London, she would get much better treatment for her breast cancer than she would ever get in Tawa. Her cancer was only in its initial stages and a stitch in time would save nine, they told her. They were to fly to Colombo, stay there overnight and catch a flight to London from there. In those days, before the Americans set up their naval base at Yalee, there were no long haul flights from Hepara. The day they were to leave, his father shouted at everyone more than he usually did. He had originally planned to fly to Colombo with them and see them off at Colombo, but had been forced to change his plans since something had come up. His mother, twenty-five years younger than his father, had smiled at his father and said, ‘we’ll be back in a couple of months. Mash could still remember his father standing at the entrance of the Residency as he saw them off. Even as their car moved off, his father had turned his back and gone inside. His mother had given him a lopsided smile as she sat back in the car and looked out of the window.
And his mother never returned, whilst he had been forced to stay away for twenty seven years. No, he could have come back five years ago when General Naranin fled. But why on earth did they let General Naranin flee? Why couldn’t that Horan Samiban or Peelee Threeman have captured General Naranin and hanged him? General Naranin had struck within a week of their departure for London. A month after the coup took place, when it became obvious that there would be no quick return to Tawa, Mash’s mother had insisted that he enrol in a school and finish off his O levels. We’ll never know how long it will take for this madness to get over and we can go back. You might as well get on with your studies while we are here, she had insisted.
When General Naranin announced that his father was to be put on trial, Mash and his mother assumed that General Naranin would keep Seleem Zoloda in jail for a while, till he felt his position to be secure enough. And all the time they waited for someone to do something. Where were the hundreds of yes-men and cronies who always surrounded Seleem-raan, waiting to do his bidding? Surely someone would do something to get their beloved Seleem-raan released from jail and drag General Naranin away in chains? But nothing happened. At the Kangaroo trial Seleem Zoloda had been accused of everything from stealing money from the exchequer to making too many compromises in favour of the Seedas. The main charge was that he had conspired to weaken the military and the State. Yes, his father had slashed the military budget so that there was more money for schools and hospitals, but was that a crime? In the days after the coup, many people seemed to agree with General Naranin that it was.
The charges were not surprising, but the death sentence was. Seleem’s execution date had been fixed a month in advance. Enough time for various presidents and Prime Ministers to appeal to General Naranin to show mercy, which they did. General Naranin had ignored the appeals and refused to commute his father’s death sentence, which was to be carried out at dawn.
The night of the execution, Mash and his mother waited for the sun to set. It had been a long August day and Tawa was four hours ahead of the UK. Six in the morning in Tawa was two in the night in London, which was on daylight saving mode. They were staying at the home of a Tawan family in Hackney who were equally distraught. Many expatriates Tawans had gathered in the house to be with them in their moment of grief. His mother managed to avoid crying as long as the sun shone. But as darkness crept in, she had broken into loud sobs. Mash held on and did not cry despite his mother hugging him and sobbing her heart out. He maintained his brave face even after the cuckoo clock struck midnight and many of the people in the room started crying. But when the clock struck two a hush fell across the room and Mash had screamed ‘Aayoh!’ and burst into tears. Everyone else had joined in with loud wailing. The next day’s Guardian and the Times ran small stories about Seleem Zoloda’s execution, both papers using the same file picture taken in happier times.
It had been so surreal, to walk into the August sunshine the next day to buy some bread from the corner shop two doors away and to be surrounded by so many cheerful people. ‘Anything else my love?’ the woman at the till had asked him as she put the bread loaf into a brown bag for him to take away. Mash was pretty sure she had never heard of Tawa or of the execution that had taken place a few hours earlier.
The swearing in ceremony was scheduled to be held tomorrow. All ministerial posts were allocated. Mash had an interesting meeting with Horan, Peelee and Nedeem after the results were in. Ultimately it had ended in an anti climax. Horan and Peelee had been shocked when Mash told them that he had finalised the list of ministers on his own. ‘So, this is your list,’ Horan had told Mash after he glanced through the sheet of paper Mash gave him.
‘I think you ought to take over from Nedeem-raan as the general secretary of the party,’ Mash added since Horan’s name did not figure in the list of ministers.
‘Maheshdas-raan, I have no intention of becoming the minister for land transport and shipping,’ Peelee told Mash. ‘I will gladly give up my post as the interior and defence minister, but in that case, I cannot continue to serve you.’ Mash and Peelee were silent for a few seconds. Peelee’s face became red with emotion.
‘It’s your decision, Peelee-raan,’ Mash said, stifling his impulse to laugh out aloud.
‘I’ll be off then,’ Peelee and walked off in a huff. Horan ran after him, caught him by the sleeve and dragged him back. ‘It’s okay Maheshdas-raan. Our friend can get emotional at times. I’ll speak to him. He’ll be your minister for land transport and shipping. As for me Maheshdas-raan, I am very happy to take over as the secretary general,’ Horan told him. He then turned to Nedeem and said, ‘Congratulations Nedeem-raan. I am sure you will do a fine job as the interior and defence minister.’
Nedeem and Mash had waited for Horan and Peelee to leave before they fell to congratulating themselves. ‘Please watch out for Horan-raan. He looks innocent and harmless, but he is a calculating bastard,’ Nedeem warned Mash.
‘Don’t worry, I’ll handle them,’ Mash said.
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