Genetricks: A Short Story

Set in 34th Century Mumbai, Genetricks follows Junior Officer Savitri Bigule from the Mumbai Genetic Crimes Bureau (MGC) as she tries to solve the mysterious case of a tribal woman. The catastrophe of the climate crisis has led to violent caste wars, resulting in certain caste groups being superficially erased. Only the MCG can look into cases of violence against oppressed caste groups, classified by the Government as per detailed genetic records. 

By drmakete lab on Unslpash
Illustration by drmakete lab on Unsplash

The world was a mess. But looking at the complicated network of communication systems around her, Savitri Bigule felt that it was still a beautiful mess.

Sitting in the cramped office of the Mumbai Genetic Crimes bureau – Gyandeo district, Savitri was attending to some half a dozen helplines. She would be the first to admit that doing all this was no fun. But she also knew that the work mattered. A lot.

Sure, 34th century Mumbai was making quite significant progress with spaceships travelling across galaxies, highways bustling with flying vehicles and towers rising above and below ground level. But if you looked a little closer, you would know that everything was falling apart.

Since the 23rd century, violent riots had increased as more and more land-owning caste groups found their wealth sink to the ocean floor. This increased the tensions between different populations groups over who was getting how much of reservations and welfare support from the government.

That’s when the caste wars erupted. 

What made things worse was that different security forces were now partial to their own caste groups. As cities, towns and villages collapsed, the government realised that something had to be done.

But what exactly? Various independent NGOs approached the honourable leaders with a social support program that provided everyone with suitable education, healthcare and housing. The program was lauded by leaders across various parties and states. It was then buried in a bureaucratic chakravyuh that no Abhimanyu could enter (Or leave).

Subsequently, a government-marketing panel found what they called a ‘dynamic breakthrough’ as per authentic data reports (Authenticated by their own team) and diverse expert reports (That is reports from every expert who agreed with the panel).

The government panel’s great quantum leap was to have the word ‘caste’ erased from government records and the public discourse. 

There was then a shoddy and mostly failed attempt to change the names and surnames of many population groups so caste would not be so visible (Everyone tried to get a ‘cool’ surname using legal trickery. That’s how in Bollywood, the Khans became the Kapoors and the Kapoors became the Khans. For a while this created great confusion for the fans of Aamir VI Kapoor and Ranbir XI Khan).

Some felt that the government sincerely made these changes to end caste differences. But others wondered why only the most powerful caste groups were involved in the decision-making.

Surprisingly for some members of the government panel (And unsurprisingly for everyone else), a few centuries later, the evil of caste hadn’t disappeared. It had only become better at hiding in plain sight.

The government now kept detailed genetic records of different population groups classified as per their ‘unique’ DNA characteristics. A few welfare programmes were run based on these genetic data profiles, with aid being provided to individuals of tribal and Dalit heritage.

People who did not get this benefit seemed to have mixed feelings about it.

On the one hand they would claim to be proud of being ‘self-made’. Indian cities saw a great boom of holographic tattoos with slogans like ‘My DNA is merit-based’ and ‘Being self-made is in my genes’, among many more.

On the other hand, caste wars that once made headlines were now still being waged. But the warfare was slowly becoming much harder to detect.

Like when certain vulnerable genetic groups living in Mumbai Delta (Formerly Dharavi) would suddenly have their water contaminated with deadly pollutants. Or when someone like Eklav Bote, from a tribal genetic background would get evicted from his flat in Mumbai Sigma (Formerly Sion) where most of the population group was of the priestly genetic heritage.

The Mumbai Genetics Crime Bureau stepped in when there were too many of such coincidences (Called MGC and not MC unless you wanted to annoy them). And sometimes like for Junior Officer Savitri Bigule, it meant attending calls.

Halfway through her day she had spoken to Aniket Kumar – a student worried that his classmates knew about his genetic (That is caste) background because they no longer invited him to their homes. Stefi Thomas who did domestic work at a housing society was facing a severe cut in her wages because the society committee had somehow found out that she received some meagre welfare support. After his Dalit genetic background records were leaked, Asif Khan – a catering worker at a bank was now finding it hard to keep a track of who was okay with being served by him and who wasn’t.

Dozens of such calls made Savitri wonder how much of humanity survived amongst the humans of 34th century Mumbai.

A clock buzzed and sighing with relief, Savitri stretched as much as the cramped office would allow her to do so. It was break time. 

——

Savitri made her way through the narrow corridors that featured portraits of radical thinkers like Dr. B.R Ambedkar, Jotirao Phule, Savitribai Phule (A child of two teachers, Savitri Bigule was her namesake), Tukoba and various others. 

Like everything else, even the canteen seemed to barely fit in the MGC office. Savitri nodded politely at a few seniors as they invited her to join them. Taking a generous serving of the newest brinjal hybrid and the half-roasted roti, Savitri took a seat next to Paranjpe and Kapila.

In a booming voice, Paranjpe spoke “So Savitriji, how are the calls going? No one troubling you naa? Just tell me haa if there are any issues!”

Savitri smiled politely. “Oh no sir. There are no issues.”

There were many issues. Savitri was the only junior officer who was still attending first response calls even after a year since her posting. None of Savitri’s requests for more challenging work had been cleared. All of her other batch mates were already handling projects of much greater scope.

Batch mates who unlike Savitri were not from a Dalit genetic background.

The polite conversation slowly drifted towards the dwindling cricket season with increasing shortages of green pitches. Digging into the barely edible food, Savitri also noticed that she was the only one wearing the MGC blue uniform (she liked how it looked on her short frame). Most of the seniors in the canteen were either in suits or traditional sarees.

Her lunch was nearly done now. Should she bring it up?

“Uh, Kapila ma’am, I hope you got my mail request…”

Kapila smiled and replied as if speaking to a child.

“Oh yes dear! But see now you’re just starting out…I can’t give you crime investigations as yet. Just be patient. After all, protocol is protocol. I’m sure that in the future you’ll make a great detective!”

But when exactly would this future arrive? That was a question Savitri knew that she wasn’t allowed to ask.

With an achingly polite smile, Savitri replied “Okay ma’am. Thank you so much.”

Lunch was done. With still some time remaining, Savitri decided to head to the terrace – It usually helped clear her mind.

But as she pressed the elevator button, something happened that hadn’t happened in 16 months of Savitri’s posting at the MGC office, or anytime in the last few decades. The sirens all through the building blared violently and the lights switched to a violent shade of red. 

Savitri drew a breath and quickly ran towards her desk. The siren meant only one thing – the worst genetic crime had either been committed or was about to be committed.

——

The thing about the law is that once you make it, it sometimes gets forgotten. A simple MGC protocol dictated that for a Level Z emergency call, the first responder would have to be involved in the initial investigation.

This was to ensure that any evidence of the genetic (caste) crime was not obfuscated.

With the changing dynamics of genetic crimes, Level Z calls had become obsolete with very few ever being made. But Junior Officer Savitri Bigule remembered the law.

She was the first to attend the call. First to register the case. And the first MGC recruit to make it from HQ to the scene of the crime in under 11 minutes, 15 seconds (Her aero-scooter would need some serious repairs).

Forcing herself to remain calm, Savitri jumped off the scooter as it touched upon the terrace of tower 8324B. Savitri recalled the clear and urgent tone of the old woman who made the Level Z call.

“I first saw her through my bedroom window in the morning. Then I saw her again in the afternoon. 

“And I thought, oh deva! She hasn’t moved at all!

“I tried calling her flat through the tower security systems but she didn’t answer. Then I immediately called you…”

Savitri had already informed the MGC tactical team. Making her way down the stairs, she nodded at the officers stationed on each floor. She didn’t slow down, but a part of her had no desire to walk into the flat on the corner of floor 3132.

The MGC tactical and forensic team made way for her. Savitri noted with satisfaction that the team was live streaming their data feeds to a secure MGC server. She had insisted on this to ensure that they did nothing to hide the evidence.

Savitri entered the flat and quickly scanned the living room. The couch, bookshelves, chairs – all in order. To her right she checked the kitchen, cutlery, solar stoves, filtration systems – again all in order. The two rooms to her left – guest bedrooms, were all in order. That just left the room straight ahead where the forensic team was methodically scanning everything.

Entering the bedroom Savitri noted the neat bookshelves, appropriately placed chairs, fresh curtains and watered plants. It all seemed so normal if not for the body lying on the bed. Savitri peered closely at the woman, making notes on her tape.

“Level Z case call, Junior Officer Savitri Bigule at the scene, floor 3132, flat 3132G. Preliminary notes.

“Victim age – possibly 35 to 40 years. ID records awaited. Hair – blackish grey.”

Wearing her gloves, Savitri gently opened the woman’s eyelids.

“Eyes – dark brown. Mildly obese. Has prominent blue veins visible on her face, arms and legs. No other exterior signs of harm. Forensics to confirm the cause of death…”

The leg twitches.

Furiously Savitri turned to the forensic team lead.

“PANDEYJI! What the FUCK is your team doing? SHE IS ALIVE! Get her to a hospital RIGHT NOW!”

The legs now convulsed as if in a seizure. A shocked forensic team carefully placed the body on a stretcher. In a few seconds an ambulance appeared by the window.

As the woman was placed within, Savitri followed.

Pandeyji looked agitated. “Now where are you going?”

Savitri did not bother to reply. She turned to the ambulance driver.

“The nearest hospital is 20 minutes from here. We have to make it in less than 10 minutes. Is that clear?”

The driver gulped.

“Yes madam!”

The ambulance zipped through the air highways, breaking every speed limit. Savitri noted that the woman’s legs were still twitching.

——

It had been 14 hours since the victim had been hospitalised. She was alive but barely. In about 5 of these hours, Savitri had managed to get some sleep. Though not enough for her to enjoy having to face Paranjpe and Kapila in the early morning.

For a change it was Savitri’s seniors who had come to her and had immediately taken her to a meeting room.

The meeting room was filled with various storage cabinets and seemed claustrophobic enough to seem more like a torture chamber.

Leaning back in his chair, Paranjpe spoke in his booming voice. “Really marvellous work, Savitriji. Absolutely amazing!”

Kapila nodded and looked at Savitri as if she were a junior school student.

“Yes, yes, I’m so impressed. This will really help me in your next assessment, Savitri.”

Savitri smiled politely and waited for them to get to the point. After a few awkward pauses, they did.

Paranjpe spoke in a soft voice with great difficulty.

“So now that you have made the initial investigation, we’ll uh…let a senior detective handle this.”

Savitri vigorously nodded her head.

“Of course sir. We must absolutely do that.”

Savitri enjoyed seeing the stumped expressions of Paranjpe and Kapila.

“But as per protocol, I am supposed to submit the initial case report in a week.

“Once that is done, we must have the senior-most detective look into this case. I’m sure you agree with me Kapila ma’am, after all protocol is protocol.”

Kapila’s face now took on the violent red shades of a BEST aero-bus. 

“Yes, yes certainly. Please do that. If possible try to get it done a little early, Savitri…”

It was Savitri’s turn to smile sweetly as she got up.

“Of course Kapila ma’am. I will get it to you by the end of the week.”

Savitri hurried through the narrow corridors. She had very little time and even fewer clues, if any. But there was one thing. One crucial, confusing and glaring fact. Investigating it meant Savitri would have to take another short trip. 

She headed for the exit. Though with her scooter down, Savitri would have to take a cab or a bus. The thought of the latter made her involuntary shudder (The thing about Mumbai’s 34th century BEST bus system was that it got you to your destination. But the ride still made you feel like you must have left a few organs behind).

Filling transport vouchers would take some time, but Savitri decided to take an aerocab. If the old lady who made a Level Z call to MGC didn’t have a few answers, no one would.

——

Junior Officer Savitri Bigule was currently dressed in the simple blue overalls of a repair mechanic – Such subterfuge had become necessary to protect the identity of Level Z callers. She sipped the overly sweet tea placed next to the complex air filter systems.

Savitri had tracked down apartment 3132B in tower 8324A with her GPS call logs, confirming the location for the Level Z call.

A cynical looking young man had grudgingly allowed Savitri to enter the apartment. After all, who would refuse a free maintenance check for their air filtration systems? 

Pretending to fix the impressive oxygen system, Savitri now looked at Mansi Dule who had brought her the tea. With her kind smile, shrinking frame and shivering hands, Mansi entirely fit the image of a sweet granny. Until you looked into her eyes. Those were more of a street fighter who wouldn’t hesitate to kick you in the groin.

Coughing politely, Mansi spoke. “Beti, enough of this act. Are you from the MGC? We can talk now. I don’t think my son will come here.”

Savitri smiled back.

“Yes ma’am, I am from the MGC. I just have a couple of questions for you. How did you know abou…”

Mansi cut in.

“Sorry beti. I meant that my son won’t come here as long as we keep it short.

“To save time let me just tell you what I think you might be wondering. First – how do I know about making a Level Z call right?”

Savitri nodded quietly.

Mansi fiercely narrowed her eyes and smiled.

“You MGC people know so little. You think anyone from our genetic background can afford to forget?

“Beti, I have changed the way I look, dress, talk. I have married into the ‘right’ background, got the ‘right’ kind of job, kept my head down. And you know what? I can still feel their gaze. I still feel unsafe.

“And I am not alone.”

Mansi chuckled.

“This thing about banning gatherings of people from oppressed genetic backgrounds to ‘keep the peace’. I must say, that is something else! 

“So sure, we mostly feel lost and alone. But we still try to stick together. We do try to know about whatever rights we still have left.

“That’s how I know about making a Level Z call.”

Savitri blinked.

“But how did you know that this was a genetic crime?”

Mansi looked horrified.

“Oh come on! Do you think I would call the regular cops to investigate a woman’s possible murder? 

“I know you MGC people are also quite corrupt but at least you have to consider that she might have been killed for who she was!

“A regular cop would perhaps just find one condom in her closet and the case closed! Now do you have any other questions for me that will help with your investigation?”

Managing to close and open her mouth, Savitri spoke, “Uh yes, about the victim, did you kno…”

Mansi clicked her tongue.

 “Oh beti, we’ll have to stop here! Just call me on this secure line for your other questions.” 

Mansi handed her an encrypted electronic pad. 

“But don’t you dare place this number in any official records!” Mansi warned.

Savitri went on to share a simple system’s report for the air filter with Mansi’s son. Then she slowly made her way to the terrace thinking over everything Mansi had shared. 

There was still so much more to unravel.

——

Normally, 3 days in the course of an MGC investigation were nothing. Cases moved at about the same speed as the plot of a TV soap opera (Yes these still existed. Only now the saas-bahu format had been merged with the wrestling content format. Though everyone agreed that Mars TV went too far with the episode where Baa gave her bahu a choke slam).

But Savitri knew that this case was different. Mainly because a Level Z call had been answered by someone who would take it seriously.

Seriously enough to stay at her desk long after regular MGC work hours.

Thinking furiously, Savitri looked at the case details on her screen. A lot of information had finally come through on the victim who was still hospitalised and slowly recovering.

Carol Demoso was a 37-year-old HR manager of Nova Tech – a company that offered space travel. Her genetic profile was mainly tribal. A single woman, she had no previous history of facing harassment or even having claimed any welfare support.

Now as much as Savitri had liked Mansi Dule, she had also been trained to be a good investigator. Savitri had therefore dutifully checked for any link between Mansi and Carol, because there were many cases of Level Z calls being made by the assailants, as a sort of brag.

Savitri looked through security records of tower 8324A and B. She then checked Mansi and Carol’s personal backgrounds and histories. They seemed to have never met – At their current locations or even in the past. 

As per security footage, Mansi had never even entered Carol’s building. Mansi also didn’t have any connection to organisations that were fronts for powerful genetic groups. There seemed to be no motive for Mansi to attack Carol and then make a Level Z call. A part of Savitri was relieved to know that for now she had no strong reason to suspect Mansi Dule.

Leaning back in her chair, Savitri reflected on her visit to the Nova Tech office where Carol worked.

In the prestigious Mumbai Sigma region, Nova had various towers as their office space. Savitri was made to wait for a suitably long time in a sprawling coffee room that gazed upon the stormy sea (Though at this point almost every apartment in Mumbai had become sea-facing).

Finally, the HR head invited Savitri into an even more prestigious office that had various miniature models of Nova’s spacecrafts.

Shomik Chatterjee, a balding, grizzly man in his fifties, smiled politely at Savitri. She could almost feel the nervousness emanating from his sweat pores.

“Ma’am, let me firstly assure you that at Nova we treat people from all genetic backgrounds with respect and dignity.

“I cannot begin to express how hurt we were to know about this…this situation with Carol. But is she okay now?”

“She is still recovering Shomikji. But the doctors say that she will make it.” Savitri replied.

Shomik looked relieved.

“That’s great! So how can we help you now Ma’am? I assure you of our complete cooperation.”

During Savitri’s training, MGC veterans had told her that corporations would always offer ‘complete co-operation’ when it came to any genetic crime. By which they meant that they would give you so much data that locating even a shred of evidence would become nearly impossible.

As expected, Nova shared a data dump of epic proportions with Savitri. It was a record of everything Carol Demoso had done since she joined the organisation. The 2-inch drive already weighed heavily on Savitri.

But keeping it aside for a while, Savitri interviewed some of Carol’s colleagues in the uncomfortably spacious coffee room.

The young intern was the most honest.

“Whaaat! Are you telling me that lady was from some oppressed genetic background? I would have never guessed! I mean she was a bit quiet, but otherwise she seemed chill yaar…”

Resisting the urge to smack the intern, Savitri nodded politely.

Carol’s immediate senior Ms. Neha Dubey was more formal.

“I must tell you Savitriji, Carol was…uh…is I mean, truly a model employee. Never late. Never complain. Never argue. Always gets things done. I can’t imagine why anyone would do this to her…”

And so it went on.

The overall consensus was that Carol seemed to be a sweet if slightly aloof person. No, she had no enemies. Yes, she was a good HR person. Was she going through any emotional difficulties? No they wouldn’t know really. She always seemed quiet and respectful in the office though.

With growing frustration, Savitri had left the Nova premises. All the interviews created this image of Carol as this laser-sharp cutout of what an employee should be.

Sitting at her desk now, Savitri again checked through Carol’s work profile. What had she done as an HR manager besides her regular work?

There mostly seemed to be nothing much. Just the same astrodust-rangoli competitions, training sessions, planning of employee treks (To whatever wasn’t submerged as yet). But wait. Savitri looked through the records again and there it was.

A few weeks ago, Carol had been in charge of organising a blood donation camp. Savitri involuntarily shivered.

No, she thought. Would Carol have been careless enough to donate blood? Savitri realised that maybe she would. As someone who never took welfare support, maybe Carol didn’t know the rules.

Through her training Savitri had learnt that sharing any of your biological samples was an enormous risk for someone from an oppressed genetic background. You never knew who would be looking at this data.

And here was Carol, freely donating blood to…Savitri looked closely at the name…the People’s Blood Bank Association (PBB).

Later Carol had also arranged and attended a vaccination drive with the same organisation (At this point, Mumbaikars were used to pandemics arriving in almost every alternate year).

Searching for PBB’s records, the names of a few organisations appeared again and again. 

Savitri felt her heart sink. She knew with an exasperating degree of certainty that this case was finished.

——

The thing about detective work wasn’t just that it was hard to find the culprit. The hardest part was knowing that there were some culprits you could never catch.

The People’s Blood Bank Association (PBB) was the NGO arm of the holographic tattoo company My Voice (MV). My Voice made various subtle and not so subtle tattoo designs with slogans like ‘My genes make me the best!’, ‘The wisdom of the ages lies in my DNA!’ and other such lines that clearly yet indirectly made their point.

Sighing, Savitri sank back into the chair. 

The PBB was with the MV. And the MV, Savitri knew, had close ties with the seniors of the Mumbai Genetic Crimes Bureau. That was why the top management wanted this case assigned to a senior detective who would overlook these details.

All of the exhaustion from the last few days finally hit her now. Savitri looked at the clock that seemed to aggressively blink at her. It was 10.23pm – Perhaps the right time to head home and overthink about what she was doing with her life.

Slowly, Savitri made her way through the narrow corridors towards the terrace. As she walked she noticed that someone had switched off the lights above the portraits of Dr. Ambdekar and the other leaders.

The terrace was one of the few MGC spaces that wasn’t cramped. Savitri felt the cool evening breeze sooth her senses as she strolled towards the taxi counter panel. She activated the panel signal hoping that some cabbie would soon take notice. On any regular day, a cab would arrive in some 15-20 minutes.

Until then Savitri could entertain herself by looking at the chaotic skyline of Mumbai (Flying vehicles meant that sometimes it really could be raining men who overestimated their driving abilities). Her thoughts slowly drifted across the years and she again wondered if she had made the right choice.

Savitri could have been a teacher like her parents. But she didn’t like how people had to choose between paying for oxygen filters or their child’s higher education. 

Sure, a small (very small) number of students still got admissions through reservations. That’s how Savitri had gotten her own education. 

Though she couldn’t forget how the welfare angle always made things awkward with other students. As she was a good student, there had been no overt aggression. But there was always a curiosity about what spectrum of genetic lineage she came from.

Even now, some of her batch mates tried to insistently find out about her native place, to perhaps trace her genetic background. 

Oh they could be so pesky…

A cab slowly hovered towards the terrace and Savitri’s tired mind kept lashing out a stream of incoherent thoughts.

She suddenly began wondering – Who were they? Who were we? And who was keeping a track of who was who?

That’s when Savitri’s communication pad buzzed urgently. Opening it, Savitri saw Carol Demoso’s health report from the Sigma Hospital.

What the hell was this?

Savitri had to go through it.

Hating herself, Savitri now switched off the panel signal just as the cab landed. The cabbie gave her a dirty look as he again flew away, though he immediately waved back more politely when Savitri placed a token amount on the panel counter. It was the fair thing to do, but paying for a cab without taking one made Savitri feel like she was being irresponsible with her money.

As the clock hit 10.45pm, Savitri was back at her desk, looking at the hospital report. 

A section read:

Patient’s DNA shows strange aberrations resulting in blue veins visible on the patient’s body.

Below it was Carol’s genetic data which was unlike anything that Savitri had ever seen. It seemed like every day since she was hospitalised, Carol’s DNA was changing its structure.

Savitri now compared this with Carol’s genetic data in her birth records. 

What was going on here? How could a person’s DNA be changing? But wait. It wasn’t changing, it was only going back to the way it had been…Could it be?

Savitri again looked at the Nova HR records of employees who donated blood. She ran a background check on all their genetic profiles through MGC’s secure data records. Then she looked at Carol’s genetic profile at birth.

This time instead of looking for what she wanted to see, Savitri looked at everything else. And it was all there. 

Yes, this was it. But she had to be certain. After a panicky search, Savitri found Mansi Dule’s encrypted pad and placed it in a communication slot. Nervously, she pressed the call button.

The call was answered almost immediately.

“Hello? Who is calling at this time?” Mansi’s suspicious voice echoed in the empty office.

“Ma’am, it’s me. Savitri Bigule from the MGC…”

“Oh! Tell me beti, what questions do you have for me?”

Trying to keep calm, Savitri spoke. “Just one ma’am. Now if someone of a tribal genetic background worked in a big company, took no welfare support, did their work well, would they be accepted as just another employee?”

Mansi’s snort sounded more like a mini-explosion.

“Really beti. What have they been teaching you at MGC? Of course such a person would be looked at EVEN more suspiciously! If such a person exists, how can anyone else claim to have better genes?”

Savitri cut in quickly.

“Yes, yes I thought so too ma’am. But what if…what if, this person turned out to have genetic patterns similar to the priestly and other powerful genetic groups?”

For a while Savitri only heard uneven breathing at the other end.

“Hello ma’am, did you hear me?”

“Beti for a MGC officer you’re either really smart or a bit naive. Can’t you see? The question you’re asking, it is at the heart of everything.”

Savitri was now certain. She smiled and replied “Yes, it is. Thank you so much ma’am.”

For the next half an hour, Savitri only paced excitedly in the cramped office. Then with a firm resolution, she began writing her final case report.

——-

As a detective, making great deductions was all good. But what mattered was what you finally had in your report (Printed on paper from a plant fibre that grew beneath the sea – feeling the ones from forests had been banned at a point when it was already too late).

Looking at the livid expressions of Paranjpe and Kapila, Savitri felt that her paperwork had certainly made an impression.

There were long moments of silence in which Savitri was uncertain about what to say. So she simply looked around Paranjpe’s spacious MGC office and noticed that there were no portraits of any radical thinkers. There were only pictures of Paranjpe with different politicians and businessmen.

Finally slamming the report on his desk, Paranjpe glared at Savitri. 

“Savitriji, what the hell is this?”

This time Savitri glared right back.

“Well sir, it is exactly what you are reading. You can read right?”

Kapila who had been fuming silently took a few deep breaths.

“Savitri…the things you have written…this is all just complete nonsense!”

Savitri laughed mockingly and pointed at the report.

“It’s all in there ma’am. But let me try explaining it again.

“Carol Demoso was a good employee who never claimed any welfare support. She then made the mistake of donating her blood to the PBB – an organisation that conducts illegal DNA research.

“What did the PBB find out from Carol’s DNA report? They discovered that Carol had a tribal genetic background. But here’s where things get fucked up.”

Paranjpe winced.

“What does it really mean, Paranjpe sir, Kapila ma’am, to be from a Dalit or tribal ‘genetic’ background? How are these genes any different from those of more powerful caste groups?

“So when Carol’s DNA was compared with her colleagues, it turned out that there wasn’t much of a difference!

“Okay that’s enough”. Kapila cut in.

Savitri got up and started pacing in the cabin.

“There wasn’t much of a difference! And that’s not strange at all…ALL of us can trace our descent from the early African migrants, the Harappans, and many more immigrants…and yes that includes the Aryans!

“We don’t talk about this anymore, but it’s true! And that must really hurt right? 

“Anyway, then we have Carol participating in a vaccination drive. Two weeks after which, she is found lying almost dead.

“Strangely for a vaccinated patient, her blood reports showed no formation of any new antibodies. But something curious had happened to her DNA. It was changing!

“This made her entire immune system crash and eventually her DNA went back to its original form. 

 “Now Kapila ma’am, a Nova intern told me that Carol wasn’t someone who ‘seemed’ to be from an oppressed genetic background. I think someone wanted Carol to be seen as tribal, to keep the difference between ‘them’ and her extremely clear. I wonder what they were going for…

“Maybe giving her asura-like horns would be too much. I’m thinking they were probably going for some fucking skin tone that’s make identification very clear right?”

Kapila opened her mouth but Savitri cut in.

“Ma’am can you guess who would want to change her DNA and why?

“Who benefits from making it seem like there is some great genetic difference between powerful caste groups and the tribal or Dalit groups?

Savitri began walking towards the door.

“Hey! Where do you think you’re going?” Paranjpe exclaimed.

Savitri turned back.

“I thought I could make a difference by working here sir. I don’t think so anymore. Because the fact is, the difference between our caste groups isn’t genetic.

“It’s purely political.”

The door slammed. Paranjpe and Kapila looked uncertainly at each other. 

“Well, good riddance!” sighed Kapila.

She picked up Savitri’s report and dumped it into a laser shredder.

Paranjpe looked on with satisfaction as each page was reduced to incomprehensible bits.

I should be happy, he thought. And yet, he hated to admit it, but a part of him was now deeply afraid.

——

Another quality of a good detective was that they always made more copies of important reports.

Savitri sent her case report to various local, national and international news streams, knowing that most of them would only ignore it. 

But in a few weeks when leading national news anchors were denying the existence of the Carol Demoso case report, Savitri knew that she had done something right.

Slowly but surely, a certain word was being uttered again.

It started with Baa on Mars TV claiming that she would win every wrestling match because she was of a warrior caste. The episode was banned and hence naturally, everyone had seen it.

Then Carol Demoso gave her famous interview to a news channel.

The news anchor Master Mohan and Carol were seated across from each other, on the edge of two diving boards, because the show was called ‘Diving into the truth’.

 Master Mohan smiled flirtatiously at the camera.

“Welcome everyone! In today’s show, we’ll be talking to Carol Demoso – someone from an oppressed genetic background who is facing so many problems because an idiotic detective at the MGC leaked some fake case report.

“So tell us Carol, how have you been?”

With a steely glint in her eyes, Carol stared intently at Master Mohan.

“I have tried avoiding this for a long time and it made no difference.

“So let’s make this clear Mohan, I am a city girl. I am someone who loves to pout in pictures with my cat. I am also someone who is really scared of bugs. I cry during Ranbir XI Khan’s movies and this is hard to admit, but sometimes I even enjoy those saas-bahu wrestling matches. 

“I am many things Mohan. But I am not from some vague ‘oppressed genetic background’. I am an Adivasi, a tribal. So please cut this bullshit.”

For a moment Master Mohan gaped at Carol.

“Uh okay, okay! Let us take a quick 1-hour commercial break and we’ll soon return!” He stuttered.

The interview was immediately banned on all streaming channels, hence naturally everyone had seen this too. 

The government immediately rolled out various PR campaigns stating how caste no longer existed. But inadvertently in the process, they ended up using the word ‘caste’ a lot.

So over a few months, the word caste had found its way into pop lyrics, toilet graffiti, lunchroom conversations and local train gossip (Many things had changed about Mumbai’s local trains that now ran at supersonic speed along turbo-charged lanes. Hence railway-track sounds were played in the air-tight train compartments because otherwise, it just wouldn’t feel the same).

But Savitri Bigule, sitting in her small but not cramped office in the Gyandeo district knew that this wasn’t enough. She looked up from her files and smiled at Mansi Dule who was seated across from her.

Mansi narrowed her eyes.

“Beti, you really think this makes sense?”

Savitri shrugged.

“We have to at least try.”

Savitri noticed that the hall beneath the office was filling up.

“Let us go to Mansiji.”

Savitri looked around at the faces in the hall and read the slogans that floated off their tattoos – ‘My genes make me divine’, ‘The strength of a warrior lies in my genes’ and many variations of the same thing.

Uncertainly, Savitri started speaking.

“Hi, thank you for coming everyone. This meeting has been called so all of us in the neighbourhood can get to know each other and our problems.

“Now how many of you here are finding it difficult to find a good school or college for your child?”

Various people raised their hands.

Savitri nodded.

“And how many feel that this is because of reservations given to Dalits and tribals?”

Some raised their hands confidently, and some more uncertainty.

Savitri now activated a simulation and 2 bar graphs popped up in front of her. One bar graph was significantly smaller than the other.

“Now these two graphs show us the number of government schools and colleges for the 19th century and the 34th century. Can you guess which one is for our current period?”

An irritated old man snapped, “Well girl, obviously the larger one!”

Savitri shook her head grimly.

“Unfortunately that’s not true. You can check for yourselves, but the number of government schools has only decreased over the last hundreds of years.”

Savitri placed her hand on the smaller graph and it flipped to a larger one.

“But we have more private schools and colleges. So that’s good right?”

The old man now looked uncertain. “Uh yeah I guess.”

Savitri nodded even more grimly.

“These private institutions have no reservations and the fees well, you can see for yourself.”

The fee amounts now floated around the hall.

As the crowd looked open-mouthed at the figures, a wave of shock seemed to pass through them and they became more subdued.

“So while all of you remain angry for the even lesser seats given to Dalits and tribals, education has slowly been made unaffordable for all of us.

“Tell me, are you okay with that?”

Savitri now gestured to Mansi who continued with the presentation.

In a more brisk manner, Mansi got to the point.

“Listen! If any of you still want to wage some stupid caste war, then get out of here. But if you want a better future for yourself, your children and ALL of us, then let’s discuss what we can do together.”

This moment always made Savitri nervous. The old man and a few others left, but most of the others listened with rapt attention to Mansi’s almost rude presentation. As the session continued, Mansi’s son clumsily stepped up to the audience, handing them a few forms.

Savitri still couldn’t believe that they were doing all of this. 

After her abrupt exit from the MGC, she had spent a lot of time feeling sorry for herself. Then in-between various jobs, she had ended up immersing herself in different legal literature. That’s how she found out that while the assembly of oppressed caste groups had been banned, any group that brought people from different genetic backgrounds together was still given official sanction.

What’s more, they could even get some financial government support.

After about a quarter of an hour, the meeting ended and an exhausted but pleased Mansi was making tea for herself and Savitri in their small but not cramped office.

Looking up from the brewing liquid, Mansi cheerfully exclaimed, “Savitri! We still have to fix a name for the organisation. Now People’s Project is okay for a bit, but can’t we have something more powerful?”

Savitri had been thinking about it too. She rubbed her chin thoughtfully.

“Yes, I agree. Maybe something that shows acceptance of everyone, yet also acknowledges the issues of Dalits, tribals, women, other genders, disadvantaged working groups and everyone really…but also isn’t about hating individuals and more about, you know, dismantling power structures in which all of us are placed.”

Mansi now handed the hot cup of tea to Savitri.

“Oh you are overthinking it! We could just call it…uh..Dalit…um..Tribal…uh…Rainbow…Well see now you’re even making me overthink it!”

For a moment, Savitri and Mansi only drank their tea and gazed out of the window overlooking the sea. Dark clouds flitted across the blue sky, spacecraft launched into the cosmos and the stormy sea shimmered with discontent. 

Through the roar of different aeronautic engines, the gentle chirping of a sparrow could still be heard, almost rebelliously proclaiming its existence and its right to survive and thrive.

Savitri heard the little bird’s gentle song and something struck her.

“Mansiji, how about ‘Unheard Voices’?”

Mansi shrugged uncertainty. 

After a few moments she nodded and said “Okay sure, I guess we can go with that for now. Anyway there is a lot of work to do!”

There certainly was.


Photo Rahul B

Rahul Bhandare

Rahul has been working as a copywriter in Mumbai for the last 5-6 years. Prior to that, he worked as an Electrical Engineer in Godrej. Besides work, he likes making comics and writing short stories.

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