That night he had a nightmare. Twice he woke
up with anxious and uneasy feelings. Sitting on his bed in the middle of the
night, he felt alone for the first time.
He had walked alone through the winter, the
fog, the darkness for a long, long time. It seemed as if an unending emptiness
stretched before him. At early morning, he turned on the light and tried to
draw. He couldn't draw anything but while doodling, he started a conversation
with himself, but without any sense in it. As if he was talking to a
The sad light of early morning looked like
the day's end.
Today was another unbearable holiday. Pranam
wished there was some work for him to do.
Today he walked far deep into the forest. He
had never been here before. There was a pond with lotus leaves and a few
blooms. All around him were tall grasses, green trees and
How long could he go on drawing the
There was no drawing for the blind. Who said
it? Jagrata. Pranam was amused. He sat quietly and tried to think the picture.
Waves of color and lines flowed by in front of his eyes. A colorful parade.
Picture for the blind. Was that even possible?
Perhaps picture of music? Picture of smell? Picture of silence?
He had lost all tracks of time. He didn't
even realize when the day had ended. Suddenly he realized that he had not drawn
a single thing whole day.
He sighed and got up to return home.
Agreeing to that crazy Jagrata, he had
scattered his drawings in the forest. Now he was curious to see how the
drawings survived. He saw most of them were lying where he had dropped them, as
But one picture was missing. It was behind a
bunch of lotus flowers. It was not there anymore.
Strange! Who would take his
A somber voice replied, "The
Pranam turned to Jagrata in surprise,
"Who took it?"
"Whose picture was
"Then it must be
her." Jagrata said hesitatingly.
"But that’s impossible.
She is in a shop, for correction."
"Come, let’s sit on that
bench." Jagrata sighed.
They sat in silence. Then Jagrata said,
"The picture is with its rightful owner."
"Do you still miss Pritha?"
Pranam did not answer. Instead he asked,
"Can you tell me the difference between a woman and a
"I'm not a wise man
Pranam. Little do I know of robotics or human physiology."
"Pritha left this one
puzzle for me."
"I know. And it is an
important question. I feel the difference is gradually
"How will it end
Jagrata again remained silent for a long
time. Then said, "Fortunately, I will not be alive to see
"That wasn't an answer.
But then perhaps there is no answer."
"Yes Pranam. Many
questions do not have answers yet. That is the law of the world. The questions
come in a hurry, but the answers often take a long time."
"Can love happen to a
Jagrata again went into silence. Then said,
"Who knows the secrets of love? I am an ordinary man. But I think
technology can make very realistic copies."
"Robots are only copies
of humans. Perhaps It is possible to copy emotions, love. But I am only
“Possible. But the puzzle
remains. And I don't feel good about it."
"I know. You are feeling
guilty. Pritha is being punished for loving you. But Robots don't die. They get
recycled. They come alive in another name, another form, with another program.
They are luckier than most humans."
Pranam said jokingly, "That means next
time Pritha sees me, she may not even recognize me." His loud laugh
sounded hollow and lost.
Both stayed silent and listened to the
forest. Pranam sighed, "What a funny business!"
After a beat of silence, Jagrata said,
"Funny? Yes, the fun is endless. The entire world looks funny to me. A big
joke. There is nothing funnier than this useless, meaningless, ceaseless and
endless joke! Yet, even amongst all this, we mortals feel so much love. Where
does it come from? Why? Even after reaching ninety why do I want to hang on to
this life? You talk of funny? I've not seen anything else but funny my entire
The birdcalls, buzzing
insects, rustling of the leaves in cold northern wind, all added to the loneliness
of the forest. Time was passing. The setting sun got its tomato color
Jagrata heaved a big sigh, "There is no
end to this eternal fun, Pranam. Big Bab and his minions think Kahna would be
reincarnated, and then he would stop the progress of science. That’s why there
are secret directives sent out all around. "Destroy the genetic
offshoots". Note, they don't say 'kill'. Killing is old fashioned. There
is no need of it anymore. Just destroy them, make them forget, transform
Jagrata pulled out something from under his
robe, "Look at this!"
Pranam was stunned to see an old fashioned
"Why? For self
"No. You think this is
enough for those guys following me day and night like my shadow? They are not
stupid. These weapons are like toys to them."
"I have created this
forest over many years. I am the only trusty keeper of this forest. That is my
only identity. And I am proud of it. It is most precious to me. If they take that
away and make me forget my own identity, that will be
the biggest loss. That’s why I got this from Bharudatta. This is the ticket to
my freedom. I am telling you Pranam, this keeper of the forest would keep his
identity till death."
"Now you have gotten me
worried, Jagrata. Please remove it. And don't carry it around with
“There is nothing to worry
about Pranam. I am ninety years old. I have nothing to lose besides this
Pranam sighed and got up.
Bharudatta had been calling him again and
again, "Hey, want to go to the party?"
Pranam had forgotten about
parties, "What party? When?"
"Oh, there is an
occasion. But that is not the main reason. It is the feast!"
"Bharudatta, I can't eat
"I know. But it is such a
grand menu! I bet you will be licking your plate too. Is there anything as
enjoyable as good food? You tell me! Be ready my friend. I will pick you up on
Friday evening, from your place."
"I really don't feel like
a party Bharudatta. I just don't want to go anywhere." Pranam tried one
"That’s all the more
reason to go!" Said Bharudatta.
Today was that Friday. Bharudatta arrived at
seven pm sharp in a dazzling bright Mercedes. He had gotten an old model from
somewhere and revamped it himself. Now this was a flying car.
Bharudatta always drove himself. He never
trusted the autopilot. While driving he explained, "You see my friend, the
cooking in this feast is not by your garden variety robo-cooks. Those machines
cook everything in exactly the same way. There is never a variation of tastes,
never too much or too little salt or seasonings. But humans, because they are
erratic, do show some variations in their cooking. And that’s what makes food
interesting, that’s what gives cooking its life. Today the cook, who is in
charge, apparently knows a lot of old and forgotten recipes. Pulao of
Tulaipanji rice, Kalbos fish curry, Shrimp malaicurry, roasted chicken, golden
moong daal, cottage cheese kofta…"
"Stop. Please. Bharudatta,
who is going to eat all these in one seating?"
"Don't you worry. If the cooking is superb, even you won't be able to
"But what is the
occasion?" Pranam asked.
nothing Important, I told you, the feast is the main event."
"But still, its good to know the occasion."
"Well, er… it 's a wedding." Blurted Bharudatta.
Pranam was taken aback. "Wedding? Am I
hearing it right? A wedding?"
"Yes, yes. It’s a
"But, weddings have been
outlawed fifty years ago!"
"To hell with your law.
In Low Town no one cares for those laws. You will find hundreds of people
getting married in secret. They are just not registering officially, that’s
"What are you
Bharudatta heaved a sigh, "See, It is
hard to let a thousand year old custom go just because of a law. Nobody can.
You will find lots of old rites and rituals are still alive and well, only gone
"Seems like you are quite
fond of these rituals yourself." Pranam smiled.
"To tell the truth, I do
like these old rituals, specially the feast part. Partaking at wedding feasts
is my hobby."
"So, who is getting
married? And to whom?"
"Oh, you don't know them.
Tonkar and Purna."
Pranam frowned, "Purna sounds vaguely
"I mentioned her before.
She is one of the descendants of Kahna"
"Who had that dual
personality problem, right?"
"But, I thought she was
under strict watch!"
"Nope. It is exactly the
opposite. They have discarded her like a useless rag. But getting her out was
difficult. Tonkar came to me for help."
"I did. In the same
apartment complex, there was another girl who delivered a message to Purna.
Tonkar was ready with his car this time. I gave him a gadget to neutralize the
spy bug on Purna. It also made all the monitors erratic in her apartment. We
also picked up Purna's maid with her. She is now sitting in my museum and
sending away wrong messages about Purna--"My mistress is ill, she is not
going out anywhere…"
"But how long can you continue
this Bharudatta? Sooner or later they will figure it out."
"Perhaps, but by then we
would have completely erased all signs of old Purna from their monitors and
records. She can live her life with new identity. I too know a few tricks, my
"Tonkar is a green man,
an active one. He wants to return many old cultures. He believes in love,
"But is that possible?
Haven't we seen, even in the past, too many break ups, divorces, infidelity, bitterness. There were so many divorce cases in the courts
that they had to outlaw the marriage system altogether. "
"True. But because man is
a dynamic animal, it changes itself constantly. Change has happened in past and
will happen many times over, in future."
Below them they could see the Ganges. With
many sparkling bridges spanning its length, the river looked like an arm with
many bangles. The flying cars have reduced the traffic congestion on the
bridges. Now few cars use them. Pedestrians were rare too. There were no
train lines, houses or factories. The whole area was an endless green.
Occasionally they could see a lake or a farm. Otherwise everything was solid
They had to fly a long way to
the west. Then Bharu brought his car down in what looked like a dense forest,
but there was a narrow road, and at the end of the road was a wide area
decorated with lights and flowers. Wedding music played on. There were
scattered seating areas and lots of happy, well-dressed people. There was also
an ancient Kali temple in one end. Smoke was still rising from the holy fire.
The smell of burnt ghee mixed with aromas of fresh flowers and many delectable
foods reached them. Bharudatta took a deep breath, " Yes,
haven’t told you about the sweet pea
kachauri. Come, here are the bride and the groom.”
Pranam heard the words ‘bride’ and ‘groom’
after a very long time. There was a nice ring to them.
Tonkar was a tall, well built man; next to
him Purna appeared demurely shy and beautiful. He had the usual wedding crown
on his head, she had a delicate tiara.
Pranam had never seen a wedding before. He
was gaping at the bride and groom and all the well-dressed guests, lights,
flowers and decorations. It was as if he had traveled back in time, hundreds of
The bride and the groom were smiling and
greeting all the guests. There was an air of joy and love all
Bharudatta however did not waste any time
and went straight to the dining table. His eyes were alight with glee. He piled
up all the different items on his plate.
“You are going to eat all
that?” Pranam stared at his plate.
“Don’t worry. I have the
Pranam quit trying to stop Bharudatta. He
knew Bharu would be seen in the gym next week, he would be fasting, taking
vapors, or having liposuction done.
On their way home, Bharudatta
asked, “So, How did you like the wedding?”
“Strange! It will take me a
while to figure out if it was good or bad.” Said Pranam.
“Human beings are erratic.
Their behaviors can cause problems, often they can’t control themselves. Yet,
at one time, they did manage to build a marriage centered social structure. Now
there is nothing of it left. Total rejection.”
“Can I ask you
“I saw Jagrata with a gun. Did
you sell it to him?”
“No. Why would I sell? He
can’t afford to buy an antique.”
“Then did you gift it to
No, no. You might say I lent it to him. He said
he wanted to commit suicide and needed a gun. I said, why a gun? There are many
effective pills available that can give you a nice painless death, but he said
he wanted to die like a hero, loudly, and letting everyone know about it.
Poisoning was too feminine for him. So I lent him the 9 mm pistol and told him
to return it after he was done with it. Why? Did he tell you
“He said he would kill himself
before they can catch him and change him.”
“Hmm. It will be rather
difficult to kill him with that gun. I put all empty cartridges in it. Now if
the old guy die of a heart attack at the sound of the gun,
that could be considered a suicide of sorts.”
“Bharudatta, you are utterly
“I know. I know. In the
office, everyone used to call me a clown.”
Bharudatta dropped off Pranam and drove away
whistling to himself.
Occasionally a day turns out so strange that
nothing can explain it.
Today was just such a day.
On Saturday night, Pranam went to the soup
kitchen after a long time. As usual, beautiful doll like robots were lined up
next to the conveyor belt of food. One of them greeted Pranam, “Good evening. I
am Uki, ready to serve you.”
“Thank you Uki. I don’t need
any special help.”
Pranam took his plate and sat
near an uncrowded corner. He was absently eating his food, when suddenly Uki
stood in front of him, “May I sit here please”
Pranam wasn’t keen on company,
but for the sake of politeness, said, “Sure, please do. Do you want to tell me
“I am sorry for having to
replace your favorite waitress Pritha.”
“No need. One’s vacancy has to
be filled by another.”
“I know you will reject me but
according to the rules I must ask you if you want me as your bed partner?”
“I hope my face or appearance
isn’t too displeasing for you?”
“No. You are quite
“Do you still miss Pritha?”
“Yes, I do. Because I am
responsible for her punishment and death. She never did me any
“Pranam, Pritha has been
removed, true. But she is not dead. And she still remembers
“Really?” Pranam was
“She is a house maid in Peace
Cottage now. She has been reprogrammed and is waiting her new
“Are you sure?” Pranam felt
“Yes. We never give wrong
“I’m really glad to hear that
Pranam sat quietly for a long while, after
his dinner. Should he try to meet Pritha? Or would that cause even more problem
for her. Perhaps it was better to leave things as they were.
Uki was still staring at him. Meeting
Pranam’s eyes, she smiled a little.
That night Pranam slept well.
Pritha’s good news had relieved much of his guilt.
Next night he met Uki again.
After greeting him, she said, “Pritha sends you her best wishes.”
“She still cares for you
“She has never forgotten you,
here is her address, and if ever you feel like….”