Chicken & Egg
Jyoti was fast asleep in their bedroom. Baba was out for his night-shift and the children lay still, contorted and bent away from each other like the hands of a clock. It was ten- to-five. Gandharva shut Mira’s mouth and stopped Nakul from sucking his thumb. He watched them for a moment, before carrying on.
He didn’t want to risk waking Jyoti by using the toilet attached to their room and decided to use the small common toilet next to the kitchen to clean up. Rain had found a way to bounce off the window-shutters and wet everything from the lights to the floor. He looked at himself in the mirror. He was still wrapped in the foul-smelling cloth from the street. It had saved his life. He took it off and flipped it around to fold it away. His face went deathly pale when he saw the other side of his new found vestment. Something was written on the cloth. He leaned in close and read the words. They looked like scratches after a desperate fight.
‘WHAT CAME FIRST? POLITICS OR RELIGION?’
How could he have been so careless? How did he end up with a cloth that clearly came from the pariahs? He crumpled it into a ball. He panicked and splashed his face with water to make sure it wasn’t some sort of lurid Vision. Had he been seen with it? Would they believe that he had nothing to do with it?
He tried to wash off the unholy letters but they were stitched on. He looked around frantically for a way to get rid of the cloth. He could not burn it on the stove, all gas supplies were switched off after 10:00 p.m. for energy conservation. He could not carry it out and throw it away; it was too risky. He tried to flush the ball down the toilet, but it was too big. There was nothing in the bathroom of use, just some of Baba’s toiletries.
Gandharva rushed out to the kitchen and found one of Jyoti’s scissors. He hurtled back into the bathroom and pulled the door shut. He lowered the toilet seat-cover and sat down to cut the cloth into smaller pieces. The scissors had thick, blunt blades. He made some headway with them and then decided to rip the cloth with his hands. He was no Nakul or Arjun, but he tried his best.
“DETECTION: ELEVATION IN VITAL RATES. PLEASE REPORT.”
The veins of his forehead popped out like new hill ranges after a deep seismic disturbance. He quickly responded with the first thing that came to his flustered mind.
“Stomach upset. Recovering.”
He sat atop the commode with the stinking shawl in his hands. There were words stitched all over it. Some portions of the writing were illegible because of the indelible grease stains. He read a sentence.
‘YOU’VE FALLEN FOR THE OLDEST TRICK. THEY KNOW WHAT YOU WILL DO, BEFORE YOU DO IT. THEY’VE DRAWN LINES IN THE SKY AND LINES IN THE SAND, TO MARK GOD AND COUNTRY.’
Who were they addressing? Who was speaking? Why?
‘DO YOU FEEL FEAR? ARE YOU SAFE NOW? THE PRICE OF PROTECTION IS LIBERTY. ARE YOU A SLAVE TO NAVMARG? ARE YOU DVARCAN ENOUGH? YOU’VE BARGAINED AWAY OUR HUMANITY, AND BECOME WHAT WE SET OUT TO FIGHT.’
He tore the venomous pieces from the rag and held them tightly in his fist. He felt more righteous with every rip.
‘IF THERE IS A SCORE, WE DO NOT KNOW IT. NAVMARG IS A LIE.’
The pariah propaganda continued.
‘THEY TELL YOU WHOM TO TRUST AND WHOM TO FOLLOW. HOW TO LIVE. HOW TO THINK. HOW TO HATE—AND WHOM.’
He lifted the toilet seat and threw the scraps in, before pulling the flush triumphantly. He saw the grey-brown cloth whirl in the white bowl before disappearing. It made him think of the collared prisoner. The tank drained and filled up slowly as he waited to drown more words of dissent and blasphemy. The stitching was jagged, with ill- shaped letters. The strings were of many colours. His DDs grew misty from the exertion. He flushed again.
There was a knock on the bathroom door.
“Is that you, Papa?” Little Nakul had woken up and wandered out. “Yes son, go back to sleep, Papa is not feeling well.”
There was a moment of silence. “Stomach?”
“Not exactly . . . yes . . . stomach . . . yes.”
“The amrut-dhaara is in the kitchen, shall I pour you some?” “No, just get some sleep, please.”
The boy walked away as his father hung onto the last remnant of the scornful rag. He pulled two pieces of it apart and it came undone.
‘IS THIS THE NATION YOU SET OUT TO BUILD?’
His DDs sparked up with a new message. It was a simple, terse instruction. They were moving his Disciplinary Committee Review from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. that day. He did not know what that meant. He felt uneasy. A familiar burning sensation grew at the back of his throat. He lifted the toilet seat and heaved hard with his face down. Nothing came out. He held onto the bowl to steady himself.
He had never been hauled up for a review before, but like all good citizens he had heard much about them. Mythical, legendary urban folktales about ‘restore righteousness’ and ‘realigned moral acuity’ came screeching back to him. How could he show them that he was patriotic and pious, even after reading the pariah propaganda?
Excerpted from ‘Dvarca’ written by Madhav Mathur, published by Finger Print.
Welcome to a land called Dvarca. At the turn of the 22nd century, the world is a mess of warring factions (surprise!). The powers-that-be have fought insanity with an equal and opposite insanity. India has been remodelled under a new bicolour flag, and a State religion called Navmarg. Anyone who does not belong, is a threat.
Madhav Mathur’s Dvarca is a dark and humorous satire that follows the life of an ordinary family, struggling to get by, in this totalitarian regime. Gandharva, is a patriotic and pious low-level bureaucrat at the Ministry of Finance and Salvation, working hard on his status and overdue promotion. His dutiful and curious wife, Jyoti, works at Dvarca Mills and witnesses a ghastly act of terror, leading to perilous flirtations with dissent. Their two little children, Nakul and Mira, are model students in their predestined streams, indoctrinated and well on their way to becoming faithful and productive citizens.
The State religion and cutting-edge science combine to create new ways to make citizens safe, and to hound and hunt those who do not conform. Everything is ‘perfect’ in this controlled and policed system, until one fateful night, a man happens to break routine . . .
About the Author:
Madhav Mathur was born and raised in Delhi. He lives in Singapore, where he works for an MNC by day and as a writer-filmmaker by night. His first novel, The Diary of an Unreasonable Man was published in 2009 by Penguin. His award winning films, The Insomniac and The Outsiders have been screened at numerous festivals. Dvarca is his second book and the first of a dystopian trilogy. He tweets at @madhav_mathur.