Mohamed Beshir Hamid

THE MADDIES

SUDAN TIMES

THE MADDIES

 

[This peace reflects the author’s views on the political situation at the time in a rather reflective mood. Any reader finding that the title rhymes well  with the name of a prominent political family can rest assured that the connection is not purely coincidental!]

 

It’s good of you to come all this way to interview me. Let’s sit out there in the shade. Do you find it too warm for you? You are quite right: there are some parts of your country which are even warmer. Yes, yes I have been to Arizona. May I offer you some tea? You like your tea without sugar? Ah, I see you come well acclimatized to our country. What? You don’t take sugar even back home? That is good, but I did not realize that your country is in trouble with the IMF too. Frankly, I thought you people owned the goddamned thing. The IMF, I mean, not the sugar. What are you saying? So you do not eat meat and bread and have no use for oil, soap, matches, butter, electricity, water and other such luxuries, you can take up residence in our country and live like a king. You won’t be the only king, though.

 

 

I see you admire my little garden. See those trees over there. Yes, near what used to be my car. I planted them myself before famine and drought hit our country and left our landscape as devastated as the Hilal stadium after the Ahli-Mereich FA cup match.

 

Now, what is it you wanted to interview me about? Ah, I guessed as much. Mind you it is not one of my best books. Why did I call it The Maddies? It is a rather complicated business, and not a very pretty story. Some time ago I came to the conclusion that the whole country must be going bananas; so 1 thought I might as well try to examine this strange affliction while people still had enough wits about them to understand it. Besides, nobody can question my credentials, being a certified Maddie myself. No, do not get me wrong, I am not being a pessimist. Whoever heard of a pessimist Maddie? On the contrary, I am an incurable optimist. Just like your cowboy President – although I do not share his basic philosophy of blasting the bad guys off the face of the earth to make the world safe for democracy. My Maddie-ness is of the pacifist type, if you know what I mean. Indeed, the central theme of my book is that Maddies are not mad par excellence, it is just that they talk so much, or so little, that they ultimately lose touch with sanity, that is all.

 

Let me move my chair. The shade seems to be dwindling on this side. Just like the Sudanese Pound. Why is the Sudanese Pound dwindling? My God, you must be a real stranger to these parts of the world. It is the old story of the market-place bully. It goes something like this: the Yen, the Mark and the Sterling decide to gang up on the Dollar, and finding it with its pants down, give it the thorough beating it so amply deserves. The Dollar goes about sulking and looking for a smaller fry. Along comes the poor Sudanese Pound painfully dragging its unbalanced and debt-ridden legs. Before you can say “Crash”, the mighty Dollar bounces on our hapless Pound and devalue the Hell out of it. Justice is done; the meek shall never inherit the earth. Might is right. Or, the Right is might. It is the kind of movie-script that your Ronnie can act into an Oscar award.

 

Maybe that is why our Pound has become so paranoid that it never ventures into any market-place, local or foreign, except in very inflated numbers. Have you been to any of our local markets yet? No? You should do so. But when you do, please keep your Dollars on a short leash. Otherwise they may bounce on our Pound and short-exchange it beyond calculation. Oh, yes, you will find that we have all kinds of markets. There is the black-black-market the black-market, the not-so-black market, the almost-no-black market, the Shamasa-market, the untouchable-market, the weapons-grade-uranium market, and so on and so forth. When you come to our giant banking institutions, you will find wonders. Even your developed capitalist system, you must admit, has nothing to compare to some of our banking innovations such as the First Celestial, the National-Fundamentalist, the Chaste-Man-Haven, Seedy-Bank – to name but a few of the colourful variety of our economic enterprises. In short, we are madly colour-blind where markets are concerned. Fortunately. Or, unfortunately, as the case may be,

 

Are you staying long in our country? A curious country, isn’t it? You find it appealing? Well, that is an adjective I have not heard for some time. Appearances, my good fellow, are indeed intriguing. But it is a curious country, I will grant you that. You know, there is a fable that when God created our country, He laughed. There is another saying that He wept. Probably God did both the laughing and weeping, but it is difficult to determine in what order. The poor country. Just look at our politicians and you will cry your heart out laughing. Yes, I agree with you. God’s ways are indeed mysterious. Which reminds me of the story of the man drowning in the sea. A coastguard boat approached to rescue him but he waved it away saying God would save him. A helicopter hovered over him but again he shouted that God would save him. Eventually he drowned and went to the Here-After feeling bitter and disillusioned over the premature termination of his physical existence. He cried inconsolably: “God! Why did you forsake me?” A divine almighty voice boomed throughout the Heavens: “Man! We sent you a boat and a chopper; what more did you expect us to do?”

 

You heard the story? No? What? The Maddies? Be patient with me, I am getting to that story. Actually, I have not really left it. For, there is a certain symmetry in the order of things. Our people have the same kind of conviction that seems to be no less self-defeating. We have, for instance, this incurable infatuation with democracy. In order to adore it more we personalize it and immediately become disillusioned with the personification. It is like being in love with a beautiful lady and bursting with the desire to wed her and live happily ever after. But hardly is the marriage consummated than the romance turns sour. Love begins to suffocate to death by an inexplicable process of attrition. It is like a death-wish. We have this irresistible impulse to destroy what we value most. We doubt our capacity for love, so we smother it. Tell me, my good fellow, are our dreams doomed to end in nightmares? Shall we wake up one dreaded morning to find the self-styled knight in shining armour galloping on a tank and proclaiming that he will save us from our unrequited love? Will we then cry inconsolably: “Fair lady, why did you forsake us”?

 

What? You doubt that? But, it is the doubt which may turn out to be our ultimate undoing. In order to cease being doubtful one has to cease being – I read that or did I think it myself? It reminds me of Camus and the never-ending sensation of the utter absurdity of L‘Exitence Humaine. It’s L’Mythe de Sisphus all over.

 

What? You would like a glass of Camus? But, my dear fellow, I am talking of the novelist, not the brandy. You people will never cease to amaze me! Besides, whoever bothered to tell you that this is a dry country, should have mentioned that this a dry country should have mentioned that the reference is not exclusively to the weather. Ah, I see you smile. You are too polite to take offence at my remarks. Why yes, let’s have another cup of tea instead. It is not every day that I entertain a visitor who does not take sugar with his tea.

 

Yes, the sun is setting. It is beautiful, isn’t it? There is always a cool breeze at exactly the time when daylight makes its hurried retreat before the looming darkness. It is as though night is celebrating a victory of sorts. I ask you: what kind of victory is that? The roles, after all, will be reversed at dawn. But try to explain this basic lesson of nature to our politicians. Those in office are celebrating a perpetual victory. They boast of ‘achievements’ that make you marvel at how they manage to stay in power despite such a dismal record. Those out of office can even be worse. The most fanatic and self-righteous among them promise you heaven on earth, oblivious to the fact that their concept of heaven is not commonly shared. Besides, heaven, like sugar, is best savoured when left to the last, or to the individual’s taste, as you will probably discover when you drink your heavenly cup of tea on that fine and final Day of Judgment.

 

But, let’s be fair to our Maddies. They are not a unique or isolated species. They are everywhere and every country has them. Yes: even your own, if I may say so. You will be surprised how many Maddies masqueraded as President in the White House at one time or another. Take, for instance, that taciturn President whose name I have now conveniently forgotten. What? No, not Tricky Dick. Poor Dick, he should have quit politics after telling reporters that they would not have him to kick around anymore. No, the President I have in mind was one of monumental mediocrity. Once, during a White House reception a lady came over to him and said timidly: “Mr. President, 1 made a bet with my friends that I will make you say more than two words to me.” The man glared at her and, as he turned away, said in an almost inaudible voice: “You lost”!

 

What? Am I sure he was one of your Presidents? Of course, 1 am sure. Don’t you know your own Maddies? Besides, if it were a French President, he would have taken the lady in question on a tour of the best cabarets in Paris. A Soviet President would have found the occasion a good opportunity to propose a series of toasts and down an impressive number of double vodkas. A German President would have seized the occasion to deny the malicious rumours that he was a Soviet mole and/or that he had once been a member of the Hitler Youth. A Chinese President would have been too senile to understand what was going on but could have mustered enough strength to mumble something about his role during the Long March. A British President… But, alas, they don’t suffer Presidents easily there. The Queen, in any case, would have had the courtesy to imperially intone:”We are not amused.”

 

Ah, I see from the look of recognition on your face that you recall the President I am talking about. But, please no, don’t tell me his name. It has taken me quite some effort to forget it. I cannot, however, forget the fact that he gained immediate immortality on the day he died. How did that extraordinary event happen? It was very simple, really. You see, on hearing the news of his death his wife exclaimed: “How can they ever be sure!”‘

 

It is getting dark out here. Shall we go inside? Allow me to lead the way. Mind you don’t step on that booby-trap. What do I need booby-traps for? Burglars, my dear fellow. The whole town is teeming with them. Believe me it is safer to take up residence in New York’s Central Park. The situation here is such that some of my friends would not mind having your Ronnie over here for a couple of days to clean up the place. Six-shooters and all, so to speak.

 

Where was I? Yes, the Maddies everywhere. Imagine, for the sake of argument, a lady going to our Prime Minister and telling him that she has made a bet with her friends to make him say less than two words. He will certainly ramble off on a non-stop monologue for hours on end – probably on the subject of betting being an un-Islamic practice. The lady will have lost the bet as sure as being told “you lost” to her face. Now tell me, my good friend, what is the difference? Despite the difference in place and time a bet was lost in both cases and nothing was gained. Too little or too much. Which, in the final analysis, amounts to the same thing. Isn’t it, really, a mad, mad world?

 

You can see that, can’t you? Let me put it another way. Suppose they told you that our ex -Dictator is alive and well and living in a fabulous villa in Cairo. You would not be the good journalist that I think you are, if you fail to exclaim: “How can they ever be sure!” Yes, indeed, how can we ever be sure! For all we know he may still be ruling us under an assumed name. He may be hiding among us, scheming, conspiring, subverting…. No, don’t shake your head disbelievingly! This isn’t speculation beyond the realm of possibility or even of probability. The ‘remnants of May’ have become as ominous a phrase as the ‘ides of March’. The legacy of his Imamate is still shadowing us, mocking us. as though trying to remind us that if it comes to Maddie-ness he is as good a Maddie as any other. Believe me, the maddest among us seem to be, wittingly or not, lending credibility to that absurd legacy.

 

Which brings me full circle to the central theme of my book. Yes, you are right. I do indeed refer to our people going bananas. 1ask you: who would not under the circumstances? Recently a University Professor was placed in ‘protective custody’, ostensibly because in a public speech he called our esteemed Prime Minister a “liar”. What? You don’t know, what ‘protective custody” is? Let me put it to you it in Yankee terms that you can easily grasp. ‘Protective custody’ is the police procedure for protecting a suspect from being torn to pieces by a lynch mob before the same punishment is inflicted on him through the due process of law. Now, it is very considerate of the authorities to provide such protection for the hapless professor who, I can assure you, is a decent sort of chap much given to understatement in expressing his views. But if lying is not a crime, how can calling someone a liar a criminal offence? I have not exactly been telling you the truth throughout this interview and you have probably taken note of some of my blatant lies. So what does it matter? Lying is not just a human trait, it is a way of life as our Prime Minister apparently knows. Do you go about in your country putting all prospective presidential candidates in ‘protective custody’? The real liars, my good friend, are the ones most sensitive to being called liars. They are, simultaneously, the least and the most insensitive of us all.

 

Of course, you will say 1 am being cynical again. No, not cynical? Philosophical? Well, I shall not deny it. But you are not leaving now, are you? Yes, I must admit it is getting late. Alas, 1 have been talkative as usual, but I enjoyed talking to you. 1hope you have now a better perspective on my book. What? You think it will make the New York Times best-sellers’ list? You are most flattering. Goodbye. I wish you a happy stay in our country and good speed home.

 

But tell me, my friend. Are you real or did I make you up? I see my question amazes you. Forgive me, I meant no offence. It is just that I am getting this Maddie feeling that Ihave been talking to myself

 

 

SUDAN TIMES Sunday 15 November 1987 

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