FingerPrint Publishing have been kind enough to provide Dystopicwith an extract of Madhav Mathur’s Dvarca, the first in a dark, satirical trilogy set at the turn of the 22nd century.
While the world is a mess of warring factions, India is forcibly controlled by the state religion ‘Navmarg’. The story follows Gandharva, a low-level bureaucrat at the Ministry of Finance and Salvation, his wife Jyoti, who works at Dvarca Mills and witnesses a ghastly act of terror, and their two children Nakul and Mira. The family struggle against the totalitarian regime and their indoctrination into a society that moulds its inhabitants into becoming faithful and productive citizens to the powers-that-be.
For the last time, I am not a spy. I am not a Caliphite. I am not a Navmargi. No one will have me. No one is mine. Why? Where do I go in this change-d world? From corner to corner, I skulk and hide. I once had a home, I once had a name. Now all I have is a curse-d leash. I’m a collar-ed man.
Thoughts of loss darted across his mind as the desperate man moved. Never still, never quiet, ever mumbling execrations to himself. Sometimes the words made no sense. Sometimes he wished he were a mute—he would give anything to quell the chatter. He clung under the belly of a trembling truck, with all the might in his calloused fingers, and looked up furtively at his upturned view of the street. The roads were smooth but for the occasional pothole.
Police jeeps roamed the streets and surveillance drones swept the night sky in search of people like him. Dust and pebbles pelted his back as the rock-hard asphalt bounded and leaped, threatening to crush him from above. He pulled himself closer to the variously scalding and freezing machinery of the grimy hulking vehicle. Every menacing gnaw of acceleration filled him with fear. His feet were slipping and he could no longer support his weight. This hiding place was not for him. There was no choice. He had to roll out at the next light.
He felt the rough and unforgiving floor on his back, and scratched his elbows as he tumbled away. He stood up disoriented, between trucks and buses, and disappeared into a cloud of exhaust. He used the nights to get as far away as he could. He hoped he was succeeding.
If only he could outrun the White Kurtas.
If only he could find the others.
“IS EVERYBODY IN? IS EVERYBODY IN? THE HOUR OF HONOUR IS ABOUT TO BEGIN.”
Jyoti was slicing carrots in the kitchen when she received the message on her Distant-Directives. She acknowledged the friendly advert-ordinance and wiped a few drops of perspiration off her DDs. The entire family had already gathered in the drawing room. She carried some vegetables out and sat down with them in front of their old grey TV box. A colour-focus-pattern flickered, before yielding to a dark screen and the familiar sound of nagadas. The drums of war were special. Their sharp tone signalled enthusiasm, while their ominous tempo warned of an apocalypse.
Jyoti comforted her pounding heart, and rubbed her temples in short clockwise movements, to calm herself. Lately, she had felt more on edge than usual. The slightest sounds would unsettle her. She brushed away a few strands of hair from her forehead and fought back a shiver. No one else in her family seemed perturbed by the percussion. They waited for the ceremony eagerly, grinning and thumping along.
The show was beamed live from an amphitheatre at the centre of the Centre, and was a very popular daily event. The dark screen birthed a roving bright circle of white light that rose like a hurried sun and lit Shastri ji’s snowy moustache. Who could deny that it was perfectly coiffed? Who would dare say that it was anything but divine? The word ‘PURITY’ appeared on the screen, accompanied by the sounds of children chanting. The floating word grew in size and engulfed half the screen, just below the glowing bow of hair on the Great Leader’s upper lip.
“Will I have a moustache, Mother?” Jyoti’s son, Nakul, was sitting at his mother’s feet. He repeated the question without turning to her. His father Gandharva was a little offended by the query. He sat at the other end of the couch, his discomfort growing—he had no facial hair and as a result, friends and family sniggered at his stature and vitality. The joke was that Gandharvas were incapable of growing moustaches, that they were timid, effeminate number-crunchers. All the insults came crashing back when his own son wanted to be like another man. The only consolation was that Nakul wanted to be like the best man alive.
“Of course you will dear.”
“In a few years, long curly strands of uncontrollable hair will grow out and cover your face—under your nose, around your mouth—like the wings of Lord Garuda,” she reassured him. “You will be the manliest man, before you know it.” Baba spoke up from behind them. His sagely words were based in truth. Nakuls were known to be hirsute.
“I want to be the manliest man! I do! I will crush the Caliphate with my muscles!” the boy exclaimed.
Gandharva got up and went to the kitchen. His observant and thoughtful daughter, Mira, sensed that he was upset. She scurried around him to the sink and poured him a glass of water. He raised it to his smooth mouth for a long draw and thanked her. “Shall we start on dinner early?” he snuck a piece of carrot from the chopping-board and held it out for her. He could tell that she was worried.
“What’s wrong? Why the long face?”
“Do you have to go tonight? After dinner?” She looked up at him with big curious eyes.
“Yes . . . I . . . ” before he could complete his sentence, she hugged him tight.
“I won’t let them hurt you!”
“Hurt me? What makes you think they will hurt me?”
“A girl in my school, she told me that the Visions are very painful . . . ”
“Not at all! It is a soothing experience. Deeply moving too! Look at me, I am salivating just talking about it. Very soon you too will know what it is like. . . ”
“Do you really enjoy it?”
“I can’t imagine life without it. Come—” They returned to the drawing room to watch the show.
“It wasn’t really Shastri ji . . . ” Nakul declared his disappointment. “It was just a close-up of a poster.”
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. His award winning films, The Insomniac and The Outsiders have been screened at numerous festivals.