As the main glass door of your house opened, you stepped outside with a cup of coffee in your right hand. ‘A beautiful morning indeed’ you think to yourself as you admire the beauty of the rain which is dripping off the orange leaves of the lowest hanging branches. The orange grass on your lawn radiates vibrantly in the rain. ‘Beautiful’ you murmur under your breath.
‘Athena!’ you call out looking at your left hand. A tiny blue dot pops up on your wrist followed by the ringing of a familiar note in your In-Ear implant.
‘Yes?’ responds the computer-generated woman’s voice.
‘What have you planned for me today?’ you ask.
‘You have a meeting at eleven eleven with-’ the voice pauses for a moment ‘Mr. Tripathi. You have a fourteen eleven appointment with your dentist. You also have a date at nineteen eleven with’ the voice took another pause before saying ‘Ms Manju, a fine “Dog” you’ve got there. Would you consider adopting her for life?’
‘Not yet Athena’ You say ‘I wanna be absolutely sure before I get into a holy union with anyone from the race of dogs’
‘Do you wish to look into the list of the “Dogs” I’ve shortlisted for you?’
‘No, Athena’ you reply.
‘Anything else I may assist you with?’
‘Not at the moment. Thank you, Athena. Trishul ki Jai (Glory to the holy Trident)’
‘Trishul ki Jai’ the voice in your ear repeats. The blue dot on your wrist disappears.
You get startled as your eye catches what looks like a man in a black jacket at the main gate of your house. He opens and places something in your mail before rushing off.
‘Hey!’ You yell out and start running towards the gate. Your feet get wet and dirty as you sprint across your lawn. The mail had become obsolete even before you were born. The only reason you did not take the rotting mailbox down when you renovated your house was that it reminded you of your Grandpa and the stories he shared with you while you were merely a kid. Stories of him waiting eagerly by the mailbox every day for a whole year. Waiting, for the letter accepting him into the Army.
As you race across the orange lawn, your left wrist vibrates, a yellow dot pops up followed by the same note in your ear ‘I sensed increased heart rate at your non-workout hours. Have you changed your workout schedule without informing me?’
‘No, Athena’ you reply as you gasp for breath on reaching the mailbox ‘There was a man at my front gate. He popped something in my mailbox and ran away. I was running to catch him but it looks like he has fled’
‘I’ve nothing new under “Mailbox”’ the voice said.
‘Not that mail, Athena’
The computer-generated voice continued ‘Please do not handle anything dropped by unidentified men. Could be a “Rat”. Do you want me to contact the exterminators?’
‘No, Athena’ you reply as you pick up the letter left in your mail ‘It’s only a letter. Thank you. Bye, Athena’
‘Very well, then. Trishul ki Jai’
‘Trishul ki Jai’ you repeat as you scan the letter front to back. ‘Who sends a letter in 2050?’ you think to yourself as you read the name on the letter. It immediately fills your eyes with tears. You hadn’t heard from her in a long while. You didn’t even know that she was alive. As the raindrops began to wet the letter, you quickly slip it into your jacket and rush off back into the house. You stand in front of the retinal scanner on your door. As the glass door slides open, the word “Welcome” appears on top, light up by several tiny neon orange LED’s. You retrieve the letter once you are inside and tear it open. Your legs turn to jelly. You lean back into the glass wall and start sliding down slowly as you look at the letter. An old heartache returns to you, your throat feels sore, your eyes feel red and your hands shivers as you stare at the letter. It was from her, Yasmin Khan. Back when you knew her, she was “Muslim” and a “Woman”, now she is referred to, even inside your head as “Rat” and a “Dog”.
Do you remember the day you saw her for the last time? It was when the exterminators first came to your city. They were men and women dressed from head to toes in shades of Saffron. Their guns had a mounted scope on it which they used to scan each resident. You clearly remember the popping sound it made as the image of a Rat appeared on the scope while it scanned Yasmin. “Bloody Rats are everywhere’ yelled the man in Saffron as he tossed her into the van with the other “Rats” of your neighbourhood. You still remember her stretched out hand towards you, her screams echoed within your ears as the doors of the van closed in front of you.
With great effort, you read the words scribbled on the crumbled up orange sheet of paper.
Dear Shreyas Aryan,
I hope you are in the best of health and doing well. I might be dead by the time you receive this letter. So, do pray for me when you get this. I still remember the day when the exterminators put me in that van. I still remember your glassy eyes as you looked at me just as the doors were closing. You might be a “lion” now, but back then, you were my only friend. And that’s why I want “you” to do this. I want you to tell my story.
I might not be able to tell everything I want within this single piece of paper but I’m going to try my best, okay? You remember how we were taught about our national flag when we were in school? India’s flag back then was a horizontal tricolour in equal proportion of deep saffron (orange) on the top, white in the middle and dark green at the bottom. We were told that Saffron represents courage and sacrifice. White represents peace, unity and truth. And the Green stands for faith and fertility. It didn’t take us long though, to realize what the colours really meant. The flag merely represented a band of peace (White) between the Hindus(Saffron) and the Muslims(Green).
The only mistake our parents did was to vote for the Trident. It’s not entirely their fault though. They didn’t know that their vote would become our noose. You remember when the government first introduced those lenses. They screamed through every form of media and convinced us that those contacts were to enhance our vision and it’s compulsory for everyone to get one and sync it with Athena. It was only when I came here and had those removed that I realised, the only purpose those lenses served was to replace the colour green with saffron. How long must it have been now? 20 years? Do you even remember how the colour green looks? When America dropped the colours of red and blue from their flag under the facade that all white meant was peace and not the racial supremacy, India merely followed in its footsteps. I heard the Indian national flag is only Saffron now. I wonder how that might look like. I sometimes wonder how anything might look like, for I haven’t seen the sun for 3 years now. Everything Trident said and promised was a lie. I know you are unaware of this but the van which picked me up did not drop me in Jannat (Heaven). We were brought to Kashmir all right, but it was no Jannat, far from it to be honest. They threw us into this dark pit and left us here to rot. There is no way for you to imagine the past 7 years of my life. We don’t even have names here, only numbers, mine’s 911. Funny, isn’t it? They make us wear this mask here. It is the head of a rat with only a small cutout near the mouth. They tie our hands to our back and make us eat dog food. Can you believe it? The government somehow managed to convince the entire country that we, the Rats need to be put back where we belong, in a sewer, in this pit. They put tags on all of us and once again divided us into races. By labelling all “women” as “Dogs”, they convinced you that women were something you can simply own with enough credit points under Trident. By branding the “labour class” as “Donkeys”, they convinced everyone that their existence had only one purpose, to serve and serve without asking questions or even thinking about rights. When they branded “Muslims” as “Rats”, they convinced everyone to think of us as vermin, feeding off the bread crumbs dropped by the others. They also managed to subtly portray the idea that all of us have our loyalties lying behind the enemy lines and would rat out our nation at the first chance we get. Do you think of us that way too? It’s been 7 years now. I can’t begin to imagine how you might look right now, let alone how you might view the world.
In a desperate attempt to try and get this letter to you, I even offered up my body to one of the guards in this hellhole. He said he’d sleep with a cactus before he touches a Rat-Dog. There was something else he was interested in though. He said he’ll get this letter to you if I let him kill me. I’d simply have to make my way beyond the fence and he’d shoot me dead. They call it mercy killing in here. When a “Rat” loses the will to live, He/She is allowed to ask for the bullet.
Honestly, I’m fed up now. I don’t mind dying but I wanted to make sure my story got out there. You might not remember me well enough now, but before my life became a living hell, you were my only friend. Now, all my friends are rats. Not the people in here with me, the real ones, the squeaky little devils.
I hope you consider my dying wish and even if you don’t, I want you to know that my thoughts and prayers have been with you for the past 7 years and it always will be with you throughout eternity.
‘Athena’ you call out wiping the tears off your face. Your words shiver as you begin ‘Get me- Get me on the next flight to Kashmir’
‘There’s a flight at twenty eleven tonight’ said the voice in your ear ‘Would you like me to book a ticket?’
‘Would you like to pay for the ticket with your Trident credit points or your savings account?’
‘The savings account’
‘Very well, then. A pleasure to be of your assistance. Trishul ki Jai!’
You do not respond. You can only think of one thing right now, Yasmin. Her stretched out arm reaching out to you as the doors of the van closed. Back then, you didn’t do anything but watch. Today, that hand had once again reached out. You pray to the Gods you know to keep her alive until you get there.
‘You did not say Trishul ki Jai!’ the voice in your ear said ‘May I remind you that not repeating our motto is a direct violation under Act three-’
‘Trishul ki Jai!’ you say with a clenched fist and an angry tone.
11 hours later.
‘I’m sorry. There’s no way I can let you inside’ The guard in Saffron standing outside ‘The Pit’ tells you.
An evil grin widens on your face as you ask him to scan you. He raises the gun at you and flips the scope open. A popping sound followed by the image of a lion appears on the scope.
‘I’m extremely sorry, sir’ he says ‘but there is no way we can allow-’
‘Did you just question a “Lion”?’ An elderly man in a Saffron suit appears rolling his eyes at the guard ‘Remember, the scope never lies and you never ever question a “Lion”’ He turns to you and speaks in an obedient tone ‘I’m extremely sorry for any inconvenience caused, Sir. Please tell me, how may I assist you?’
‘Subject number nine-eleven’ you say ‘I need to see her’
The man in the suit turns towards the guard and says ‘Take this gentleman to the subject he wants to visit and accompany him till he’s back and out of this gate’ he turns back to you ‘Will that be all, Sir?’
You nod and repeat after him. ‘Trishul ki Jai!’
The guard does a quick search on his laptop for subject 911 and asks you to follow him. You want to ask him if she’s still alive but are too afraid to know the answer if it’s otherwise. As you navigate through a long hallway, you look down, out of the glass walls to see rows and rows of cells with “Rats” in them. Rotting away in their own filth, it is a harder sight than what you can stomach. At the end of the hallway, the guard opens a door to the outside. You walk along with him till a large metal fence and stop dead in your tracks at the sight which lies ahead. Hundreds of bodies covered by a single piece of Saffron silk with a three-digit number sewn into them lay on the vast open field. As you walk past the rows of bodies, an immeasurable pain smothers your chest. Your breath paces rapidly above the grunting of your teeth. ‘It’s okay’ you try to tell yourself ‘I still want to see her’.
At the end of one of the rows, The guard stops in front of a body. The number on the silk cloth covering it is 911. You go down on a knee on the orange grass and try to lift the linen off her face.
‘She asked for the bullet last night’ the guard says.
You turn towards him ‘You did this, didn’t you? All of you’ He takes a step back and draws his gun. He can see your anger but can’t feel your pain. You stare at the end of the pistol. ‘What are you going to do?’ You nod to him sarcastically ‘what’s the picture on your scope’
‘Lio- It’s a Lion, sir’ you can see he’s scared. His hands are trembling. Drops of sweat have covered his forehead.
‘And you dare to displease a “Lion?”’
‘I’m so- I’m so very sorry, Sir. Please forgive me but this is for my own safety’
You turn to glance at the body covered with the saffron sheet again. ‘What colour is it?’ you roar ‘What colour is that sheet?’
‘It’s Saff- Saffron sir’ he replies.
‘How do you know?’ Your voice turns to thunder and your rage comes pouring out as you scream ‘How do any of us know?
You tap on your forehead twice and the note plays in your ear followed by Athena’s voice ‘You seem to be attempting to remove the Trident lenses outside the hours of your designated nap time. Do you wish to-’
‘Athena!’ you grunt ‘Mute!’
‘Okay! Say “Unmute Athena” when you wish to talk again’
As you double-tap your forehead again, you can hear the guard screaming ‘Sir, Please don’t. Removing of the Trident lenses is forbidden outside the hours of your sleep cyc-’ He realizes it’s too late now. You’ve already removed them.
Your vision is a blur at first but it slowly comes back to normal. You look down at the ground, at the summer green, wind flattened grass which lay all around. The enchanting green! Green as you knew it. Green as you remember your childhood to be. You shift your glance back to the body, the linen which covered wasn’t Saffron, it was Green! Bright and soft, candescent and tempting, Green! As you pull off the linen covering her, you notice the mask of a rat’s face with a tiny cutout for a mouth pulled over her face. As you begin to pick the mask up, a sudden pop-up noise comes from the scope of the guards gun. A picture of an elephant pops up.
‘Sir,’ His voice comes stern now without even the slightest tinge of fear in it ‘You’re social status as a “Lion” has been revoked. You’re officially a “Rogue Elephant” now. The police are on their way. Please cooperate or else I’d have to use extreme measures’
You don’t say a word. You know what has to be done. You throw your fist across his face and land it like a wrecking ball. As he falls and hits the ground, the gun in his hand flies across and falls near Yasmin’s body. You tie a half hitch around your neck and the green linen wavers behind you, fluttering in the wind like a cape. As you bend down to retrieve the Rat mask off her face, you hear another pop-up sound from the scope of the gun lying beside her, pointed at you.
The innocent look on her face leaves your heart overburdened but your tears stop the moment you don her mask. Life had no meaning for you till yesterday. Within the span of twelve hours and eleven minutes your life has changed completely. You have a mission now, a goal. You don’t know why any other vigilante did it but you certainly knew why “you” needed the cape and the mask. You picked up the gun lying beside her and looked into the scope. A half grin tears across your face as you see the picture of a chameleon in the scope.