Rana Pratap Saikia
Present day: Awaiting the fate that ‘The System’ shall decide for me, I think about Shakthi and the love that could have been. Love is one of the most harshly punishable offenses in Maatha and marriages are only sanctioned by the state as a means to take care of children. Women are treated with disdain and neglect and their rights have been trampled over. Of course, this animosity between ‘The System’ and womenfolk has its roots in the early days. In the days after ‘The System’ came to power, women who had long been seething and raging because of injustices they had been subjected to in the past, were the first to raise their voices against the authoritarian dictatorship of 'The System'. They formed their own groups and the song of resistance they sang grew into a cacophony until the elites of 'The System' had had enough. One fine day, Smt. Lata Kumar, the leader of the Womens' Rights Council, was dragged from her house by System cronies and shot dead in broad daylight. The seed of resentment that had already been growing within the women, reached its full bloom.
Thousands of women descended upon the thugs of the 'System' and these vigilantes killed many of the SystemGuards with weapons they had acquired from the transsexual black market. Civil war rang loud and clear and ‘The System’ waged a war upon these women with viciousness hitherto unseen in the history of our country. Cries of women being dragged from their houses and being shot on the streets could be heard for days on end. Then one fine day, hordes of women disappeared from their houses. Chores were left undone and babies were left unattended as men folk were left wondering where their women had gone. It is not known to this day where they went, but spies soon started speaking of a new uprising of women in hushed voices. 'The WPU' or ‘Women Power United’, they called it. The WPU has continued to be a thorn in the side of ‘The System’ ever since. Cut off from the rest of world, civil strife and anarchy has reigned supreme since the terrible war of 2020. Meanwhile, the rest of the world has prospered, according to spies with unnamed sources. Manned spacecrafts to other planets have been sent where colonies are being set up. Rumor had it that hunger and poverty has been ameliorated through coordinated efforts of scientists and humanitarians. These countries refuse to acknowledge the existence of 'Maatha' and we have become a plague upon the world, a blight developed countries would rather see wiped off the face of the planet.
As I ruminate on the past, I hear someone whisper to me, “Aye! You!” I look up to discover it's the nameless SystemGuard who had procured the diary and pencil for me. I give him a weary smile. He gives a bemused look. “You don't look like all that much to me. You don't seem like all the hassle. But you must be one of the important ones since they gone thru' all this trouble to get ya free, eh mate?” His speech is slurred, making it hard to understand, but I finally make sense of the gravity of his words. He works the key into the lock and clicks open the door. He hands me a SystemGuard uniform: a dull gray jumper and green shorts with a biker's helmet. “They told me ta give these to ya, boy. Put on them clothes and flee. And yeah, they told ya ta meet them where the heart is. They said ya will understand.” I smile in gratitude and start putting on the clothes. Of course I know what it means. My heart has always been at home, even after all these years. And the funny thing about my escape is that the other SystemGuards wouldn't even know I had left, seeing as how unimportant I was to them. I collect my diary and pencil, put them in my jumper pocket and leave. I can sense the eyes of the rogue SystemGuard drilling into my head from behind as I depart.
I arrive after 3 days of arduous journey on an automobile truck laden with vegetables. It is 7 pm when I arrive at the farm where I spent my childhood, reeking of potatoes and cabbages. The garden is unkempt and weeds have overgrown the farm. A part of me expects Shakthi to greet me at my arrival, but I know I was being too optimistic. The door to the house has been left ajar and I make my way in. I make straight for the basement and I find a note taped to my desk.
Dear Subject 2203, I sit here trying to put into words the scars I have felt ever since your
departure and the death of Mama and Papa. Ever since these turn of events, I have begun to question my life and I met a woman at the grocery store who told me that the resistance needs women like me. Some of these women live among us in broad daylight. They could have used a memostik on me, wiped my memories, but they didn't. I now understand why you were consumed with thirst for knowledge and I have read all your books and gained new respect for you. The world that we live in has never existed. It is a mere illusion. I think I have found my inner calling as you have (probably) found yours and I must fight for what I believe is just. I hope you find this letter in good health.
I smirk a little. It seems like I was right about this girl all along. When push comes to shove, we all find a little courage within us to defeat the odds.
I hear a loud knock on the door. They have arrived, whoever they are. I hesitate a while with the doorknob, but eventually open the door to behold a dark, wrinkly little man standing outside. “May I come in?” he asks politely with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes. I nod and he makes himself comfortable in the raggedy couch in our once-comfortable house. He introduces himself in a very cultivated manner: “I am K.M. Bakshi”, he says. I stare blankly into his genial eyes. “Ah!” he exclaims “will you not afford this old man the luxury of settling in?” he says with a voice cackling with laughter. I remain silent.
Bakshi finally gives up. “Not in a mood for fun and games, are you? You want answers? Where shall I begin? Well, you see all this mayhem around you, but don't you think it could have been averted?” he looks at me quizzically. “Well, sure nuclear warfare left us on the brink of extinction, but we were arming ourselves to stabilize society after the occurrence of the terrible events. I was what you would call a 'lawyer'”. He pauses for affect, as it if it should mean more to me than it did. “Of course, in those days”, he continues “it was a noble profession but you don't see many lawyers around nowadays, do you?” he asks with a bemused look.
“You see, the elites that rule us now were afraid that we would make a proper constitution and a system of law and order in the country” he continued. “So what the corrupt officials from all political parties did was they got together and usurped all power from the common man. We would not have sat idly while this happened, so they silenced us initially through intimidation and then they massacred my kind by the thousands until only I remained. I could escape their clutches only because of the influence I wielded as Chairman of the Bar Council and contacts I had made through that position” he says, waving his hands around like a lunatic.
“Unfortunately, I had to leave you behind. You were not born in the womb of a sexbot, but rather, conceived by my wife. She breathed her last while giving birth to you, and I could not take you with me because I was a hunted man, so I told one of my aides to keep you safe in one of the various birthing cells which had recently sprang up. You were born in the womb of an actual woman, so it makes you rather special, doesn't it?” he asks with a twinkle in his eyes.
“Anyways,” he continues “I kept track of you through all these years. I am sorry I could not be of more service to you, but I was sick and bedridden for a while and I have only been able to keep myself alive through extensive medication and scientific innovation. Anyways, I was hiding in the shadows and after the foot soldiers of 'the System' were left disillusioned by their betrayal, I reached out to them through my contacts and rallied them around me. And they chose to reward me by calling us 'The Rebels'. Ah, such a generic and stupid name. Straight out of a 'Star Wars' movie” he bemoaned with a hint of sarcasm.
He continues speaking, realizing that I would not interrupt him: “The students of Law, the legal practitioners, the Judges of the Law Courts, and the legal researchers were carriers of justice in a dynamic society. The idea of justice and of law is not a modern phenomenon, rather an ancient concept of civilization. So how do you save society from the cusp of breakdown? By bringing back law and order, of course. And that is precisely the reason why I am imparting legal education to the Rebels. After we take back this country by militaristic force, we will be the ones who will stabilize it and frame a new constitution”, he sputters.
He pauses for breath and looks into my eyes “Are we clear till here, son?” he enquires. I nod. “You see, this is a long and arduous path that we have undertaken and we must bring back legal education to the centerfold of society for it to thrive like it once did for while legal education in India was never perfect, it existed for a reason. To impart young and enquiring minds with knowledge so they could help preserve our society and its morals and values. I hope you will join us in this fight, son.” I look deep into the eyes of the father I had never met before and reply in a hoarse voice (because I had been holding back tears): “I will think about it”. He smiles a genuine smile and says “I must leave now. I am a busy man, after all. I will see you again...son”. As soon as these words are spoken, a herd of mutbugs appear where he stood a moment ago and they fly off into the night. I stand struck to the ground for a few minutes and watch until the mutbugs disappear into the horizon. Nothing surprises me anymore.
I spend the next hour in the basement reading and re-reading Shakthi's note, thinking about my life till this moment. About the strange experiences that I've had. Of the rebel parents who went smilingly to their deaths into the whispering forest in the dead of night. Of my escape from prison. Of the girl I had named after a goddess who became a fighter and found the inner force within her. About my bug father. Nothing surprises me anymore. I pick up my old and tattered collection of Superman comics. “I AM SUPERMAN”, I bellow at the top of my lungs, and embrace the cold of the wild night.