Superman The Dystopian Tale Continues
Rana Pratap Saikia
Subject 2203 is my name, and waiting is my game. I have lost track of time, and my memory is hazy, but I know it has been at least a year since my capture. Legend has it that some of the great literature in times past has been written in prison cells, and I always fancied myself a bard, but it pains my traumatized mind to think and it hurts my malnourished joints to scribble. I lost my only friend, a rat I had named Chikhu, a couple of nights back to a mutbug attack. It was night time and I lay talking to my friend with whiskers in the dark, when a long shadow appeared accompanied by the sound of whirring antennae, and before I knew it, my rodent friend had disappeared into the dark, never to be heard from again. The suffocation of this loneliness finally prompts me to sneak out my diary one evening as the last rays of a setting sun are fading. I continue where I had left off:
October 12, 2059: “There is something I must tell you, son,” Papa said to me one day, appearing suddenly at the foot of my bed as I was preparing to sleep. “I know we are not allowed to read, but there is an infinite amount of information stored in my basement. I have procured it through extreme hardship, this wealth of knowledge. The world I once knew vanished after the war and everything I stood for and fought for lies in ruin”, he said. After a brief pause, he continued, “I know my time is short and they are watching my every move. Which is why, my son, I entrust you with the keys to my basement. Read and find out for yourself what we, as a civilization, stood for before this whole 'System' nonsense. When man had free will, when law and order existed, when people weren't oppressed, silenced and even killed for speaking up against injustice and cruelty imposed by the elites” . He let out
a heavy sigh and looked into my eyes and said “You have to continue the fight. I am too old and feeble now”. And with these words, he left me.
I grew up happy and placated in the countryside farm and I fed my mind with knowledge from the books in the basement and enriched it gradually. I particularly remember reading about a character in old comic books called 'Superman'. He was an alien who grew up on Earth and would fight dangerous creatures and evil men. I sometimes felt like Superman, growing up in a strange world inhabited by strange (mutated) animals and evil men. I could feel his plight and began to visualize myself as a Superman of sorts, someone who would bring truth and justice to a world corrupted by evil, greed and injustice.
But the stronger I became, the feebler Papa got until he could no longer leave his bed and would spend hours looking outside the window at the sky above mumbling the words: “God...take me” over and over again until it began to sound like a chant of sorts. Of course your average Maatha dweller would not understand the significance of those words, but I understood that he was imploring the stranger who dwelt in the clouds to take his life. In the post-religious world that we were living in, it would be considered blasphemy against 'The System' and a direct violation of their motto: “Serve”.
Pouring over the books in the library, I discovered that the land we inhabited had been known by various names: Bharat, India, Hindustan. She had been a mother to both vagabond and prince in her storied past. I learned that in the year 2018, tensions with a neighboring country called China had escalated to the extent that a war had to be fought to retain sovereignty. This war, unparalleled in magnitude of death and destruction had claimed over a billion lives and one dreadful night, China had decided to unleash its nuclear arsenal upon us. 3000 nuclear warheads deployed overnight ended life and civilization in all parts of the country barring the eastern parts close to the Chinese mainland. Fearing China's might, all allies withdrew support. Most of the country became a nuclear zone with nuclear radiation corrupting the animals that remained to a mutated state. The Eastern region that remained unsullied by nuclear radiation faced the conundrum of regaining order and democracy.
Nefarious elites, with their paid protestors and agitators, tried to burn everything to the ground. Their dangerous and heavily armed goons took out the police state. Next to go was law and judiciary. Guwahati (now known as System-Guwahati) had the highest ranked judicial office, The High Court, which was bombed by foot soldiers of the United Labor Front or ULF (an early incarnation of 'The System). Every lawyer and policeman they could find was either jailed or killed. Most were butchered in public view.
The foot soldiers, the violent arm of the ULF, were led to believe that they were waging war against the political class and fighting for the common man. But as soon as their purpose was served, the elite class sowed seeds of discord and a civil war ensued which ended with most of the foot soldiers killing each other off. The remnants fled to the countryside and their progenitors formed the earliest incarnation of the 'Rebels'. They existed now to exact revenge for the betrayal by the elite class and their sole reason for existence was to take down 'The System', no matter the cost. They have grown reckless in recent months, sometimes even daring to venture into 'System-Guwahati'. They are consumed with hatred so strong that the hatred of 'The System' pales in comparison. Consequently, elites from both ends of the political spectrum cemented their triumph by renaming what remained of the erstwhile India as 'Maatha'. A council was convened on the 15th of August 2022 and a constitution was framed consisting of the single word: 'Serve'.
Meanwhile, I had met the love of my life. When I was 20, my Papa's ailing health forced Mama to seek for help. A friend offered her the services of Shakthi, one of the twelve children she entrusted to her. She came to live with us. With eyes as delicate as a doe's and feet as nimble as those of a forest sprite's, she brought much joy and laughter into the atmosphere of doom our house had sunk into because of Papa's ailing health and unceasing chants, which he had started reciting like a prayer. Her laughter would ring in my ears for hours afterwards and her eyes had started haunting my dreams. What especially drew me close to her was her innocence.
She didn't initially have a name and was simply called 'Subject 1043' by her parents, but I decided to call her 'Shakthi' as commemoration of a Goddess' name I had found in an old book in the basement, because I could sense she had a certain strength of character and power of will. She was confused by
the name and would innocently ask me:”'What is this 'Shakthi'? It must be something you have read about in one of those books you keep in your basement.” I would chuckle and say nothing. In those days of bliss, I had no idea of knowing that our lives would be turned upside down very soon.
On 2053, a day after I had turned 23, something horrible happened. It was around 11 PM at night while we were having dinner when we heard loud raps on the door. We looked at each other, scared. For the first time in many months, I had seen alertness in Papa's eyes. His alertness was comingled with dread and in the cold silence of the few moments that we spent looking at each other; his eyes seemed to tell me: “They've come at last”.
Our silence did not help matters and after what seemed like ages (but was realistically closer to five minutes), they broke down the doors. As expected, it was the System Guards who had come. The one in the front who appeared to be a high ranking official, bellowed: “Designation: Farmer, Subject: 21079, you are under arrest for treason and espionage. You must come with us immediately.” For a moment I saw a faint flicker of resistance in Papa’s eyes that quickly filtered out. For a moment, he joined his hands in prayer (the System Guards looked away in disgust) and then nodded. They rolled him out along with his wheelchair. Mama followed adroitly behind without a fuss, being the strong woman that she was. I stood rooted to the spot, paralyzed with fear. I hoped that they would be given a fair shot and a trial, but in a society that is lawless and where the elites make the rules, it is too much to hope for. After ten minutes or so, Shakthi and I heard two distant gunshots which seemed to be coming from the forest bordering the farm.
The next day, I decided to leave. I took Shakthi's hands in mine and told her: “I am leaving for the city of System-Guwahati and I know not when I will be back. But know this, the only reason I am leaving you everything that is dear to me is because I trust you and I know you will not let what we have worked
hard for all these years fall to ruin. I hope the flowers we have tended to all these years in our little garden will continue to bloom long after I am gone”. And with these words, I left her with a soft peck on her cheeks. That was the last time I saw her.
I arrived in the city a few days later and started working at a shop called 'Silks for Sir&Madame' which sold silk costumes to both men and women. It belonged to a transsexual businessman called Meersahib who was generous and who would never forget to reimburse me for extra working hours. Thus, I spent six years in this fashion, away from the pain of the memories, but I was still haunted at night by the sound of the two gunshots I had heard that fateful night. I would wake up, sweating, and became dependent on antipsychotic pills. And I often thought about her. A couple of years after leaving my house, I had started hearing stories of a powerful new fighter in the ranks of the WPU, a fearless new lieutenant called Goddess, who had been responsible for leading the anarchists to many a victory over the forces of The System. I think I knew who it was. It was in the year 2058 when my mind started rebelling again and I had started associating with spies and members of the 'Hush Hush Club' in old taverns. I started attending their secret meetings, trying to learn about the activities of the 'Rebels' and the WPU, asking the spies if they were recruiting new members.
You could not trust anyone in this political climate, of course, and I found that out the hard way. I had started becoming reckless and one night in a drunken state, I started spraying graffiti on a wall in an abandoned street. 'DOWN WITH THE SYSTEM', my words read in big, bold yellow letters and I was appreciating my work of art when I heard footsteps approaching behind me and without turning my head to look, I knew it was the System Guards.
Someone had ratted me out and this is how I ended up in this accursed state. They flogged me for a couple of weeks and finally gave up after they realized I had no relevant information to provide regarding the Rebels or WMU. There is no silver lining to my condition and I feel hope draining away like the number of functioning brain cells in a System Guard during the initiation process. But still I wait, and I observe, with a diary and pencil as my weapons of choice.