The Prime Minister of Tawa – 38
Continued from Previous Page
It took Mash a couple of weeks to read Sulawa’s book which he did not particularly like. He finished it a day before Clare Ferguson arrived. It was the story of a woman who married a man her parents did not approve of and then walked out of that marriage. The protagonist was still happy at the end since she had got to exercise her freedom of choice. As soon as Clare Ferguson and her team left Tawa, Mash rang up Sulawa. A little boy answered the phone.
‘Mummy has gone out. She will be back in an hour’s time,’ he told Mash.
Mash called back after a couple of hours and Sulawa’s mother picked up the phone.
‘Can I speak to Sulawa-ree?’ Mash asked.
‘May I ask who’s calling?’
‘I am the Prime Minister, Maheshdas Zoloda. I met your daughter at a wedding a few weeks ago. Can I please speak with her?’
There was a stunned silence. But after a few minutes, Sulawa was on the line.
‘I read your book and ..’
‘didn’t like it,’ Sulawa completed for Mash. ‘Most men don’t like it. They feel threatened.’
‘Actually I did like it. I am a bit different. May be it’s because I lived abroad for many years. I would say I am a lot more liberal than your average Tawan male.’
‘You really liked it? You are saying this just to …’
‘No, no. I did like it. And I would like to meet you so that you can autograph my copy for me.’
‘Well, what can I say? I’m flattered.’
‘So, when do we meet?’
Sulawa was silent.
‘I’m not sure what’s convenient for you. You come home, but then .. there are always too many people at home, too many visitors. I would like us to go somewhere quiet. We could go to a restaurant. I’ll find a restaurant where we’ll have some privacy and…..’
‘Why don’t you come to my home?’ Sulawa asked. We’ll have all the privacy we need.’
‘Are you sure that’s convenient for you?’ Mash asked.
‘Oh yes. I meet all my friends at home.’
‘In that case I hope I will be counted as one of your friends. When should I come over?’
Mash’s relations with Judy had grown steadily cold. They hardly talked. Ten days ago, Judy suggested he meet with Girlee who was apparently very sensible and had a few good ideas. Mash had screamed at her and stalked out of the house. And for the three days when Clare Ferguson was in Tawa, he did not see Judy even once. Some decent feminine company would not do him any harm, Mash felt, considering the amount of pressure he was under.
They agreed that Mash should turn up for tea the next day. Sulawa gave him directions.
Mash wondered if he should take any precautions. The neighbourhood was very much middleclass. People were bound to notice if the Prime Minister visited a house in that locality and spent an hour there. But what the heck? He was meeting a promising writer. He was not doing anything he ought to be ashamed of. That evening Mash got cold feet and asked Kamel to find an unmarked car to take him to Sulawa’s house. ‘And please make sure I am not followed by any other cars. I want to travel alone to meet a friend,’ Mash told Kamel.
‘Is it okay if there is a security guard in your car, Maheshdas-raan?’
‘That should be fine. The driver and the security guard will have to wait in the car while I go inside the house. Is that clear?’
‘I’ll make sure it’s done Maheshdas-raan.’
He decided to cover himself with Judy as well. After dinner he told Judy, ‘Tomorrow I’m going to visit a writer. Do you want to come along?’ Since Mash and Judy were not on speaking terms, dinners had become quiet affairs with even Heather not saying much.
‘Five o’clock. We are going to discuss how best we can promote writing in Keenda. You’ll have to wear a doree and sarong, I’m afraid. It’s one of those nationalist things where we wonder why authors who write in Keenda are not as popular as Tawan writers who write in English. Maybe we’ll form a committee at the end of it.’
Judy took a quick look at Heather who was immersed in a Harry Potter book to see if she was paying any attention and said, ‘please don’t ask me to do such things Mash. If you need any help for the next elections, I’m game. But not for anything else. It’s not as if you’ve been very keen to meet my friends.’
‘I’m happy to meet Barbara and Urush as often as you want. In fact, Urush and I plan to meet up this weekend. Urush says he may have some trouble in getting back two of the plantations his family used to own under the rules we’ve framed.’
‘Why is that?’
‘Well, apparently his father did not have title deeds to two of the three plantations they owned and which got nationalised. You know, some of the plantations were developed on land to which no one had title. Urush’s family has owned those plantations for many generations, but they never bothered to get title deeds to them. So when they were taken over, they did not get even the nominal compensation. Basically they are not the owners on record.’
‘I wish you could do something about this sort of red-tapism. It is so ridiculous and unfair.’
‘Maybe you should take Heather along. Her Keenda teacher says she has been picking up quite well.’
‘Really, maybe I should.’ Mash paused to see if Heather would look up from her Harry Potter book. She didn’t.
‘Isn’t this her second one?’ Mash asked Judy.
‘No, this is her third. Isn’t this one the third honey?’
Heather looked up briefly, flipped the book so that Mash could read ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’ on its cover and said, ‘yes, my third,’ and went back to reading her book.
‘How many did they give her?’
‘Four,’ Judy said and added, ‘It’s such a good thing Vanamola is into books. Heather copies everything Vanamola does.’
There was an awkward silence for a while. Then Mash said, ‘I don’t think she is ready yet to attend meetings of this sort. For one, it will all be in Keenda.’
‘She took Keenda tuition during her vacation,’ Judy said.
‘Didn’t she say she still doesn’t understand the stuff they say in class?’ Mash asked.
‘Of course not. She can understand Keenda pretty well. Can’t you darling?’
‘Heather, I asked you a question,’ Judy shouted when Heather refused to respond to her question.
‘Do you still sit next to that fussy princess this year?’ Mash asked Heather.
Heather looked up from her book and said, ‘Dad, since you and Mom don’t ever talk to each other except when you fight, I don’t see why I should talk to either of you!’
Mash gave Judy a furious look. It was entirely her fault. She ought to at least have the sense to reserve their quarrels for when they were along. Judy’s stared back at Mash as if it was all Mash’s fault.
That night as they went to sleep, Mash told Judy, ‘you seem to be incapable of making the smallest compromise. Do you have any idea as to what sort of pressure I am under?’
‘Oh boy! Finally I realise there’s someone here who can’t handle the pressure. I didn’t know this till now. Mash, you should have stayed back at Watford. So what if you didn’t make partner? I never thought you were partner material anyway.’
The last vestiges of guilt which Mash had about what he was going to do were washed away.
The next day all went according to plan. Mash’s car dropped him off in front of Sulawa’s house and then drove off to park nearby. When Mash rang the bell, Sulawa opened the door. She was wearing a pair of jeans and a loose t-shirt which almost came up to her knees. Her hair was pulled back and left loose the way it was at the wedding reception.
‘Alakom Maheshdas-raan,’ Sulawa said with a smile.
‘Alakom,’ Mash replied. Sulawa’s parents and young son were waiting in the drawing room which was quite small, but spotlessly clean. The room had three sets of small windows with iron bars across all of them. A checked curtain hung from each window. A plush three-seater sofa, and two chairs, all covered with covers made of the same cloth as the curtains, formed the furniture along with a glass topped table. The overall appearance was not particularly elegant, but the room definitely had a cosy feel to it. A smell of talcum powder and frying wafted in from the kitchen.
‘Say Alakom to the Prime Minister-raan,’ Sulawa’s father prompted his grandson.
‘Alakom, Prime Minister-raan,’ Sulawa’s son shyly said.
‘What’s your name?’ Mash asked him.
‘What a delightful little boy!’
There was some embarrassed silence. ‘I made my driver drop me off here and wait further away. I didn’t want to have people crowding into your house and cause a nuisance.’
‘You must be fed up with the loss of your privacy,’ Sulawa’s father told him.
‘Oh yes I am. I am. It’s such a nuisance at times. But then, I tell myself it’s because the people love me. If they did not, why would they want to see me or hear me speak? It’s better to be popular and lose one’s privacy than to be unpopular and have a lot of privacy.’
Sulawa and her parents laughed at Mash’s joke.
‘Shall I bring you some tea?’ Sulawa’s mother asked Mash.
‘I don’t mind a cup of tea.’
When Sulawa’s mother went off to get some tea, Mash said, ‘I really enjoyed your book. Which is why I’m here. I wanted to tell you in person how much I liked it and get your autograph on my copy.’
Even Sulawa’s father blushed with pleasure at such a fulsome compliment. In fact, Sulawa’s father blushed much more than Sulawa. ‘Prime Minister-raan, you won’t believe how much honoured we are that you’ve come here personally to tell us this.’ They sat in silence for a while till Sulawa’s mother came in with a tray that held three cups of milky sweet tea and a plate full of cream biscuits. She kept the tray in front of Mash and waited for him to pick a cup.
‘How do you manage to work at the university and write? You must be very hard working!’
‘Oh she works so hard. She works all day long at the university and then she comes home and starts writing,’ Sulawa’s mother informed Mash.
‘All great people make sacrifices for the benefit of others. My father did that. And I believe your daughter is doing that as well.’ Mash then turned to Sulawa and said, ‘I believe you are destined for better things.’
Sulawa laughed. She was definitely an attractive woman. She was also intelligent, no doubt.
‘Before I forget, could you please?’ Mash took out Sulawa’s book and opened it.
‘Let me get you a pen,’ Sulawa’s father said and got up.
‘No, I have a pen,’ Mash said and took out his Mont Blanc and gave it to Sulawa. My sincere thanks and gratitude to our Prime Minister Maheshdas-raan for reading my book,’ Sulawa wrote on the cover page of the book and signed below it.
‘Why don’t you keep the pen?’ Mash suggested.
‘You shouldn’t give away such expensive pens,’ Sulawa protested. She turned to her father and said, ‘this is a Mont Blanc pen. See this white star on the cap. That means it’s a Mont Blanc. These are very expensive pens.’
‘Please don’t say that. I don’t think this country respects writers the way it ought to,’ Mash said. ‘It’s just a small gift to a deserving writer. I’ve used it for over five years now. Now it’s yours.’
‘Go on my child. Accept it,’ Sulawa’s mother prompted her.
Sulawa was forced to accept it.
‘You haven’t eaten anything Maheshdas-raan,’ Sulawa’s mother reminded him.
As soon as Mash finished his tea and ate a biscuit, he got up and the others quickly followed suit. ‘I think I will be off. It was such a pleasure meeting you Sulawa-ree.’ ‘And your parents. And Zaman, of course,’ Mash quickly added.
Sulawa’s parents were tongue-tied. Sulawa was silent, though it seemed to be more out of choice than anything else.
Mash took out his mobile phone and dialled his driver. ‘Please come over to the gate,’ he told his driver.
When he came out of the house, there was a small crowd gathered outside. But it was a friendly and curious crowd and his security guard merely shooed them away with a smile. Mash got into the car and they drove off. As the car picked up speed, Mash called up the education and cultural affairs minister on his mobile phone.
‘Have you heard of a writer named Sulawa?’
The minister who was not particularly interested in literature confessed that he had not. ‘Well, today I met this writer and she has some very good ideas regarding women’s rights. Plus, she is already a lecturer at the Humayun University.’
The education and cultural affairs minister waited for Mash to get to the point. ‘What I would like to do is to put this talented lady to good use. Is there an advisory position or something we have, to which Sulawa-ree can be appointed?’ Mash asked the minister.
‘If this lady is a writer, she should be on the committee which decides the winner of the national awards for literature.’
‘No, that won’t do. She is not senior enough for that. Can’t you make her a special advisor to the Prime Minister for something? Come on, we need to put her skills to some use. Say an advisor on education. Someone who advises the Prime Minister how to increase the number of women who go to college.’
‘Such a person would be advising the education and cultural affairs minister and not you, Maheshdas-raan.’
‘Well you are right. That’s fine. It was only a thought. Let me know if you have any good ideas.’
‘I will Maheshdas-raan,’ the minister said. He was tempted to ask Mash to explain things a bit more, but decided not to. All the ministers were by now used to the fact that they did not really understand their Prime Minister. But that was only to be expected. He was a man who had lived overseas for many years and was used to thinking and working in a different way.
Two days later, Mash called up Sulawa with a request. Tawan embassies had been doing their bit to attract tourists to Tawa, Mash told Sulawa. Part of the reason for their failure was because of bad quality publicity materials. If only Sulawa could take a look at the sort of brochures and handouts Tawan embassies gave away, she would die of embarrassment. The government had been planning to appoint an independent consultant who would study the publicity materials they currently had (which were actually created by an advertising agency that charged hundreds of thousands of puvees) and suggest improvements. There was no deadline or anything. Sulawa could take her time to do this project. Mash had full faith in her. She would submit her report to the Prime Minister who had charge over the external affairs portfolio, as she very well knew.
‘Maheshdas-raan, you are doing this just to … just to. You are doing this unnecessarily. This post is not really needed, is it?’
Mash took a deep breath. ‘No, it is not,’ he confessed. ‘And yes, I am doing this just to make sure I can spend some time with you once in a while. Is that a crime?’
Sulawa was silent. Mash went on, ‘Until I met you, I never thought someone like you existed. Sulawa, you need to help me. There’s no one I can talk to. No one who will even try to understand me.’
‘You have a wife,’ Sulawa pointed out.
‘My marriage is dead,’ Mash said simply.
Sulawa was silent for some time and then she said ‘Yes.’ A few seconds’ silence and she said ‘yes’ once more.
To be Continued