Chapter 63 - A Pool Party

The Prime Minister of Tawa - 63

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The controversy about the swimming pool was something Mash could have done without, especially at that point in his political career. It all started when the SFF made an unsuccessful attempt to kill Nedeem Balvanee, the Interior and Defence Minister. Nedeem usually travelled in his official car along a particular route to the Central Secretariat from his home. One warm March morning as Nedeem’s car passed through a busy thoroughfare, a group of four Seedas on two motorbikes ambushed his car and riddled it with gunfire. Nedeem’s driver and security guard were instantly killed. But unfortunately for the SFF, Nedeem had been afflicted by the most painful migraine that morning and was not inside that car. Instead, he was at home recovering from the migraine after having ordered his driver to carry three important files back to the Central Secretariat and hand them over to Kamel. The SFF fled the scene, but one of the motorbikes crashed into a car and both the rider and person on the pillion were captured. While interrogated by the police, they denied that there were any more such squads in the capital. However, the police soon switched to their traditional methods of questioning. Within an hour, the captured youths revealed that various such units had infiltrated into the capital in order to attack and kill important politicians and army officials. Is the Prime Minister on this hit list? an interrogator asked one of the youths after having pulled out two of his fingernails. Yes, he is, the youth gasped.

And so, Mash’s security detail was enlarged. He stopped taking the same route twice to work or anywhere else. Sniffer dogs were brought in to search his house. After a week, Mash settled into his new routine and thought no more about it, until he went for his routine bi-monthly medical check-up. The doctor who examined him asked him casually if he was taking sufficient exercise. Mash replied saying, ‘I can’t go out of my house so easily. I used to go to the pool at Hepara Bay and swim. But now I can’t.’ Which was not untrue, though the number of times Mash had gone to Hepara Bay to swim in its pool ever since he came to Tawa could be counted on the fingers of one hand.

‘You ought to have a swimming pool in your backyard,’ the doctor told Mash as he took his blood pressure. ‘It is a necessity. The Prime Minister of this nation ought to keep himself fit.’ The doctor did have reason to be concerned. Mash had put on a fair amount of weight. He had black bags under his eyes. And his blood pressure was definitely up by a few notches since the last medical. ‘Nothing to worry about,’ the doctor told Mash as he and Judy left. ‘Provided you start exercising.’

Judy, who always accompanied Mash when he went for his medicals, agreed with what the doctor said. The proposal received even more support from Barbara. ‘Having a swimming pool should not be considered a luxury. Lots of people in Australia have them in their back yards.’

However, once news of the swimming pool became public, it ran into a hail of controversy. ‘Unnecessary expenditure at a time of crisis,’ the Hepara Herald claimed. The PDA and the CPT cried foul. Even members of Mash’s party were not too keen on the idea. None of the cabinet members said a word in support, though they did not say anything against the plan either. Horan on the other hand raised the issue at a party meeting. ‘We’re finding it difficult to raise enough money to buy decent weapons for our soldiers. We have been forced to use the five hundred million dollars the Americans gave us as development aid to buy weapons. And we still need more weapons. Our men are fighting empty handed in the hills against a formidable enemy. At a time like this, the Prime Minister should not spend money on such luxuries.’

Mash had already had an argument with Ted Hoffman regarding the use of American aid money to buy weaponry for the army. There might not be more aid forthcoming, Ted had darkly warned Mash. It couldn’t be helped. In any event, the rail network upgradation had been put on hold. Cinq Rail had withdrawn its bid saying that it was not willing to send its engineers to Tawa in the light of what had happened to Bendron Corp’s engineers. The Indonesian firm was still willing to do the job, but the army desperately needed a few more helicopters and some armoured carriers.

‘So, what do you want me to do?’ Mash asked Horan. ‘Retract from my plan and lose face?’ This was as good an argument as any within the party. Loss of face for the Prime Minister was as much a blow to the TFP as it was to the Prime Minister.

Mash seriously wished he were still in London, taking the early morning train from Watford Junction to Euston and the Northern Line tube from Euston to Goodge Street Station. All he had to do was to read tax updates and make sure he understood any changes in tax law in order to do his job well. Advising businessmen how they could plan their affairs in such a way that they did not pay more than what was necessary to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs was not the most interesting job in the world, but it had paid his bills and he had never had to deal with people like Horan Samiban or Peelee Threeman. There were so many things about his job which he had hated then, but which did not seem to be such a big deal as he faced the questions about his swimming pool. Those occasional trips to Guernsey or Jersey to set up trusts or holding companies for his clients - he used to hate such trips when he had to wake up in the mornings and catch an early morning flight from Luton or Stanstead. Why did he ever find them annoying? When compared with the music he was now facing, they were just tiny pinpricks. So, what if he could not become a partner at Halboroughs? He could have stayed on, nevertheless. Or he could have moved to that smaller firm in Pinner where they were willing to make him a partner. Why Oh! Why did he decide to return to Tawa? The country which had treated his family so badly! Where his father had been killed like a common criminal! Where they allowed his father’s killer to fly off to Switzerland with enough money for the rest of his life! And on top of all that, he had surrendered his British citizenship. That beautiful little maroon booklet, which he should never had let go of.

‘You could say that it will be a gift from one or two businessmen,’ someone suggested.

‘That’ll make it worse. This is not the time to publicly receive gifts from businessmen,’ Horan validly pointed out.

‘Tell you what, I’ll make it a low cost swimming pool. The cheapest one possible. It will not cost more than half a million puvees. Do you think the people will tolerate that?’ Mash asked the gathering at large.

‘No Maheshdas-raan, they won’t. For someone who monthly income is not more than a thousand puvees, the idea that the Prime Minister can spend half a million puvees on a pool will not sound very good. Don’t you agree?’ Horan asked in exasperation.

‘Let the party pay for it,’ Vikan suggested. ‘The Prime Minister’s health is our concern.’ There was silence at this suggestion. No one objected to it. Not even Horan. It was a question of Mash losing face or the party paying for his swimming pool.

‘I propose that the party should pay for the swimming pool to be built in Maheshdas-raan’s house,’ Vikan proposed. Nedeem seconded the motion, which was passed unanimously.

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More by :  Vinod Joseph

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