East of Africa, South of India
By: Jacques K. Lee
East of Africa, South of India
It’s the 1960s and another British colony is granted its independence. But in the case of Miraucia, it’s because the Americans want one of its dependencies as their secretive military base in the Indian Ocean. The coconut pickers living there are simply expelled from their atoll.
Lovena Pillay and Robert Laurent are students – and lovers – in London at the time and they vow to fight for the return of these exiled islanders to their home. Once back in their newly independent but near-bankrupt country, they find that even highly qualified people can’t find work. Pillay and some other unemployed graduates decide to create their own employment by forming a political party. She and Laurent become arch political rivals.
This novel is a tongue-in-cheek account of how, once in power, these graduates set about running their country à la Westminster. But this is Miraucia, where democracy and autocracy are mere words: either can be employed to achieve the same end. First Prime Minister Pillay reduces the number of her ministers to just ten, each with several portfolios and the media refer to them as Ministers Etc. One of the measures introduced by the novice Minister of Finance Etc to replenish the Treasury coffers include offering the country’s new honours to anyone – at prices advertised supermarket-style. The Minister of Tourism Etc ‘invents’ a sacred lake to encourage colourful religious festivals to amuse tourists. The postman making his deliveries may well be a baron.
As the first woman Prime Minister, the protagonist succeeds in turning her country into a successful economy. After winning her third successive general election, and now Dame Lovena Patten, she prepares to turn Miraucia into a republic with herself as its first President. However, her numerous enemies have other ideas. One of them is her former lover, now Baron Sir Robert Laurent.
Throughout the novel is their perplexing, forbidden love story. Eventually politics brings them together again and they’re finally reconciled as he becomes her deputy Prime Minister in a coalition government. But when it comes to fighting for the survival of their parties, they find that love and politics don’t mix. After surviving an attempted assassination and a failed coup, Patten has to flee to Britain to seek political asylum.
East of Africa, South of India
She recognised him straightaway. He stood out among the few men waiting outside Temple underground station. He was darker, with black wavy hair and the only one with a LSE scarf around his neck. As Lovena Pillay hesitated, wondering whether to turn back and go to Holborn station instead to catch her tube, Robert Laurent spotted her – she had the same black, gold and purple scarf dangling about her.
‘Fancy bumping into you!’
‘Oh, hello, Robert,’ and she proffered her cheeks for him to kiss.
In the Soho area, where the concentration of Chinese restaurants had begun to lure London’s growing Chinese community like wild animals to a watering hole, Lovena Pillay would have been taken for a half-Chinese woman: she had straight, black hair and high cheek bones. At her university, about a mile to the east, she was often mistaken for a student from southern France: she was tanned and spoke English with an accent that most people took to be French. In her own country, Miraucia, a small island off East Africa, her looks and oriental features were nothing exceptional. This is a country where one-quarter of the population is of mixed race, in Lovena’s case: French, Indian and Chinese.
‘This is not where you normally catch your tube to go home…?’ It wasn’t the first time Robert had ‘accidentally bumped’ into her around the college.
Lovena was somewhat irritated that he had still not given up on her as she had never given him the slightest encouragement. They were introduced when she was a fresher and he was already regarded as one of those undergraduates who never seemed to study and yet got top grades in his exams. One of his favourite sayings was: ‘The English say all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.’
She was yet to be impressed by his intelligence, his looks or his collection of English proverbs – which he trotted out at every opportune occasion. She merely tolerated him as a fellow countryman.
‘How would you like to meet the Prime Minister – tonight?’ Robert was sometimes taken for a Greek or someone from the Mediterranean. His father was in fact French and his mother Metis.
‘You mean Mr Harold Wilson?’
‘Not him – Boolaky.’
Sir Benydath Boolaky, knighted a year earlier when the British appointed him Premier of Miraucia, was not a Prime Minister – not yet. The country was still only a colony with internal self-government. However, it was a common custom of the Miraucians to jump the gun like that. To them it was as certain as a green banana would ripen into a yellow one that Boolaky was as good as being their first Prime Minister. Robert explained to Lovena that a Miraucian delegation was in London for talks with the British government.
‘There’s a reception tonight at our newly opened Miraucian Mission. Boolaky’s keen to meet as many Miraucian students as possible. So we both qualify to attend it.’
‘You go. I’ve got too much homework to get through.’
‘I’ve got a lot of homework, too, but it can wait until tomorrow. This reception is for tonight only. You may not get another chance to meet our PM.’
As she had never met any Miraucian MPs, let alone the Premier, Lovena was persuaded that it would be too good an opportunity to miss. She did not really have more than her usual reading to do that day. Anyway, it would give her something to write home about.
At the reception Lovena recognised the faces of some of the politicians she had seen in the newspapers back home but could not put a name to all of them. Perhaps what made the biggest impression on her that evening was Robert himself. He seemed to know just about every member of the delegation and was on first-name terms with everyone to whom she was introduced.
The first person was Dr Thomas Surcouffe, the leader of Le Parti Miraucien. Robert, his protégé, had been an activist back home. He then turned to the Premier, who was standing only a short distance away from Surcouffe and said, ‘Benny, I’d like you to meet a fellow student of mine, Lovena Pillay.’
They shook hands and the elderly politician asked her what she was studying.
‘Law. I’m only in my first year.’
‘Good subject. I studied law, too.’
‘Did you? I thought you were a doctor…’
‘I am, but after the war I decided to become a lawyer, too.’
She was surprised to discover what a genial, almost gentle, person he was, not at all the aggressive politician she had expected him to be from reading about him in the papers. Although slightly taller than her, she thought he looked smaller than she had imagined him from his photos. She later told Robert:
‘Boolaky talked to me like a father, offering me advice, after I had told him what I was studying. I never knew he’d also qualified as a barrister, what an intelligent man!’
‘In his days, any student who won a British scholarship opted to study medicine. He must have discovered that life as a doctor didn’t appeal to him. As far as I know, since he returned to Miraucia he’s never practised full time either as a doctor or as a barrister.’
‘He discovered politics!’
Towards the end of the function, Boolaky gave only a short address, to Lovena’s relief, saying how pleased he was to meet so many Miraucians in London; that the delegation was here for the Constitutional Conference at Lancaster House. The only part that Lovena considered political about his speech was:
‘We will only accept independence if we’re fully satisfied with the outcome of the talks. Until then, all we’re doing is planning the next stage in our political development.’
‘I’ve never been in the company of so many of our leading politicians,’ Lovena said, thanking Robert at the end of the function.
‘I don’t know about you,’ he said, patting his stomach, ‘but I’m famished; all this talking makes me hungry. Aren’t they mean? Peanuts and crisps, that’s all they could give us. Why don’t we go and have something to eat somewhere?’
Lovena hesitated. It was just as well she was not looking at him, or she would have seen the great disappointment on his face. Then she said, ‘Only on two conditions.’
‘Aiee-ya-ya! That sounds serious. Do you know, you’re talking like a lawyer already. All right, name your conditions.’
‘That we go Dutch and we go to a Chinese restaurant.’
‘You won’t get Dutch food there, but I agree to both conditions, unreservedly.’
‘Very funny, Robert, ha ha ha!’
As they made their way to Gerrard Street, which was fast becoming known as China Town, he asked her, ‘Have you ever been to Lee Ho Fook’s?’
‘Ayo! What’s that?’
‘It’s a Chinese restaurant.’
‘Oh, I see. Is it any good?’
‘Well, it’s reputed to serve the cheapest Chinese food in London. That’s where a lot of the Chinese students go to eat. I’ve been there with them a few times.’
‘And you’re still alive. So Li Hoi Foo it is!’
‘Lee Ho Fook,’ he corrected her.
Lovena ordered a Coke and Robert a beer. After perusing the menu she selected a chicken and vegetable dish and he chose steamed fish, with the intention of sharing them the Chinese way, with two bowls of rice. Within minutes the subject of their conversation had veered to politics, but Lovena did not appear to mind. She had just met several politicians and realised how little she knew about Miraucian politics, and the man sitting opposite her was probably the most qualified person she knew in London who could enlighten her.
Miraucia in the late-Sixties was one of those little-known countries off Africa that was lumped together with that continent. It had benefited more from this political association than if it was left on its own as a tiny, insignificant Third World country.
‘Can you see Miraucia getting independence?’
‘I hope not. My party is against it. Some politicians believe that our future is in Africa, that we should form a closer union with the Africans. Some world leaders already consider us as an African country. But we also have some Indian politicians who believe we should forge some sort of association with India, they say we’re more like a Little India than anything else.’
‘But India is a long way away.’
‘If you look at a world map, it’s not. North of Miraucia, only the Indian Ocean separates us and India. We’re east of Africa and south of India, but for the last century and a half we’ve belonged to Britain; we’re more British than anything else. We’re part of the British Empire and my party wants things to remain as they are – for the time being.’
‘What about the people of Miraucia, do they – do we – want independence?’
‘A small majority do. Haven’t you heard about the results of the election last year?’
Lovena had been too preoccupied with her studies to read about what was happening back home. Anyway, like most women in Miraucia, politics did not interest her: it was regarded by them as a “manly pursuit”.
Her dinner companion told her, in great detail, what the current situation was. First he had to explain to her about the various political parties when he discovered how ignorant his compatriot was about something as fundamental as Miraucian politics.
‘You do know that in Miraucia political parties are mainly ethnically-based, don’t you?’
‘Well, people vote more or less according to their ethnicity. For example, the Labour Party consists mainly of Indian politicians and ninety per cent of their supporters are therefore Indians. Since forty per cent of the population are Indians, that’s including the Tamils, Telegus, Marathis, the lot, at elections they get about forty per cent of the votes.’
‘Are you saying that the results of an election are predictable?’
‘Not quite. We try to beat the opposition by forming an alliance with another or other parties, such as the Muslim Solidarity Party, which represents the Muslims, who form about ten per cent of the population. That’s why we have so many political parties in Miraucia. Only the Chinese, about ten per cent of the population, don’t have their own political party. I’ll refuse to believe you weren’t aware of that.’
‘Don’t they believe in democracy?’
‘They believe in backing whichever party they think will win.’
Robert took a rest as their food was brought to their table and they both tucked into it as if they had heard a starting bell. After a few mouthfuls he continued with more zest. He had a willing listener: one he was trying to impress with his political kudos.
‘Anyway, to get back to this so-called Independence Election last year; it was to let the people decide whether or not they wanted independence. The Labour Party formed an alliance with two other parties, which became known as the Independence Party for the purposes of the election. Le Parti Miraucien – LPM – had the support of the four minor parties representing the people who were against independence: the Anti-Independence Party.’
Robert ordered another Coke and beer. When the drinks came he told his companion, ‘Put a bit of beer in your Coca Cola and see the difference.’
‘Ayo, I never drink alcohol…’
‘Just a little.’
Lovena hesitated and then decided perhaps it was about time she tried alcohol. After all, she was now an undergraduate.
‘All right, just a little then,’ and she tasted it. ‘Hmm, yeah, I quite like it.’
‘They call that shandy. Normally they mix lemonade with the beer. Where was I? Yeah, the Independence Party got fifty-one per cent of the votes against our forty-nine per cent. It was because they won with such a small majority that the British government insisted that the Constitutional Conference in London should consist of deputies representing all the parties, all the communities, not just the winning party.’
‘But tell me, why is independence bad for Miraucia?’
‘Well, you can say now is not the right time for it. We’re not ready yet for independence. Do you realise that unemployment is currently at twenty-five per cent?’
‘Aiee-ya-ya! Really? I wasn’t aware, one in four… but that’s disgraceful…’
‘We have no other industry than sugar, which Britain buys from us at preferential rates. But once the British join the Common Market – which won’t be long now – this little arrangement may disappear. After independence, Britain will have the perfect excuse to wash its hands of us. How will we survive? Boolaky keeps telling us that, once we’re independent, friendly countries such as India, China, Malaysia, France, will help us financially. He says he’ll personally go cap-in-hand and beg from them if necessary. We’ll live by the begging bowl!’
‘I’m amazed you know so much about what’s going on back home.’
‘You can say I’ve been in politics a long time. And I talk to politicians when they come to London. You may have heard what people are saying about me …’
‘What are they saying about you?’
‘That Tom Surcouffe is grooming me to take over from him as leader of LPM. That’s my goal when I get back home. From there I want to become Prime Minister!’
‘Ayo! I had no idea I was talking to a future Prime Minister of Miraucia! How long do you think it will take you to achieve that?’
‘However long. Would you like me to lend you some of my Miraucian newspapers?’
‘Yes, please! I’m ashamed how little I know about what’s going on in my own country.’
The pair’s discussion went on for so long that they had not realised they were the only diners left in the restaurant. Once outside, she said: ‘That’s been quite an educational evening, Robert, thanks a lot.’
‘I hope I haven’t bored you to death. I’m afraid, once I start talking politics, there’s no stopping me.’
‘You haven’t bored me in the least. It was fascinating. The way you explained everything makes politics sounds quite, er, exciting.’
‘I’ll tell you more about what’s going on at the conference, if you’re interested.’
‘Please do, I’d love to know. Believe me, what you’ve told me this evening has been quite an eye-opener for an ignoramus like me.’
Once they reached Piccadilly Circus, Lovena pointed to the steps leading to the underground station.
‘I’m catching the Piccadilly Line here to get back to Fulham. What about you?’
‘I think I’ll walk to Oxford Circus station to get the Central Line there. I’m only going to Notting Hill Gate.’
‘Good night, then.’
‘Thanks for your company. I’m so glad you came with me to the reception,’ he said softly in her ears as he kissed her goodnight on her cheeks.
‘Round One to me!’ Robert said triumphantly to himself, the second date is now just a matter of agreeing when.
Robert Laurent met Surcouffe and other delegates every evening during the Constitutional Conference. On the penultimate day, he learned that something unexpected had happened. The chairman had announced, with a deadpan expression as if he was announcing the housekeeping arrangements for the day:
‘Today’s session will have to proceed in camera. I’ll have to ask all the Miraucian delegates to leave the room, except for Sir Benydath Boolaky and three of his senior colleagues. I’ll call the rest of you back as soon as we’re ready to resume the plenary session. I hope it won’t take too long.’
As the Independence Group conferred among themselves to decide who should join the Premier, Surcouffe became quite vocal. He raised his voice. The whole room heard him say:
‘This is unethical, un-British. We came here together as a delegation representing Miraucia and everything must be discussed in the open, with all of us present. If most of us are to be excluded, this conference can’t continue. It’s illegal. It’s a mockery. Mr Chairman, I demand an explanation.’
The chairman did not respond and was seen whispering to his colleagues. Some of the delegates had got up whilst others remained seated in deep discussion. Surcouffe had to shout to make himself heard in the smoke-filled conference room.
‘This conference must not proceed without the rest of us. Mr Chairman, are you listening to me?’ Then turning to his colleagues, he said in Creole, ‘He’s obviously ignoring us. I suggest we all walk out. We mustn’t let some British civil servants decide our future behind closed doors.’
All the chairman said, after Surcouffe had calmed down momentarily, ‘All will be explained in good time. Just be patient for a little while. It won’t take long.’
But Surcouffe still insisted on an explanation first or for the conference to stop. The message from the chair was again for all the delegates to leave the room until they were called back. Some of them started to leave but not the protestor. After most of them had gone, a couple of ushers came for Surcouffe. That was when he lost his temper and pushed them aside while he continued his tirade.
‘Benny, don’t you dare agree to anything without consulting us first, do you hear me? If you sell us out, we’ll finish you, salam to your political dreams.’
By now some of his colleagues were telling their leader that he had made his point but he paid no attention to them although he let them ease him into the next room.
The secret discussion went on all day, a period which Surcouffe used to give interviews to the two Miraucian journalists who had come to London with the delegation. Soon after five in the afternoon an official came out to tell them that the in camera session would be going on into the night. They were to go away and come back to Lancaster House the next morning at nine o’clock. As they were all staying in the same hotel in Strand, they decided to do just that and lie in wait for the other four delegates in the comfort of the hotel lobby. On the way, they dropped in at the Lyon’s Corner House opposite Charing Cross station for a cup of tea and a doughnut to kill time.
When Robert came to meet his leader that evening, he found him and the others in the foyer, with a drink in their hands.
‘What are you celebrating?’
After being told, he decided to join them and wait for the return of the now so-called “Privileged Four”. A grandfather clock in the corner chimed again and Surcouffe counted nine strokes. He had to look at the clock for confirmation that it was really nine o’clock. He got a packet of cigarettes out of his pocket, pushed open the flap and saw only two cigarettes in it. Robert took one and Surcouffe the other.
‘I can’t believe I’ve smoked all these cigarettes today!’ the LPM leader said as he lit Robert’s and then his. ‘Ayo, I can’t be bothered to wait here any longer. Robert, let’s go to my room, we’ve got a lot to talk about.’ He then turned to two of his colleagues near him, ‘Will you stay here and ring my room as soon as Boolaky gets back?’
Surcouffe, a Franco-Miraucian whose ancestors hailed originally from St Malo, was one of the founders of LPM. The oldest political party and formerly the most powerful in the country, it was now losing out to the mainly Indian Labour Party. He knew his party needed young blood, preferably educated and intelligent French, or Metis such as Robert, in order to prevent the drain of the Metis votes; to retain the votes of the white population and to win over the considerable number of Chinese votes. Back home this tall man with a high, domed forehead tailed by grey, thinning hair was regarded as a handsome politician by his supporters, some of whom thought he looked quite like an older version of Robert. Unlike Lovena Pillay, he set much store by Robert’s looks and imposing presence which he believed would prove a useful asset: the LPM was planning to woo the untapped female voters at the next general election.
‘What do you think can be so secret that the British find it necessary to keep the rest of you out?’ Robert asked Tom as soon as they were in his room.
‘Well, it’s obviously something the British know the majority of us won’t accept. They may not know a great deal about what’s going on in Miraucia, but they certainly know about Boolaky’s weaknesses – ’
‘They know he’ll even lick their arses to get independence – whatever the conditions. They’re relying on him to sell these to us; they’ll get him to do their dirty work for them.’
‘But little Miraucia isn’t in a position to bargain with the mighty British government, surely? What can we offer in return?’
‘That’s what we’d all like to know. Whatever it is, we must have something that the British want – badly. It’s very fishy.’
‘I agree with you, but for what it’s worth, I personally think that if they’re still talking after all this time, it could be that Boolaky’s not meekly giving in to them after all. He’s fighting his corner. What do you think?’
‘It could be the lawyers. They can argue for hours just to change one word in a sentence, as you’ll find out by the time you qualify.’
Just then the phone rang. Surcouffe pounced on it with the speed of a bird of prey going for the kill. After listening to the receiver for a few seconds, he slammed it down.
‘The bastard! Boolaky won’t talk. All he told them was, “all will be revealed tomorrow.” ’
The next morning Boolaky and his three ministers were the last to arrive and were rushed in. As they entered the conference room, he was seen handing a piece of paper to one of the British officials, which the latter took to the chairman. The conference resumed. There was no mention of the secret discussion the day before and before long the chairman announced:
‘Her Majesty’s government is in favour of independence for Miraucia – ’
‘This is a sell-out!’ Surcouffe exploded and started to shout, calling the British government all sorts of names. His fellow delegates’ attempt to restrain him proved futile and eventually two ushers had to step in to have him escorted out.
‘All right, all right,’ he pushed them away, ‘I’m walking out of this conference. I’m boycotting it.’
Nobody else followed him. He could not hear what was being discussed next door. He lit a cigarette and smoked it while he paced the floor and then pretended to study some of the old oil paintings on the walls. After what seemed like an hour, he began to grow restless and was tempted to go back several times but resisted it. In the end curiosity got the better of him and he made his way to the door of the conference room; he was just in time to see the Miraucian delegates shaking hands with their British counterparts. Sir Benny then made his way out where the Miraucian journalists, who had been joined by a reporter from the BBC Overseas Service and another from The Times, rushed to him to interview him. He told them:
‘We’re going home satisfied. We’ve succeeded in obtaining the maximum concessions out of the British government. We’ll now go home and prepare for independence. I’m afraid, that’s all for now. I’ll have more to say at my press conference in Miraucia.’
On the flight back, Boolaky could not escape Surcouffe. He went to where he was sitting among the Labour delegates and started to question him whilst standing next to him. He was sitting in an aisle seat with one on his ministers next to him.
‘I don’t think this is the right place to… we’ll be overheard by them,’ Boolaky pointed to the passengers moving about on the plane.
‘You won’t fob me off that easily. I have a right to know what happened and now is as good a time to tell me – all. Why don’t you tell Prem to go for a walk, we’ll have more privacy.’
Prem, an Indian minister, did not respond, while Surcouffe continued to fire questions at Boolaky and he did his best to avoid answering. When he realised their tactic would not work, he nodded to his colleague who immediately made a move to get up. They were speaking in their Creole language and as the two men stood up, his leader whispered to him, ‘Pa blier, retourne vite.’ Surcouffe heard it, don’t forget to come back quickly.
‘There’s no hurry, it’s a long flight,’ the LPM leader whispered in the same way to Prem and got a dirty look from him. As Surcouffe sat down in his seat, he said: ‘I don’t know how soon you’ve arranged for Prem to come back but I’m not leaving until you’ve told me everything.’
‘You may not believe this but all the dopey British wanted from us was our former leper colony, Mascarenhas, in exchange for independence. That’s all!’
‘Mascarenhas? You mean that, er…That’s about a thousand miles away, at least, isn’t it? Why Masca, and why all the secrecy?’
Boolaky did not answer and appeared to be thinking how to reply. This atoll, the largest of a group of seven dotted in the Indian Ocean, was one of Miraucia’s dependencies. Its inhabitants consisted of several hundred coconut pickers and fishermen and their families, most of them African-Metis, the direct descendants of black slaves. They led an easy life, picking coconuts to be turned into oil for cooking, lighting as well as for the cosmetic industry while the fishermen spent their days fishing, cleaning and drying the fish in the strong sun. These were collected once every three months and taken to Miraucia.
‘Come on, Benny, I want the truth. Did they tell you what they want the island for?’
‘Er, no… not at first. We insisted we had to know, as we found it rather strange. They said, er, it would be used as a communication centre for maritime shipping. You see, Masca is of strategic value to them.’
‘I don’t think there can be much British shipping in that part of the Indian Ocean…’
‘Nor did we, er… we, we pointed this out, en passant. But they didn’t seem bothered whether or not we bought it. We think they’ll probably use it as some sort of spy station, that was why they wanted us to sign an undertaking not to make public the details of our secret discussion, at least not the finer points of this, er, agreement.’
At this point the minister returned to claim his seat back. Surcouffe ignored him.
‘Are you telling me you’ve already signed an agreement without consulting us first? Benny, what exactly have you signed away? Have you got a copy?’
‘We haven’t signed away anything… that you need to worry about. Let’s say the British are paranoid about, er, the Soviets finding out what they’re planning to do in that part of the world.’
‘Benny, I want to know what was in that undertaking.’ Surcouffe noticed for the first time that the Premier was sweating.
‘Well, we agreed, er, we gave them an undertaking that all we’d say to the press is that, er, as part of our negotiations for independence, we’ve agreed to cede Masca to the British for a few years. But not whilst we were still in London: no press conference.’
‘Now we’re getting nearer to what happened. They want Masca but they no longer have any need for Miraucia, however hard I find that to believe. What guarantee have you got that they would hand back sovereignty of Masca to us at the end of the lease? We can’t trust the British. You may be dealing with a Labour government now but who knows who will be in power in… how long is the lease for?’
‘As I said… a few years. ’
‘How many years, Benny?’
‘Fifty years! Aiee-ya-ya, what else are you hiding from me? That’s a hell of a long time. That’s a lifetime! What can they really want it for for so long?’
Benny did not answer. He got his handkerchief out and started to dab his face.
‘Can I have my seat back, Tom?’ the minister finally said, as if on cue. He was ignored by both and just stood there, until Boolaky waved him away.
‘I really don’t know what to make of this… Are they going to pay us any rent during these fifty years?’
‘Better than that! You can say we’re being paid the whole rent in advance. They call it compensation… Guess how much we’ve succeeded in getting out of them?’ Surcouffe thought Boolaky was trying to smile for the first time.
‘FIVE MILLION – that’s pounds sterling!’
‘Was that the best you could do?’
The LPM leader said he was intrigued that they should have offered them such a lot of money for a useless bit of sandbank that was theirs in the first place.
‘Was that negotiable?’
‘Well, at first they offered us three million and told us how generous that was and they didn’t expect us to quibble about it. We said it was not generous and it should be at least double that amount. The chairman looked at his colleagues and mumbled something to them and then said five million was the final figure.’
Surcouffe started to shift in his seat and he noticed that Prem was still hovering near them.
‘In all my dealings with the British, I’ve never known them to increase an offer by two million pounds in a matter of minutes. Out with it, Benny, you’re still not telling me the whole truth, are you? Why didn’t you say you couldn’t take any decision before consulting us? That’s not unreasonable, under the circumstances.’
‘Of course we did, several times, but every time we said that we were told, “We’re running out of time, the conference must end by tomorrow, everything has to be finalized,” blah, blah, blah.’ And he paused, ‘All this was put to us quite bluntly. All the civility and politeness of the earlier days were gone. It was made quite clear to us that if we weren’t prepared to, er, go along with, er, their proposals… it could be a long time before they could find time again to discuss independence with us. There was no more to discuss.’
‘Tom, I want my seat back, if you don’t mind.’
‘OK, OK, you can have your flipping seat back. But Benny, I haven’t finished with you. I can smell a rat. A big rat.’
In London, the British had been congratulating themselves. They had got away without having to disclose more about what was to happen to Mascarenhas. There was no mention of the Lancaster House conference in the newspapers, apart from The Times, which reported the news in just a few lines, hidden somewhere on the inside pages. The Americans, unknown to the Miraucian delegation, had also been following the conference closely. The outcome was entirely to their satisfaction. Five million pounds was only half the amount they had been prepared to fork out for Mascarenhas.
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BY JACQUES K. LEE
Jacques K. Lee’s parents are from Meixian, Guangzhou. They emigrated to Mauritius for a better life and ended up as shopkeepers there. Jacques came to England with the same objective - to take advantage of greater opportunities.
One of the presents he was given at his farewell party was a Parker pen. He certainly made good use of it as he started writing articles for a Mauritian national paper during his second year in England. He is still writing, although he now uses a computer but he still has the pen.
Jacques studied accountancy as that was a subject that poor foreigners could study part-time whilst working as clerks. By the time his first son was born, he had begun to find the repetitive nature of accountancy work less appealing and took up insurance. After qualifying he opened his own brokerage specialising in life assurance and estate planning. Gradually he went into investment and opened other businesses.
In 1993 when his youngest son was safely at University, he sold everything and went back to school to study something he had had a life interest in, as he was brought up on Chinese medicine. He graduated in 1997 and for a while practised homeopathy and acupuncture before becoming an adjudicator for the General Medical Council and the General Dental Council, judging medical practitioners instead of treating patients.
Throughout his varied career, one thing was constant: he never gave up writing. He wrote hundreds of articles for various publications on every aspect of Mauritius. He was a major contributor to the Insight Guide: Mauritius, Réunion and Seychelles and gave talks on different radio stations but mainly on BBC World Service.
Jacques has so far written four non-fiction books, a pirated version of one, Mauritius: Its Creole Language, a phrase book (1999) is openly on sale in India. His Sega: The Mauritian Folk Dance (1990) is still the definitive book on this subject, now the symbol of Mauritian music. His other non-fiction books are: The Tongue: Mirror of the Immune System (1999) and Health Practitioners Companion (2001).
As a grandfather of six grandchildren, Jacques has also written a children’s book, The Nautilus and the Gang of Three (1983) currently on sale on Amazon as a rare book at £116.33! His second children’s book, Purple Sailor and the Hermit Crab, is still waiting for a brave publisher to take an interest in it.
Now in retirement Jacques is turning his hand to writing fiction and his novella The Sugar Baron’s Women (2012) is his first oeuvre. He is currently revising (for the umpteenth time!) a completed novel which is a sequel to the novella. He writes in English, his third language.