Every human being has a story to narrate, well, at least one. And yet few get down to write them and fewer get published. The story can be about anything from experiences in lives to fantasies one has during different phases of life. But writing a science fiction is altogether different. Here, the writer imagines what may happen in the future and the stories which linger in our mind long after we have read them have to look realistic. A big task…
I got attracted to science fiction stories after stumbling on to Rendezvous With Rama by Arthur C Clarke. Then I read Asimov’s 3 laws of robotics and remembered them more than any theory in physics taught in school. But the one which affected me mostly was Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. I strongly recommend this amazing story to all science fiction aficionados.
Sujatha, the great writer in Tamil, had written some science fiction short stories and novels and this is one of his best in this genre.
Thimala – திமலா
“Someone here to see you….” before the receptionist could complete the sentence, Athma interrupted; “How many times have I told you? Don’t allow anyone at this time!” But the door opened angrily, “I am not a visitor; your wife.”
“Can I come in?”
“Of course! Who can stop you? Come here. I will give you a kiss.”
Nithya did not go near him but looked at him intensely. Above Aathma’s desk, letters were flashing continuously on the terminals; life size graphs in green and red letters coming to life, letting everyone know the financial health of Aathma & Co at that particular moment. Aathma called into his phone, “New York” turned and said, “sit down Nithya.”
Nithya did not sit down, folded her hands and looked at him intensely.
“New York Sir”
“New York? How much do they want?”
“Finish at nineteen. Who is the buyer?”
“Oh, that eagle? Wait for a minute and go down to 19.4.”
Aathma looked up from the touchphone, smiled for a millisecond and said, “busy! Busy! busy! You have come at a wrong time!” Nithya did not respond. Aathma put his hands inside his jacket, located the pacemaker and increased his heartbeat. When more oxygen went to his brain, he could think clearly. The graphs on the screen were still dancing. “Great I made 100,000 in one minute. You are still standing Nithya, why don’t you sit down?”
“Do you know who am I?” asked Nithya.
“What rubbish? You are my wife! Oh New York? What 19.5? Not possible. Wait for another 40 seconds and close at 19.45. What did you say Nithya?”
“I was watching my husband working!”
“You have not told me what do you want.”
“I want my husband.”
“I am standing in front of you!!”
“No. the one standing opposite to me is a money-making machine!”
“Money is power Nithya. Tell me what do you want in forty seconds. New York is holding!”
“I want you for an hour exclusively for me.”
“I am coming home every night.”
“Oh yeah. You are coming. You swallow tablets, adjust pacemaker to reduce heartbeat and sleep. I see only empty bed in the morning.”
“But we talk on video phone when there is a need.”
“That’s only a mirage. I want the real” before she could complete Aathma said to his telephone, “Hello Tokyo?” Nithya switched off his phone.
“What’s this Nithya?”
“Please listen to me. Last year we asked for permission to go to Thimala. Do you remember?”
“We now have the permission.” She showed him the yellow paper with enthusiasm. A computer print showed;
Aathma handed the paper back to her, ‘I’m happy. Please visit.”
Nithya looked at him angrily, “Aathma you are coming with me. You should. If you don’t accept, I will destroy this office before I leave.”
“Wait. What’s the time for visit?”
“Hey Computer! What’s my schedule for 10.16 tomorrow?”
A machine voice said, “Tomorrow you have a meeting with Mr. Abe at 10.16.”
“Mr. Abe? I can’t cancel; he is coming to discuss about a contract for moon project. Sorry Nithya I can’t make it.”
Nithya stood up and said, “No. You are coming with me.”
She shouted at the phone, “Hey get Mr. Abe. I will talk to him.”
“No, he is not available.”
“Go eat your head.”
“Sorry I don’t have a head” replied the phone.
“Listen Nithya. Don’t get angry. No compulsion here. You were longing to go there. Go alone and see. Next time I will come.”
Nithya was getting jittery. “How can you say this. We agree to go together. Look at the pass. It is for two.”
“Should I send someone with you?”
She started to cry.
“Why are you crying? No one cries in this century” Her sobs increased. “Look here Nithya. You have everything. I told you clearly this will be my life when we got married.”
“I am asking for an hour. What else am I asking.”
“OK How far is this?”
“Let’s do this. You go ahead and I will join you after the meeting.”
“No. I am sure you won’t come. I will go. I should have married a computer instead of you.”
“Hey computer will you marry me?”
Aathma started to laugh.
“You are laughing? I am getting irritated. I think we will separate. Ten people have applied for me”
“Don’t say that. What’s so important there?”
“It is for me. I have been waiting for this since last year. It’s important for my mental peace and balance. The solace and peace we will get there is not available anywhere in the universe.”
“Looks very backward to me in this age.”
“You come once and you will realize. They say it’s a boon to visit as husband and wife.”
“Please excuse me this time around. We will apply again.” said Aathma and turned to his phone, “Hello New York, what happened?”
Nithya snatched the phone and threw it against the wall. The phone which was made of high impact polymer did not break. Aathma collected the phone from the floor and said, “My dear wife! don’t get angry like this!”
“I am not your wife anymore.”
The computer interrupted, “new message from Mr. Abe. He can’t make it tomorrow. He is apologizing for the inconvenience.”
Nithya’s face brightened and shouted. “Long live Abe. Hey computer long life to you as well.”
“I don’t understand this exaggerated happiness. Anyway, best wishes from Aathma & Co.” said the computer.
Aathma laughed and said, “Are you happy now? Satisfied? I will also come tomorrow. Can I get a kiss?”
Nithya kissed him on the lips.
She got ready at 9 AM next morning. She applied for a day’s leave and put on a gentle make-up. Played music on her synthron. Stuffed her things in a small bag and booked a Sky taxi from her touchphone. She went to the terrace at 9.15 and waited for the taxi.
Thimala! The visit she has been looking forward to with lot of expectation and yearnings. Her vow to visit the place with her husband will be fulfilled after a year. She felt she is not like other women. The new husband-wife relationship of this century did not impress her. She avoided those wild parties.
She still believed that there is a poetic relationship between a man and his wife. Aathma said, many times, that there is an issue in her genes. But she liked that. She wanted to share this lifetime and all the happy days and the moments of sorrow only with him. The sky taxi, breathed slowly and landed on the circular spot. “Where to?” asked the pilot.
“First to Ajax building; from there I need to pick up my husband. And then to Thimala by 10.15. Do you have booster in the taxi?”
“Yes Mam. How much waiting in Ajax?”
“Maximum five minutes.” The taxi took off slowly. She got down at the Sky pad at Ajax building and asked the pilot to wait for few minutes. She climbed down the express lift went inside Aathma’s office only to find him talking money. “Hello London. Can you get me Tomlinson?” Nithya shouted, “we are getting late. Start…” “Just a moment Nithya. Hey I am holding for Tomlinson! Where are we going Nithya?”
“To hell with you. We have to be in Thimala in few minutes.”
“Thimala? Oh yes, we have permission. Don’t rush. We still have half an hour.”
Nithya began to worry. Their time slot was 10.16. She just pulled Aathma out, rushed to sky pad and told the pilot, “We need to be there by 10.15.”
“Don’t worry mam. Fuel cells are just recharged. I have booster as well. Which platform?”
“What did you ask?”
“What’s the colour of your admit card?”
“Then it’s platform 10.”
The Sky taxi flew like an arrow. The gravitational pull of taxi, combined with her pull towards the place thrilled Nithya. She was seated next to Aathma and holding his hands.
It was 10.14.40 when they reached Thimala; “Thank God. At last.”
The platform was relatively empty and the place glowed under sodium vapor lamps. Nithya began to walk faster. Huge machines placed squarely on the platform asked visitors to insert the admit card. Nithya inserted her admit card and waited. The magnetic characters of the ticker were read by the machine and informed her, ‘You have come one minute before the appointed time. Take conveyer belt 9.’
They walked few steps and saw few people waiting near belt 9. An orange light was glowing above the belt.
A computer voice announced that the belt would move in 30 seconds. As Aathma and Nithya climbed on the belt, the orange light changed to red and the belt start moving with a whoosh sound. As it gathered speed and entered the buildings, they could see the tower. Nithya’s heartbeat increased and she hugged Aathma. The main entrance was open and she could see him from that distance. “Aathma look. He is the one!”
The belt reduced speed and stopped exactly at 10.16.00 in front of the sanctum sanctorum. The air conditioner was humming softly. They moved closer to have a better view. “Oh, wow what a beauty and majesty!” Nithya exclaimed.
The priest said, “You have exactly 20 seconds. You can pray to your heart’s content.” He then put a golden cloth around the deity and asked, “Prayer? Which language?”
“Tamil” replied Nithya. The priest switched a button and a soft music enveloped them followed by a sweet female voice.
“குன்றம் ஏன்றிக் குளிர் மழை காத்தவன்
சென்று சேர் திருவேங்கட மாமலை
என்றுமே தொழ நம்வினை நீங்குமே”
“The lord who lifted the mountain and held it like an umbrella to protect his devotees; The lord who measured the universe in one single step; go to the great mountain and pray; all our sins and sorrows will vanish”
The priest continued, “Pray the lord. This is the Lord Balaji. They used to call this Thirupathi Thiruvangadam Thirumali. Now for the computer age, they have shortened it to Thimala… Universal God, the holy temple; the long figure and hair…”
Under the bright camphor light, Aathma said, “thrilling!”
Good Science fiction stories generally don’t dwell too much into distant future, say 200 years from now. It’s difficult for anyone to imagine what may happen in 200 years from now which will end up more like writing a fantasy. We also love the stories when we see some of the invention or developments mentioned in the story happen in our life time and we immediately recall reading about them.
I remembered this story when I try to book a darshan at Tirupathi temple last month. JK, my brother told me that I can do it from my mobile phone. I just downloaded the App and booked dharshan slot in 5 minutes and the confirmation from the temple looked exactly like what’s narrated in the story. The temple uses technology for everything; right from booking a time slot to controlling the speed of cars going up the mountain to distribution of Laddu (prasad). After all the temple receives about 70,000 devotees every day.
Video calls are a reality now. Also the computer now responds to voice commands (siri and hey google).
I also think religion and faith will stay with us in the conceivable future. In the story, you can replace Tirupathi with Vatican or Holy Mecca and the story will still hold good. That to me, is the hallmark of a great short story..
Sujatha (3 May 1935 – 27 February 2008) was the pseudonym of the Tamil author S. Rangarajan, author of over 100 novels, 250 short stories, ten books on science, ten stage plays, and a slim volume of poems. He was one of the most popular authors in Tamil literature, and a regular contributor to topical columns in Tamil periodicals such as Ananda Vikatan, Kumudam and Kalki. He had a wide readership, and served for a brief period as the editor of Kumudam, and has also composed screenplays and dialogues for several Tamil movies.
Penning with his wife’s name, Sujatha’s Tamil literary career spanned more than four decades. An engineer by profession, he was proficient in the language of technology. Widely read and knowledgeable, he presented his knowledge in simple Tamil.
His works stood out during a time when Tamil composing was dominated by social/family dramas and historical novels. His identification with the masses, and his uncanny adoption of their way of talking, behavior, mindset and slang, helped make him popular across multiple demographic segments.
His popularization of technology was one of his greatest contributions – starting with his Silicon Chip composing in Dinamani Kadhir and Yen, Yedharku, Eppadi in Junior Vikatan. At one point, his composing was appearing in numerous Tamil weeklies and journals simultaneously, including Ananda Vikatan, Kumudam, Kungumam, Kalki and Dhinamani Kadhir. Later he contributed as script/screenplay author for several Tamil movies. His notable movies included Vikram,Thiruda Thiruda, Boys and Sivaji. Most of his early novels/stories were made as movies, including Priya, Gaytri, Karaiyellam Senbagapoo and Anandha Thandavam, among others.
In his later days he restricted his composing to essays such as Katradhum-Petradhum. He began to spend more time reading, especially old rare Tamil composings and composings on the latest developments in information technology and computing.
As an engineer, he supervised the design and production of the electronic voting machine (EVM) during his tenure at Bharat Electronics Limited, a machine which is currently used in elections throughout India. As an author he inspired many authors, including Balakumaran, Madhan, Charu Nivedita. – Wikipedia