Speculative fiction meets dystopian musings, as Ayan De explores a violent world that shares plenty with our current existence, Lynching, right-wing convictions, and the indoctrination of a young boy provide fodder for visualizing a scary new world. De plays havoc with linear time, challenging the reader to follow a chaotic timeline that perfectly characterizes a cruel, messy society. When cloning technology meets fanatical politics, a magnificent story is born. So are terrifying possibilities. – Shreya, The Bombay Review
Note: This piece was written in April, 2019, and Ayan De, is a pen name.
Three years into the future, I will watch a pirated copy of a film about the man-with-no-name and discover the cowboys of the Middle American Old West; until then, I shall remain a true saffron Cow-Boy.
I joined my local chapter of the Youth Swayamsevak Corps five years ago, mostly because, as I will be told once I become a father, my parents wanted to delegate the responsibility of enlisting me in various activities to a single umbrella organization. They were not wrong in doing so. I could either have played football on a grassier field across the city, or I could have attended an art class in the interim two hours spent in the traffic–even the ten-year-old-me understood the economics of the situation.
We went camping in the Shri Narendra Modi National Park three years ago. An old man with a white, boxed beard and potbelly had addressed us at the YSC centre before we got on the bus. He spoke mostly in Hindi, but always referred to the country as “The Republic of Hindustan.” He told us that Hindustan belonged to the public, and that we were its future; I recalled this yesterday, prior to a “special meeting” in the basement of the centre.
He exuded passion. We, boredom. A chaperone had introduced him as the founder of the YSC, here on his occasional visit; I will come to think of it as an attempt at sowing an idea in our minds before a night spent in the wild, undisturbed by influences he deemed inappropriate.
A century-and-quarter have passed since Hindustan began rebuilding itself after it gained independence from the British, yet, as we will be told in the next week’s “special meeting,” it still carries today the burdens of the colonial past–poverty, illiteracy, Muslims, and the like. And that we, the future, will need to find the solution.
Fifty-two years after next Diwali, I will be diagnosed with dementia. To keep my memories intact, my sons will sponsor an implant that will retroactively store and let me let me flip through my memories like flipping through my grandmother’s childhood photo album compiled by her mother. I will agree only because it will allow me to remember my wife. She will have passed away two years prior.
I promised a friend last week that I would accompany him to yesterday’s “special meeting about the country’s history for the ‘big boys.’” My parents had no problem with a history lesson at YSC. Three months from now, I will call it the stupidest thing I had ever done. Tomorrow, I will wake up with a newfound sense of pride.
A fortnight after the previous Independence Day, a car bomb exploded outside Siddhi Vinayak Temple, killing forty-two people. Charred beef was found along the interior remains of the vehicle, but only after twelve years will the public be informed of the traces of hog fat used in the primer, through a leaked forensic report.
Seven summers have passed since the pure-clone of Narendra Modi reached his adulthood. His genes were sequenced from a strand of hair preserved in the National Museum, New Delhi. The embryo, as I will learn in Biology, was synthesised in a lab and later placed in the womb of an anonymous virgin surrogate. Some criticized this exact process to be offensive to its biblical parallels. Some have argued about the philosophical and ethical implications. Most were just happy that there will finally be another great leader.
Today, Modi II is the country’s youngest Prime Minister. In his campaign to be re-elected, he made promises that he could not keep–some exactly the same as his progenitor kept making during his four successive terms. His critics blamed these hollow promises for frustrating the groups waiting for benefits, leading them to bombing the temple. I will be told in the third “special meeting” next month that a radical Islamic group in its nascent years was responsible, having claimed their credit in a private message to Modi II and had the public found out Muslims were responsible, there would be riots.
Protests twenty-eight years ago led to a ban on the government cloning a figure from the past to gain political favour in the future. Fifty years later, the ruling party will use a similar procedure to produce an heir to a kindling dynasty, but this time using a separate ovum–an elegant leap through a loophole hidden in the vague language of the law. The donor will request to be paid an undisclosed “negative amount.”
The Neo-Modi dynasty will thrive in the right, at least until moments after I will look at my five grandchildren for the last time. I will be proud of all of them, and will hope that the twins don’t mind me confusing them for each other.
In that moment, I will look back to my wife closing her eyes for the last time. She will look peaceful. I will ask for the kids to be ushered back outside. I will not want them to remember me as a distraught old man, worrying that I am not as peaceful in the arms of death as my wife was.
Two years prior, my wife, her lips chapped more than she would have ever liked, will tell me that I am yet to forgive myself. My futile protest will only prove her point. She will remind me that she still has more hair on her head than I do. Not believe it when I say I have accepted my past.
By the ninth meeting, the number of attendees will increase fourfold and our mentor will be known to the public as Pandit Hindutva. My wife will later suggest that even Hitler had the self-awareness of not calling himself “White-Supremacy, PhD.” Anti-Islamic sentiments will be high, fanned by rumours of the radical Muslims we will have unwittingly spread.
Sixty-five years ago, some Pakis had terrorized the streets of Mumbai. Sixty-five days from today, we will terrorize Muslims on the same streets. Pandit Hindutva, will inform us of something highly distressing–Muslims trading beef. He will ask us, the apparent future of the nation, to do something. History told us that protests have been a decisive part in leading us here today. He will encourage this, but demand that we be careful of the dissident media and those feral Muslims. We tell him that we are prepared. He will call us true saffron Cow-Boys.
The week after, a man beaten to a pulp, will lie naked on the street, his lungs begging for air. He will have woken up that morning looking forward to the biryani his wife had planned for the dinner with his in-laws. He will go to the market to buy mutton, oblivious to the brewing crowd on what one calls the Meat Street.
I will first taste beef on my honeymoon in the backwaters of the State of Greater Travancore. The hot sun will warm my drink and the slight breeze will carry with it my napkin, but I will be lost in the exotic texture enrapturing my tongue. It will also be the first time I use the word “enrapture.”
Someone will incite the crowd, claiming that the red meat in the plastic bag is that of his Mother Cow. After a moment of frozen panic–a deer in headlights–this unsuspecting Muslim will be hit with the force of a thousand vegetarians.
We will trample the signs we made, like any Muslim in our way. We will show them what years of satyagraha builds up to, every strike flashing them back to the pressure cookers that blew up our trains, every fall reminding them where the temple was built, and every slur proclaiming who Hindustan belonged to.
My bride will have succumbed to food coma, affording me a moment of solitude, something I won’t seek on the trip, but appreciate nonetheless. This will be the first time I will face my guilt by eating it, and it will be one of the more cathartic experiences yet.
After moments of vitriol, something will pull me back from the crowd. A crowd of savages. I will barely be able to see the sobbing shopper, bleeding on the ground, tattered clothes covering nothing, and rush back home. I will not tell my parents of my involvement, avoiding them when I rush to the bathroom as they watch the day’s events unfold on the news. Riots will break out throughout the city as I sob under my shower, trying to wash away blood and bile.
Some weeks after receiving my implant, I will look back to the time I first fractured my arm. My mother comforted me, calling me a brave boy for having climbed the tree I fell off of. A very peculiar thought that will come to me on my deathbed as a fickle form of reassurance–perhaps I will have been brave for just trying to confront who I was, regardless of how I come out on the other side. Ma will have to be proud. Though that will not be enough.
The night after my oldest is born, guilt will swallow me whole and give me a panic attack. My exhausted wife will have to nurse two bawling bags of meat after I lose my sense of being. I will hold her close as she reminds me to let go.
One-hundred-and-eighty-two casualties. Three arrests.
When I first tell my future-wife about my hindutva days, she will tell me about the skeletons in her closet, in her chest of drawers and under her bed. She will deem the incident, though a significant one, not momentous enough, unless I actively try to convince myself of it. A literal skeleton from my youth will not haunt me for the rest of my life if I don’t want it to.
This immature interpretation will then be overhauled by the wisdom one finds under the deathbed of a partner–I will finally realize what my wife meant. However ineffable this revamped insight may be, I will never be able to act on it until I lose my ability to care about the syntax.
Progress will grant me the ability to look back at the events of my past that I will not have remembered without the implant. Ma believed in me trying. My wife will have believed in me accepting. So, I will look back for the last time. I will find the day I most rue and relive it with a sense of foresight.
Today, I chose to attend the coming meetings of Pandit Hindutva. Today, I am a naive boy eager to learn the Hindu history of a formerly secular country. Tonight, I will sleep with a smile. On my deathbed, I will let go; with my dying breath, I will forgive myself.
- Hindutva: an ideology that seeks to define Indian culture in terms of Hindu values, highly critical of the secularism.
- Satyagraha: Sanskrit for ‘Truth-Force,’ non-violence.
Ayan De, a student of aerospace engineering, can be found wandering the city with a camera, entranced by a movie or curled up with a book whenever his head is not in the clouds. Sometimes, he picks up a pen.