I had the dubious distinction of
being on the spot just two days before the Shah
of Iran was overthrown. It was 1978 in tehra,; mobs
were on the rampage everywhere and the hotel I was
staying in was set on fire. The other guests and
I took shelter in an annexe that night and I managed
to get on a plane out of the city the next morning,
virtually dodging gunfire. Luck was obviously on
my side as the airport was shut down for several
* * *
The adventure the
second time around was post-coup. The location was
Liberia (West Africa), just a few days after a group
of 17 junior soldiers had executed the entire Cabinet
and taken over the country. Unlike several of its
African neighbours, it was the first time that Liberia
(then a one-party, one-government state) found itself
caught up in such a high level of violence. When
I arrived at the airport, it was crawling with soldiers,
one of whom barred by way even after I cleared both
Immigration and Customs. Some time later and after
much confusion, I realized that all it took to get
going was US$1!
Having bought myself successfully
out of that tricky situation, I promptly encountered
another: Any delay meant being overtaken by the
curfew. Fortunately, the hotel I was booked into
was just across the road, and I made it there only
to find there was no room for me despite a reservation.
I decided to camp in the lobby and told this to
receptionist, who threw the rule both at me. A rather
lovely and very friendly strewardess on my earlier
flight came up and pleaded my case, finally offering
to share her room with me. A happy solution, I thought,
and was about to accept gladly, when money spoke
again. The receptionist turned to both of us and
declared that for US$50 extra, I could have a room
of my own.
* * *
My next encounter was with an attempted
coup in the Maldives. I was in a hotel on one of
the many islands when a group[ of mercenaries from
Sri Lanka entered Male, the capital. A friend who
lives there recounted what happened.
The Sri Lankans were accompanied
by a couple of Maldivians who were behind the coup
attempt, and the entire lot were running helter-skelter
between the houses of the senior government officials.
Unfortunately, the Maldivian armed forces had the
unusual nocturnal practice of retiring under lock
and key in their barracks, presumably to keep out
of mischief. The keys were, apparently, held by
the country's defence minister.
As a result, the mercenaries began
their attack on this walled-in area. Their bullets
were of no avail, and neither were those fired by
the soldiers on the inside. No one was hitting anyone.
The Maldivians, peaceable and peace-loving
by nature, assumed that a movie was being shot,
and turned out in large numbers to watch the fun,
not realizing that real bullets were flying all
over the place. A couple of innocent people were
hurt in the crossfire. Over at the presidential
home and office, however, things were a little different.
There, the guards were of the ceremonial kind, and
so were their guns- these had no bullets!
The drama between
the Sri Lankan mercenaries and Maldivian soldiers
continued for a few hours until two plane-loads
of soldiers from a friendly neighbouring country
arrived and brought things under control. Meanwhile,
the mercenaries attempted to escape on a slow cargo
boat and were promptly captured by a battleship.
My friend in Male was then the shipping minister,
and he had been taken hostage on the cargo boat,
hurting his foot in the fracas.
* * *
My fourth and final brush with political
turmoil was in Thailand, a couple of days after
the coup took place in 1993. I arrived in Bangkok
one morning to learn that the army had once again
taken over the country. The immigration officer
who received me at my port of entry explained that
"in Thailand, the people like playing musical
chairs," referring to the tussle for power
between the army and civilians. However, everything
was business as usual, with no visible changes in
either government policy or business activity.
* * *