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acts-of-faithOn the day Lily returned to the country she rang up Paul and Indra and they arranged a meeting for the next day. Before it could take place, on the very evening of her return, she was visited by Mark. Lily at first had not wanted to receive him, but in the end she felt that old acquaintance demanded politeness. Besides, she was curious to find out exactly what sort of attitude the government would adopt.

In that respect, Mark proved more than satisfactory. Without quite saying so, he managed to convey the impression that his visit was in effect one of condolence on behalf of the government. This did not move Lily to forgive Tom, but it did make her realise that, in crushing the forces of anarchy within the government, she should not forget that her strongest allies might well prove to be members of the government too. Mark for one seemed absolutely shattered by what had occurred, and he made it clear how much he disapproved of those such as Luke who had taken the opportunity to advance grandiose plans for reconstruction which were primarily intended to enhance their own standing. There was such haste about it all, he remarked, that one might almost have thought the violence could not have come at a better time as far as those who still needed to make a name for themselves within the government were concerned.

It was thus with a very different perspective that Lily went to her meeting the next day. To her surprise, she found that Paul was quite convinced that it was Matthew who was at the bottom of everything, while Indra seemed to think that it was Mark who had to be most carefully guarded against, for he appeared to be the one most anxious to capitalize on the mayhem. After much discussion, they managed to agree on one thing only, and that was that though he was probably the least guilty John was the most vulnerable member of the cabinet. It was clear that his recent measures had upset all the traditional supporters of his former free and easy ways, whilst his own community was dubious about his association with the government, and leading members of all other communities were dubious because he was a Tamil. He had in short, forfeited the confidence of the entire nation.

Paul and Indra told Lily that, as a very senior member of his community, she had an obligation to point out to John the error of his ways and persuade him to resign. She objected. ‘I couldn’t possibly speak to him,’ she said. ‘I don’t even know who his father was. In Jaffna, he would not have been allowed to sit down in my father’s house.’

‘If you invited him to see you and kept him on your verandah, it might make his position clear to him,’ said Paul thoughtfully.

‘I’ve got a better idea. Go and see his daughter and his son-in-law—you needn’t worry about him, his family is nearly as established as yours,’ Indra added hastily, ‘and point out to him that he’ll lose caste if his father-in-law doesn’t mend his ways. That’s the best way of getting through to John. He only lives so that his daughters can marry well. And there’s one engaged—you might go to her fiancé too—and two who are still very young. John couldn’t resist that sort of attack.’

It was an idea that appealed to Lily, recalling as she did from her own history how tremendous were the pressures the higher echelons of the Tamil community could bring to bear with regard to questions of marriage. She went back home and promptly began ringing up friends, so as to increase the bulk of the pressure to be applied. However, the very first person she rang up told her that she was too late. John’s son-in-law had become a Muslim, and had divorced his wife in accordance with Muslim law and sent her home.

 *

In addition to MASH, Dick had also set up, following upon his conversation with Gerry, an organisation of Muslims Against Demonetisation And Midnight-Gazettes. He was aware that this last word sounded silly; but he wanted to register the protest of his community against John’s hasty and secretive way of conducting vital business; besides, he wanted a suitable acronym, one that would suggest Gerry’s sympathy for their cause. She had been known as Madam ever since the visit of the Queen and several other ladies with titles, and Dick had been told by his advertising consultants that the public would not fail to make the connection. They had also advised him to draw renewed attention to Tom’s sterilisation inasmuch as people could quite easily get confused between sterilization and circumcision. Accordingly, posters had appeared all over the country, (ostensibly put up by the Family Planning Association). with full length photographs of a smiling Tom, his hands crossed modestly over his groin, proclaiming ‘I’ve had my operation, but I’m still your President, and an Executive one too. Follow me, citizens, and you and your wives will still be happy as before.’

Whether it were due to the posters or not, MADAM had attracted an enormous membership almost as soon as it was established. Many of the immediate applicants were more or less wealthy businessmen, a number of them Tamils, who had suffered from the riots and had them found themselves deprived by John’s demonetisation of the nest eggs with which they had wanted to restore their fortunes. Amongst these was John’s son-in-law, who indeed bore no grudge against John, for he had kept the existence of his private hoards of money a secret; but who decided to go along with all his friends, the more eagerly because he was convinced John’s days were numbered and there had been someone else he would much rather have married anyway had it not been that John’s position had seemed the key to restoring the fallen fortunes of his house in the early heady days of the liberal economy. Now, however, MADAM seemed by far the best bet, if progress were to continue and the land to flourish once more.

 

*

Luke too had begun to come round to the opinion that there was a lot to be said for MADAM. As he had pointed out at the beginning of the troubles, many of his best friends were Tamil. More importantly, it was from Tamil businessmen that he had derived a lot of the extra income which he had used, within or without the framework of government policy, to enhance his own image. All that alas had now ceased. In the first place, the riots had reduced the capacity of his erstwhile friends to pay; secondly, most of them, and in particular those who had been relatively unscathed, were deeply suspicious of Luke’s associates within and without the government, and were therefore most unwilling to pay; finally, even those who were practical enough to realise that they needed some sort of support to survive or indeed to recover seemed to be of the opinion that they had to organise themselves more resolutely. Dick appeared to be the hero of the hour, and MASH and MADAM the standards behind which the lifeblood and the sinews of the nation, namely its business classes, were rallying. It was clear to Luke that he would be left behind by the tide of history as it swept on, unless he were bold and resolute, and even bloody if that proved essential.

It was in such a frame of mind that, on the very morning on which Lily and Paul and Indra met, he went to see Gerry. It was fairly common knowledge in political circles that she was an enthusiastic supporter of MADAM and of MASH. Indeed, it was even suggested by those who had studied the history of Catherine the Great and others of that ilk that Gerry saw the two organisations simply as extensions of her own personality, and that she had taken to calling herself Madam Mash, the scourge of the socialists. Luke did not discount these rumours, but he knew that while Tom was alive at any rate Gerry would not put herself forward at all; conforming to her own ideal of a model Ceylonese wife, she would not engage in any political manoeuvring beyond her husband’s ken except through a third party. It was Luke’s conviction that, in such a situation, he would be a far more suitable third party than Dick.

Luke was in a very positive mood from the very beginning of the interview, possibly because Gerry had him brought right into the house, to the private drawing room, whereas Tom used to meet him out on the verandah or, at the very most, on state occasions, in the large and impersonal public rooms. It was undoubtedly this that made Luke euphoric, and he may not otherwise have been so direct, nor indeed so enthusiastic about International Mohammedanism, to an extent that surprised Gerry herself. ‘MADAM-MASH is a great institution,’ he began as soon as he sat down. He had refused the brandy Gerry offered him, telling her that he had stopped drinking. He regretted this the moment he saw Gerry pour herself a drink, but he knew she was not the sort of person who allowed one to change one’s mind. He smiled even more broadly then, creasing up his eyes he hoped meaningfully whenever he mentioned the words he hoped she would take as referring to herself. ‘It is not only a great local institution; in time it can also become a great international institution. All it needs is proper guidance. Dick’, he paused, and tried to look straight into Gerry’s eyes, but she lifted her glass to her lips at that very moment, ‘is not the sort of person who can provide suitable guidance. He does not understand power.’

‘MADAM and MASH are not concerned with power’. Gerry said firmly. She was not quite sure to what extent she trusted Luke. With Dick she was quite confident that he could be kept under control. At the same time, it had to be admitted that Luke was quite correct, and if ever MADAM-MASH were to amount to anything more, a replacement for Dick would have to be found.

‘But you have to think of the future, don’t you? I mean, we know everything will be all right while our leader is with us, but he cannot go on forever. We must prepare for the future now.’

‘You’re quite right. That’s becoming increasingly obvious. I can’t really understand what has got into Tom. You know, he told me just yesterday that the only one of you with any brains was John. I dare say he’s right, but that’s no reason to unleash all this Socialism on us. After all, it’s the Sinhalese Buddhists who suffer most of all.’

‘And the Muslims of course—as MADAM-MASH makes only too clear to us.’

‘Oh, the Muslims can look after themselves. They always have. You probably can’t remember what they did during the First World War, when they caused all that trouble and the British blamed the Sinhalese, just as they’re doing this time, and even put my father in jail. You can’t trust these Muslims an inch.’

‘But—’ Luke was nonplussed. He always got a bit confused when people started talking about their ancestors. He himself could never remember what had happened to past generations. ‘But surely, they’re different now.’

‘That’s only because they’ve made so much money. But it’s quite clear you can’t trust them, because they all call themselves Socialists. Just like Hitler. They persecute the Jews and grab as much money as they can from everyone else.’ Gerry poured herself another brandy. ‘My father told me not to trust anyone who called himself a Socialist, and he was right.’

The conversation was not going at all in the way Luke had anticipated. He decided that he would ask for a glass of water. ‘Have a brandy instead,’ Gerry said firmly, and held out the bottle towards him. ‘If you’re too careful about these things, you might turn into a Muslim.’

Luke laughed eagerly and held out his hand, but Gerry motioned towards a glass so he picked that up and held it out instead. Gerry poured him a small measure, and refused to get him ginger ale when he asked for some. ‘That’s very good brandy,’ she said. ‘I’m not going to let you spoil it. There are some things that a gentleman never does.’

Luke took a sip. He was not used to neat brandy, and he nearly choked, but it tasted good as it went down. ‘But surely, we call ourselves Socialists too?’ he said. ‘It needn’t mean anything.’

‘That’s because it’s Democratic Socialism. Tom explained to me very carefully that Democratic Socialism doesn’t mean Socialism at all. In fact, it doesn’t even have to mean Democratic. It’s like Bombay Duck. It’s not Duck at all and it doesn’t necessarily have to come from Bombay, though it’s much better if you can pretend that it does.’

‘I suppose the same thing is true of Islamic Socialism.’ Having arrived at a decision to propose solid alliances with the whole brotherhood of Muslim nations, Luke was not going to be deflected easily from his purpose.

‘I still think you shouldn’t trust the Muslims too far. They’re just like the Tamils. All they want to do is take everything away. Surely, you must see that if nature had intended men to be circumcised, you wouldn’t have been born with all that.’

Luke was profoundly embarrassed by this, but he valiantly downed the rest of his brandy and went on. ‘But that’s not the point now. You see, they have lots of money, but they won’t give it to anyone except to Muslims. That’s why MADAM-MASH is so important now. There’s no reason why everyone can’t go back to being Buddhists afterwards.’

‘Actually, a Buddhist Association against Separatism and Homosexuality would be much more suitable, I think.’ Gerry poured herself another glass of brandy. Luke held out his glass as well, and after a moment she poured in a slightly larger measure than previously. ‘After all, you can’t go on believing in reincarnation, if everyone becomes a homosexual, as these Socialists seem to want.’

Luke took a larger gulp from his glass than previously. ‘I agree with you one hundred per cent,’ he said fervently.

‘I’m so glad you’re enjoying the brandy,’ Gerry said graciously. ‘It doesn’t do at all to become abstemious. Look at what’s happened to that poor boy Matthew. What he needs is to get married. But even though he doesn’t drink, I don’t suppose there’s much danger of his becoming a Muslim.’

‘Of course, it’s only temporary,’ Luke said hastily. ‘It’s the only way we can establish our allegiance to MADAM-MASH. And we have to do that, because that is the only institution that will command the confidence of our brothers. And they are the people who have all the money now—not only the Muslims here, but the Islamic Socialist Republics that might come to our aid when they see how determined and how strong MADAM-MASH is.’

‘Well, I suppose that as far as I’m concerned, any money is good money. But you will have to be careful that you don’t allow them to take you over. There are some things that can’t be eradicated once they take hold of you.’

‘But with MADAM-MASH showing us the way, there is nothing to fear.’ Luke smiled even more broadly than before, and tossed back his head and drained his glass. Out of the corner of his eye he thought he saw Gerry incline her head the merest trifle, but he was not sure.

It was in any case enough, he told himself as he left, that he had been allowed to enter into the innermost sanctum and to talk so freely. He was not to know, poor soul, that when he called the next morning he would be kept out on the verandah; and that that first brief glimpse of a hitherto sacred interior was also to be his last.

 

*

Earlier that morning Dick had been to see Veronica, just before she left for Singapore for the conference of Christians Against Racist Prejudice. As he entered, he thought he saw a rather attractive if elderly lady slipping up the stairs, but her figure did not seem rounded enough to hold his attention. Besides, he had more important things to think of.

He was worried about what was happening to MASH and to MADAM. What he had envisaged simply as collections of like-minded people banded together to enhance their capacity to make money had now taken on an aggressive tone. This would not have mattered, if it had simply been to ensure greater profits. But political controversy now seemed to have reared its ugly head. The long dead Muslims who had in the past graced or otherwise several different political parties, and not always at different times, were making frenzied noises about the autonomy of the Eastern province; there was even talk that Trincomalee should be handed over to Mash and Madam, its independence having been guaranteed and underwritten by various influential Mohammedan powers, to run a Free Trade zone, something which it was quite clear Sinhalese and Tamils were incapable of doing properly.

All this was irritating enough to Dick inasmuch as his own business interests lay in and around Colombo, and these seemed to be lost sight of in the raising of issues of political principle rather than essential practicalities. What was even worse was that this aggressive Muslim agitation also seemed to be attracting opposition. Far from the Muslims being seen as a victimized breed, MASH and MADAM as now constituted were giving the impression that they were too big for their boots and required to be cut down to size.

Dick was convinced that to a large extent it was Gerry who was responsible for the change that was being wrought in MASH and MADAM. Though she seemed disorganised at times, her determination was not to be underestimated, nor her influence, especially amongst those who belonged to a bygone age. Dick had also heard about Luke’s interest in Muslim claims and customs. Altogether he felt that it was high time another dimension were introduced, or rather, the original one reasserted. The best person for this he felt was his hopelessly idealistic brother Harry, the generally unquestionably respected champion of the underdog.

It was, therefore, to explain to Veronica that the Muslims were in even greater danger than the Tamils that he had come; and to request that a delegation of Muslims too be invited to CARP, since not only Tamils but Sinhalese also were going to be represented. Veronica did not trust Dick at all, and she was even less impressed in view of the manner in which he eyed her during what purported to be very serious business, but she could not deny the justice of his suggestion. In fact, it seemed to her a very good thing from the point of view of CARP that the suggestion had come in the manner it did.

She conveyed the request to Harry as soon as she got to Singapore, and he promptly concurred, and sent off a telegram to Dick, requesting him to send several Muslims. He also decided to accept Phyllis’ invitation to lead her march, and immediately sent off a telegram to her to that effect. However, since he assumed a telegram would take a long time to reach Phyllis in her Village, and because he wanted to make his position clear to the government, he also sent a telegram to Matthew’s address marked for her attention. The telegram to Dick was sent to Dulcie’s address, because as a Bishop he believed that Dick was still indissolubly wedded to Dulcie and that his rightful place was at her side.

Veronica, who knew Harry’s mind and, though she admired it tremendously, often felt that he was not very clear-sighted about the quickest way of making the biggest impact, took it upon herself to telephone through to Indra’s newspaper that at Dick’s request Muslims would be attending CARP, and that after CARP Harry would be returning to Ceylon to lead a march for peace and justice and the universal brotherhood of man.

Ceylon Today 28 September 2014 – http://www.ceylontoday.lk/96-74144-news-detail-confidential.html

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