Sep 28, 2023
Sep 28, 2023
by Vinod Joseph
The Prime Minister of Tawa – 40
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Six months after Clare Ferguson visited Tawa to open negotiations with the Tawan government, Bendron Corp agreed to compromise on the only outstanding issue. It agreed that it would pay tax on its income from the hydro-electric project five years after it started generating electricity. Similarly, its income from the aluminium smelter would be taxable five years after the factory became operational. Other than this, Bendron Corp made no other compromise. Mash did not relish the idea of paying four puvees per unit for the electricity to be supplied to the government, when the aluminium smelter would receive the same electricity at a rate of two puvees per unit. But he had to either take it or leave it.
A team of lawyers from New York arrived in Hepara to draft the entire raft of agreements which Bendron Corp insisted had to be signed before the project could begin. It had taken the lawyers and Tawan bureaucrats a month to finalise the agreements. The night before Clare Ferguson’s arrival, Mash flipped through the agreements one last time before he signed them the next day. It was late in the night and Sulawa was with him. Mash was sitting in bed with his back resting on a pile of pillows. Sulawa lay on his lap and was reading a book.
As Mash went through the contracts and made notes, he wished he had more bargaining power. If only Bendron Corp weren’t the first investor in Tawa, he would have made Clare Ferguson agree to a price lower than four puvees a unit for the electricity to be supplied to the government. And he wouldn’t have agreed to so many onerous obligations. The government wouldn’t have agreed to deliver all construction materials to the dam site and factory site. Bendron Corp would have been forced to purchase construction materials from Tawan contractors on its own. Bendron Corp wouldn’t have the right to walk away from Tawa if the security situation turned bad and claim from the Tawan government the entire cost incurred by it till such date. The governing law and arbitration clause in the agreements was another irritant. Granted Tawan commercial law was not very well developed and the Tawan legal system was not really up to scratch, it was still too much of a snub for the Tawan government to enter into a series of agreements with a corporation, which would all be governed by the laws of the State of New York. Any dispute was to be settled through arbitration in London.
Sulawa lifted up her head to look at Mash and then went back to her book. She was wearing glasses which made her look pretty in a rather intellectual way. Sulawa was so much different from Judy. Sulawa never judged anyone. Judy on the other hand had an opinion about everybody, which was mostly negative. Sulawa could keep quiet for long stretches of time. She was perfectly content to sit around and let Mash read or watch TV or make phone calls. And finally, she was younger than Judy and pretty. It had been a long time since Mash thought Judy looked beautiful or even nice, for that matter. Even the not-so-pretty bits about Sulawa were attractive. Her uneven teeth were beautiful. The few acne-marks she still had, had a charm of their own.
All his cabinet colleagues knew of the affair, and Mash had stopped taking the trouble of hiding it. Nedeem Balvanee had arranged for a house, a car, a housekeeper and a driver to be put at Sulawa’s disposal and Mash always met Sulawa in that house. That way they did not have to waste time driving to Urushambo’s plantation at Hakksadhra. Not a single Tawan journalist showed any interest in Mash’s private life. Initially Mash’s biggest fear had been that news of his affair would be splashed across the newspapers. But his fears had proved to be unfounded. Ordinary Tawans did not really care if their political leaders had affairs or maintained mistresses. For someone who had lived all his adult life in the west, it was a revelation. And it was not just him. Most ministers and MPs seemed to have mistresses. Even the timid and humble Vikan had a woman tucked away somewhere. But he did take care to ensure that Judy did not know of his affair. Urushambo repeatedly assured him that Barbara did not know about it. For if Barbara were to know, it was very likely that she would inform Judy.
‘Do you think things could ever get better for us?’ Mash asked Sulawa.
‘How can they get better than this?’ Sulawa asked, taking her eyes off her book.
‘I wish I could leave Judy, but I can’t.’
‘You don’t have to explain. Something is better than nothing. I’m good at enjoying what I have and not worrying about what I can’t have.’
‘I’m glad you’re around,’ Mash said. ‘If I weren’t the Prime Minister, maybe I could have asked Judy for a divorce. I don’t know.’
‘I’m not asking you to divorce your wife and marry me.’
They were silent for a while. ‘That’s it. No point agonising over this anymore.’ Mash dropped the last of the agreements into a pile at the bottom of the bed.’
‘Are they so very unfair?’
‘Actually they are not. As Clare Ferguson said, it’s their money on the line.’
They were silent for a while. ‘Are you sure you don’t want to accept that job?’ Mash asked Sulawa. After Sulawa had finished her assignment for the tourism department and submitted her findings, Mash had suggested she accept a position on the board for women’s welfare. But Sulawa was not too keen on it. ‘Too much work,’ she said.
‘I’ll be able to see you more often.’
‘But it’s still work, isn’t it?’
‘You lazy bum,’ Mash said as he hugged her and was transported into a different world.
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