Desis In Twilight Zone - Four Short Science Fiction Stories

by Ramesh Mahadevan

Once upon a time there was a Future. It was such a Future that none of what I am going to write in this post ever happened. If you want to be chronological about it, it was that era in time when Internet spanned a tangled Web and we were all stuck up in it like little spiders. A time when nobody knew when to feel hungry or horny without the help of World Wide Web. A golden age when most teenagers didn't know which part of their body was the bellybutton.

Story 1 - California Proposition 4321

"California Proposition 4321 will be on the ballot. Voting in November" screamed the headlines all over the place. Desis everywhere were flabbergasted.

"Tell me this is not true" they told each other.

"Why, what is going on ? What is Prop 4321 ?"

"Kyaa ? You don't know ? Proposition 4321 intends to outlaw any practice, performance and playing of Anthakshari. The government will hand out stiff prison terms and fines. They claim that several million man-woman hours are lost just by playing Anthakshari. And it seems several psychological studies point to a tremendous increase in psychosis in the Desi community, attributable directly to the prevelance of Anthakshari. And they are very scared that Anthakshari might spread to the rest of America. What nonsense ? An Indian can live without his daily roti. But not without his weekly Anthakshari. I must write about it on the S. C. I."

"But then I am not too surprised at such immigrant backlash." came the reply. "We Desis are wild and loud. We don't blend in with the native culture and melt in the pot. We always stick out with such peculiar habits."

"What do you mean ? Antakshari is as much of an institution in India as the Vedas."

"Such arrogance obviously breeds resentment. As such we desis have renamed Santa Clara as Gandhinagar. We have built thirty two temples in the South Bay alone. Even today I saw Classified Ads for 'two garbha griha temple for sale in the Fremont area'. And the Balaji temple is even offering a Blue light special on 'Mundan'. For heaven's sake !"

"You want to suck up to the native population and forget your own identity ?"

"How dare you ? Antakshari is a vehicle for North Indian hegemony. You Paki."

"Boo ! You southy, Brahmin, IIT type ."

"You Boutros Boutros...." (uttering the latest gaali in India)

Prop 4321 divided the Desi community and pitched one NRI against the other. Echos were even felt in India and protest marches were organized to all U. S consulates in India. Coke and Pepsi were boycotted. And when finally, in spite of the best of desi efforts, Prop. 4321 passed with a huge majority, desis became desolate. Overcome by anxiety and fear, they convened emergency India Association meetings. The California Professional Desi association even tried to lobby and bribe the respective legislators to repeal the measure. Desi parties on weekends were lacklustre and surreptitiously desis began to defy the new law and started organizing Antakshari parties underground. A group even filed a suit in the State Supreme Court. When the state court upheld the proposition, some of the Antakshari addicts even gave up their US citizenship and returned to India. Finally the case even went to the US Supreme Court. And one day the highest court in the land came out with its verdict.

"Writing on behalf of the bench" wrote Justice Sandra Day O'Conner. "We would like to summarize that it is well within the rights of the Desi immigrant community to practice Antakshari. The Proposition 4321 is unconstitutional. In fact, the American Constitution guarantees the performance of Antakshari. Antakshari. This ends with 'ri', your turn Justice Clarence Thomas.." At which point, Justice Thomas thought for a moment and then wrote "Ruk mini, Ruk mini.."

Story 2 - Small Businessman

Bala was very busy that day. He was quite excited too. He looked at his shiny Computer with a 52 inch screen. The new Fax card he had put in was so fast it could actually deliver the message even before he could transmit it. He picked up the phone just to make sure he heard the dial tone. Today is a great day, he thought. After all he was starting his own business today !

His second friend Srini was very thoughtful. (Concepts like first friend and second friend - like first cousin and second cousin were very common in those Futuristic days) He had sent Bala a gift to mark that special day - a gift of two hours of time for himself !

He called Srini to thank him. But reached just Srini's answering machine. "Srini. If you get this message, please leave a message in my Voice Mail" said Bala "Or if you want, you can send me a Fax in reply. Of course if you are faxing me something, let me know also by Email and back it up with a regular postal mail. If my Voice Mail box is busy, you can always call my Voice Mail at my Cellular phone and then try to reach me on my Beeper. Of course, you can always put a 'talk' on my machine or try to communicate on the Cable TV with a ......" Sheesh ! Starting a business is no joke !

He also wanted to have business deals in India. But he ran into some minor problems. Lately, the Indian government decided to add to its list of Public holidays - with Sahadev Poornima, Virgin Mary Jayanti, State Bank of India Day and Shobha De Day - and then discovered that it had only five working days in all in a year - that too in February and August. So the government then decided to declare those five days as Dr. Ambedkar's birthdays, making a sum total of 365 days of public holidays.

Over the years, concepts like 'Customer Satisfaction' had undergone radical changes. Bala had a big poster proclaiming his Corporate Policy. "The 'Customer' is a person" it read ".. who is willing to fork out two hundred bucks for a gadget just because other customers are forking out two hundred dollars for a similar gadget. To him or her, the gadget is just a black box, to be used sub-optimally and essentially to play games and show off to other people. He or she will kick it occassionally, call the 900 number for service, often lose its remote control and never once will read the manual, but will upgrade it every five years by plunking down another two hundred bucks. Therefore the customer is the King...."

Bala breathed easy realizing that everything was working as he had planned. He even had the tax forms and so forth. There was just one problem that he needed to worry about now - What business should he do ?

Story 3 - An Evening With Dr. Srivastav

There was a huge crowd waiting at Dr. Srivastav's house that evening. All his friends and relatives. In fact, he had asked them to come over. People were chatting. Some of them were having a good time. But Dr. Srivastav looked a little tense.

"Have we taken care of everything ? I don't want any last minute screw-ups." he asked, scratching his fifty plus year old head.

"Of course dear" answered his wife of hazzaar years. "Here. Eat this. I made this specially for you."

"What is it ?"

"Cholesterol Halwa, you always liked it"

Dr. Srivastav was moved. What a wife ! She always knew what he wanted. Even in these times when society had gone topsy turvy and modern. Gone were the days when actually people stayed married beyond three years. In fact, these days people retired when they were thirty two years old and the N+1 Syndrome article had by now become N+1/2 Syndrome article. Dr. Srivastav looked at his wife with love. But unable to look at her straight, he looked away at the TV.

CNN Headline News was on and flashed a Factoid. "In a Desi party, the average time it takes for the dessert to be served after dinner is 22 minutes".

"Is everything taken care of at the hospital ?" he asked his son.

"Oh, sure dad." answered his son." Oh, look. Our next door neighbor,

Dd. Sinha (For those of you who don't know, in Future, 'Dd' is a formal abbreviation for 'Dude') is here. Please come in."

"I know I am kind of barging in" said Dd. Sinha "I saw all this commotion here and am curious to find out what is going on - if I am not too nosy...."

The Srivastavs looked at each other. Then Dr. Srivastav looked at his watch and became quite nervous. As if on a cue, he stiffened. A sharp spasm shot through his chest and he started writhing in pain. He covered his chest "My god, I think this is it. I am having a heart attack..."

Everyone quickly moved around to take care of the situation. They could already hear the ambulance sirens in the corner.

"Dd. Sinha" replied Dr. Srivastav's son "I know you are curious. Haven't you heard ? They have passed a law that people should not have sudden heart attacks. Now they want people to schedule their heart attacks because of the new rationing of medical care..So pappa decided that today was a good day to schedule his even though today was booked solid and he was initially on the waiting list. Now if you will excuse me...."

Story 4 - Sunita Steps Out

It was going to be a memorable day for Sunita. She had not experienced this kind of a 'high' in a long time. Yes, today would be the first time in two years she would be stepping out of her apartment. She was going to give herself a break.

The past couple of years, she has been very busy with writing software for her employers - and they were releasing a new version every month. She would sit by her computer and pound away at the buttony keyboard. Her computer terminal was like a dhabha on the Information Superhighway. She had no time to leave home.

Initially, she and her roommate saw each other quite a lot. But as work piled up, they could communicate only via 'computer talk'. Eventually they didn't have time even for that and she hasn't seen her roommate in nearly a year. However, in spite of her tight schedule, Sunita still maintained contacts with some of her friends from her India days through email. Sometimes she got as many as fifty emails a day. She always ordered pizzas and delivery from the desi restaurants. And occassionally would get groceries delivered to her door. Since she always paid bills electronically she really had no reason to get out of her place the last two years.

It wasn't as if Sunita was missing going out. She did take a trip to Antarctica through Netscape once when she had a free day. It was fun. In fact, she had a virtual jetlag for two days after that. She read on the news that there were a few snowstorms and floods which she was glad she missed.

The sun was shining brightly as she stepped out of her apartment. "My god" she thought "The sun hasn't lost any of its brightness in two years."

Everything looked strange and cute. The roads, the cars and the traffic - almost looked like some kind of a screen saver. Some houses in her neighborhood were still under construction - "This must be the beta version" she thought. As she walked through the parking lot in front of a mall she even saw two persons fighting. One guy even had a gun. She was amused. "Look at these guys flaming each other. These guys better cut that out." she laughed "Or else the systems administrator will come and punish them."

She soaked in the sun. She ran around in the parking lot. She saw all kinds of people in flesh and blood. Outdoors wasn't that bad, she thought. Perhaps she ought to do all this more often. She even went inside a store and bought something. When the clerk asked her to sign her credit card bill she asked him "Which font do you want me to sign my name in ?"

Finally, after hours and hours Sunita came back home, feeling very elated. She immediately logged in. She was already missing all that ! She quickly darted off an email to her bosom buddy. "Today I actually went out - stepped out of my apartment after nearly two years. It was great." she wrote

"Actually yaar, reflecting on the whole thing, I must say that a little bit of escape is all right once in a while. But ain't I glad to log in to the Internet and come back to reality.."

Copyright Ramesh Mahadevan