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I Write, Therefore I Am: An Ode To Writers And Their Imagination

This is an ode to the writers who imagined and chronicled events in not-yet places, the ones who faced the dystopia in their heads. This is inspired by the many speculative fiction books that predict apocalyptic times

Artwork by Pranay Dutta
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“It is an error to divide people into the living and the dead: there are people who are dead-alive, and people who are alive-alive. The dead-alive also write, walk, speak, act. But they make no mistakes; only machines make no mistakes, and they produce only dead things.”

—Yevgeny Zamyatin, We

Ministry of Happiness. Ministry of Reformation. Ministry of Creativity. Ministry of Relationships. Ministry of the Past and Future. Ministry of Construction. Ministry of Restoration. Ministry of Peace. Ministry of Corrections. Ministry of Redevelopment. Ministry of Family. Ministry of Moral Affairs. Ministry of Memory. Ministry of Identity. Ministry of Immortality. Ministry of Order. Ministry of Revisions. Ministry of Facts. Ministry of Faith. Ministry of Wellness. Ministry of Elsewheres.

There are more but I am no longer on the beat. I lost my job as a journalist when the editor announced there would be a “happy news section” and in stories, where the copy desk would find any traces of unhappiness, they’d flag them. I had too many unhappy stories of too many sad people. I was asked to leave.

I am happy that I wasn’t taken for questioning or sent to the Wellness Centres for a scan of my brain. I think, it would have cost the exchequer a lot to send everyone for such scans. These scans were still being done by private healthcare companies and hadn’t yet been subsidised by the Super State. So, I am left with some memory and some imagination.

I write this from a place that’s on the outside, although we can sometimes go into the Shine City for coupons to collect our rations (all veg). We work under the Ministry of Development. We get some wages. Enough to survive. Not enough to live.

But we are happy to be alive with white shiny teeth, a gift from the Wellness schemes. Things could be a lot worse. We keep our heads low and build the flyovers and roads and bridges and malls and luxury housing complexes and detention centres that are now called Reformation Centres.

The denizens of the Shine City live inside a huge dome where the weather is controlled. They don’t shiver or sweat like us who live on the periphery. The dome is expensive to maintain. They are trying to get us a dome too. But for now, we are happy with the promise of it. Inside the domes, there is a sterile sky with no patches. Just bright blue. The innovations are infinite. “Hail the Keeper. Hail the Followers. Repeat thrice. Be grateful, be happy. Be One.”

I once used to work at The Lap, a glass and steel structure. It looked like an octopus if you were to stand in the Watch Tower, fitted with drone-like machines to keep an eye on the ground.

I once used to work at The Lap, a glass and steel structure. I had a rented apartment in a neighborhood where all kinds of people lived. But these mixed neighborhoods had been marked for redevelopment. The Lap looked like an octopus if you were to stand in the Watch Tower, fitted with drone-like machines to keep an eye on the ground. They even scanned the space for anything that other planets might be sending to disrupt the process of securing a glorious future. They intercepted the newsrooms and synchronised the coverage to maintain unity of thought.

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They were all to be all under the canopy of “One” and newspapers and websites were full of writings on the great benefits of this great move proposed by the Keeper whose ability to talk with species other than humans had also been greatly advertised in the media giving the Keeper some superhuman attributes that would inspire confidence in people.

An experiment was done in a place up north. The place had issues. Divided loyalties, killings, etc. Barbed wires were everywhere. They shut down the newspapers there after they took the place under the Oneness Project. They said people were so happy in their meadows and mountains that there was no need for a newsroom. It got the Saturation Mark, which means the place has achieved maximum happiness. No more news.

The Watchers are designated with the task of looking out for any incidents of divergent thought. They can hear anything, see everything, go everywhere.

They have a team working on the taming of all such thoughts. It would begin with a dosage of prescribed texts. That’s why the Ministry of Revisions was constituted. You had to instil pride in a glorious past and any criticism was an act of sabotage. The Ministry of Construction is building huge Faith Observatories for us. All these are places where all gods are to be merged into one supreme entity.

There was also this compulsory rage. To be used against anyone who was to upset the great integration process. The Ministry of Redevelopment has replaced so many old buildings with new grand complexes that the Shine City now looks like it could be that utopia that everyone always imagined but could never build. Like Brasilia—inaugurated in 1960 as Brazil’s capital. All apartments and superquadras made for the poor were strikingly similar. Instead of facilitating the forging of collective associations, these isolated the residents and didn’t become a source of identity as intended. That’s why the Oneness Project has different levels.

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There are learnings from the failure of this intended utopia. I read a lot of things back then. I am a woman. The gendered world of newsrooms didn’t think I was fit to cover politics. That’s why maybe they let me go.

I read and watch the news in the allotted hours in the evening marked as Leisure Time. It is compulsory. And then, there are those announcements from the Truth Towers called All is Well. That’s where I first heard about these newly-formed ministries and their efforts to integrate everyone and subsidise happiness for us. By us, I mean the Toilers, the Hoppers, the Outers. The ones who have blue-collar jobs. We are important people. Every week, the Disseminators who work for the Ministry of Wellness, distribute Happiness Pills to make us have happy dreams and sleep for at least ten hours. Nightmares have to be controlled. Any unpleasant thought is not good for us. I don’t always take these pills. Sometimes, I do. Out of a sheer sense of duty. I am trying to be a good citizen.

“Without you, how can the big change happen?” the official said when he gave me my badge and a series of numbers as my identity. Others, like the Walkers, people who had been declared unfit physically and mentally, had been sent off to a huge compound where they had to keep walking through the day to maintain their heart condition. The very poor like the beggars had been categorised as Invisibles and sent to Hidden Towers. Their locations were highly sensitive and therefore, not on the map, which is this three-dimensional rhombus. It is lit from inside and installed on top of buildings.

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Cities have been marked for future reinvention projects. They’d be modern day utopias, versions of the Shine City where I once lived and worked, which is the capital.

Resources are scarce but they are trying to find substitutes. A mission was launched to scout the moon and other planets to see if they would be fit for harvesting. The media keeps lauding this brave thought. They keep talking about the enemy who might sabotage our mission but they also say that we have no reason to be unhappy because the Super State is better than all of them. This is the glorious future. It is coming, the announcer keeps repeating.

We live in a timeless place—no watches, no clocks, no calendars. We are still allowed to dream though. I can’t tell what year it is. We don’t get old fast anymore. But I calculated that an average person spends around 26 years of their lives sleeping. That’s 26 years of dreaming. This is that impenetrable realm. There is a cult that calls itself Dream Catchers and they work with the Super State but their methods haven’t been scientifically tested yet. I doubt they can invade the dreams. But dreams need content. Education is a transmission now of supposed culture, of a faith that is better than others in terms of salvation promise.

***

There is this Oneness project. There is now only one library to be called just that with franchises everywhere. These have curated history books. A lot of work had gone behind reprinting and revising some books. Many had been burnt. Their ashes are now kept in steel safes. These would have corrupted the minds.

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“Poets, writers and artists who can write glorious things for the Super State will be honored,” an advertisement read.

The One Party has constituted a department called “Homecoming” under which people can return or covert to the “Faith” under certain conditions in lieu of entitlements. What those entitlements and conditions are, they have not clearly stated except. But we can’t ask questions.

The denizens of the Shine City live inside a huge dome where the weather is controlled. They are trying to get us a dome too. But for now, we are happy with the promise of it.

I am generally happy. I have a lot of time now. They took away the computers and other gadgets when the Watchers came to check if we were fulfilling our duties in the “Happy News Industry”. I now write on sheets of paper and hide them in the cremation grounds. They don’t have any incriminating material, just some memories and observations. I have heard it is difficult to take away memory. But I don’t want to risk it.

They have a Blue God called Kalki in the cremation grounds. He is the doomsday slayer we heard about in stories in our childhood and the grounds are full of billboards that promise heaven to those that have complied. Heaven is advertised as a place with concrete buildings that look like Walmart but they are insulated much like our buildings here now. It is a place of rest fitted with telescopes to allow the residents to look at the progress of the Super State and be happier in afterlife. Hell has been declared a redundant concept.

I am trying to be happy. It is confusing. You have to be happy and chronically angry, too. Absurd times. We are to understand that some sacrifice was needed. That moment of achieving the ecstasy of being unfree would be there soon. It would be like a dance performance. You had to match your steps, surrender freedom for discipline, etc. All become one. One is the way to survive. Together, we can. Divided, we fall. The great historic hour is near. This utopia would be limitless. It would be the place of ambition and pride. Love, freedom, imagination had to be sacrificed.

I wonder where others like me who once wrote facts went. Some had been taken to unknown places that are inaccessible. They are to be tried. But memories of them are fading fast because of the pills that we must take. They are called MemFom, which aids in corroding old memory cells with new ones over time.

There are Crawlers amongst us. They specialise in espionage. We have to be careful. The Listening Tower is right outside the encampment where I live. It is very bright and the light that it emits reminds me of the light house I once saw in another country. There are many such towers. They are manned by Artificial Humans called Snoopers. This, they have said in a newspaper column, is for safety purposes.

“We will safeguard your happiness,” they always say at the beginning of the broadcast. The announcer has a very assertive voice, a neutral accent. We are moving towards One Language, too.

***

Love has been declared as a punishable crime. There are stories of girls and boys who are being reformed after they were found to be in love. Although, brothels had been deemed illegal, people had the option of hooking up on various portals that had the license since they were purging people of desires that they thought could sometimes convert into love. People are now having a lot of sex with a lot of people. Oxytocin, dopamine, etc. Sex is not outlawed.

Hail happiness. Repeat it endlessly.

There is this Oneness project. There is now only one library to be called just that with franchises everywhere. These have curated history books.

The licenses are given by the Ministry of Relationships to portals that are like malls where you shop for sex. Once a person has a score of 50, which means you had slept with 50 partners, you are considered safe from love. All this information is private and you have to fill out a form to get the rating that is then sent to the Supervisors who are in charge of recommending you for housing and jobs. There are many ratings that have been introduced.

People seem to be very happy with this freedom from love. Marriage is still considered good by the Ministry of Moral Affairs as long as they were between similar people from opposite sexes. They are working on a draft of a law that would strictly prohibit any unions that are between dissimilar groups. This is being done in order to produce perfect children who will be the ones stepping into the glorious future. They can’t be corrupted. They can’t be hybrids.

***

Hospitals now look like luxury hotels and you can now bill the insurance agency for cosmetic changes. Botox was now included. Sexual reassignment surgeries have been made free. You can forever switch between the genders as long as you are within the binary.

This is a place of almosts. The rich who have proved their loyalty and have willingly signed up for the erasure of memory and imagination, are to have the best skin, best features and they won’t age. A team of doctors will be administering anti-aging pills under the Immortality Scheme. Since, many jobs have been taken over by AH (Artificial Humans), there isn’t much to do.

I have subsidised housing which entitles me to a small studio underground accessed through sewers. Ventilation is assured but it stinks sometimes. We get incense sticks along with the food but we are too many. We can apply to be considered for residency in the Shine City but we have to score enough points and go through memory scans to see if we still remember and imagine.

My memory is strong. Like my mother’s. She lives in another city. People over 55 years are now to live in care centres—Golden Society. It is a public-private partnership model much like the detention centres where private entities manage and run them and government provides the land and a good amount per head.

The old are entitled to an apartment with all the facilities after they have signed off their property to the One Party. My mother doesn’t remember much. The Ministry of Memory’s new ambitious project is to wipe of at least 75 per cent memory—a matter that falls under the Ministry of Facts in collaboration with the Ministry of Revision. At old age homes, the first human trials are taking place with a cheaper drug researched and made by the Ministry of Wellness.

***

The other day, I walked uphill to the garbage dump and saw a few people. There was a professor. He waved at me. He said they gather sometimes to recite poems and remember stories and talk about history and movements. “What if they find out?” I asked. “They won’t. Nobody comes to the dump yards. Besides, they think we have forgotten about things,” he said.

They wear thick plastic sheets coated with charcoal.

They call themselves Whisperers. There are Agitators too but I haven’t met them. I only encounter them in the crime briefs when one is caught and sent away to that forlorn place.

The Watchers work under the command of the “Invincibles” who work to identify the Unmanageable, a term for those whose idealism is too strong for their systems to hack into and change. These kinds of people are considered a threat to the utopian dream. They even bring out these newsletters to counter the euphoria and remind people of the actual past where there was freedom, there was sadness and happiness both. They write in invisible ink that is only legible when you rub tears on the paper. But people don’t cry anymore. They are supposed to be happy in this brave new world.

All this is imagined, of course.

(This appeared in the print as 'I Write, Therefore I Am')

[DISCLAIMER: The following story in this issue is a work of fiction inspired by the state of news media today and is meant for reaction purposes only.

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