All for the love of Biriyani.
Disclaimer- This is a work of fiction (science fiction) and no characters resemble living or ruling persons. That said, it’s the unpleasant task of a writer to highlight things before it happens, as it happens and after it happens. Before it happens- as a warning. As it happens- as a chronicle. After it happens- as a memory. Some of the best writers perished in the fascist concentration camps and the communist gulags, because they did not write before it happened or even as it happened- all around them, to others and themselves. A few survivors wrote after the events- by then it was too late to save the millions who perished because of the pusillanimity of the intellectuals who should have been at the forefront of the resistance. Or that’s what history teaches us as it judges events (and persons) dispassionately.
That morning he woke up at his usual early morning hour without the assistance of the electro-assist alarm thus saving a few volts of electricity and more importantly avoiding the painful early morning electric shock which usually woke him up daily. Once up, he wasted no time in heading to the bathroom to have the regulated two minute shower and then dressed quickly in a white dhoti and long sleeved white shirt, his usual office attire, before heading to the insta-coffee maker to grab his early morning cuppa of fresh chicory brew, his only breakfast on working mornings. As he gulped down the hot and bitter brew he waxed nostalgic on the genuine coffee, from fresh roasted beans, he had enjoyed in his younger days. But those days of luxurious life on earth were long past, the unsustainable population explosion had put paid to luxuries like coffee long ago and only the uber rich were thought to be able to sample such genuine luxuries nowadays. He sighed and put down the mud pot in the recycler and picking up his jute bag, plastics having been banned ages ago, he went off to the station to catch his pod to work.
From his suburban house in the foothills off the chamundi hills to the pod station at Mysore central was a 20 minute commute by uber and a vehicle was automatically re-routed to pick him up by the action of locking his door electronically using his Aadhar key-card. As he hung the card back on his neck using the lanyard he reflected how his apartment was all safe now from unauthorized access as the only two who could open the door without that key were him and the government both with access to his fingerprints and iris prints. In locking his door behind securely he was often considered an anachronism and was made much fun of in the beginning but old habits die hard and despite the government propaganda labelling those who locked their doors as anti-national and paper money hoarders and colleagues questioning his patriotism as “if you have nothing to hide in there then why do you lock the door when you leave the house?” he still preferred to lock the doors in his absence.
This was due to, thought he wouldn’t admit it, a fear that his ex-wife would move back into the empty house in his absence if he left it unlocked. If she, god forbid did that, he would have no recourse legally except to share the apartment again with that treacherous woman who had made him the laughing stock of the Hyderabad office by co-habiting with her supervisor openly and who he could not divorce like in the old/bad times because according to the new constitution, circa 2019, a man and his wife were supposed to stay married for seven lifetimes with no option of divorce even after death and anyone who complained his wife was cheating on him was labelled an anti-national and told to follow the example of the soldiers on the border who lived a life of celibacy. That was the prime reason he had shifted work to Chennai even though he hated to visit the new Chennai, what was left over of the city post the 2020 mega-tsunami.
When he finally reached the pod station at Mysore junction, he was lucky to find a pod just ready to leave for Chennai and so he crawled into it and strapped himself in tightly for the twenty minute commute to Chennai sriperumbudur hyper loop station. The pod whizzed away on its breakneck speed and he felt a slight tinge of nostalgia for all the sights he was missing outside the vacuum tube on which the hyper loop train ran. But then again he remembered that it was all mostly an ugly industrial sprawl – a continuous slum, right from Bangalore to Chennai and that’s why he had moved to live near the chamundi hills rather than stay in some urban coop inside Bangalore city. The extra twenty minutes of commute was worth it in his view. After he got out of his pod at Chennai sriperumbudar station, he hopped into the company van which was waiting to transport a few others like him who commuted daily form Bangalore and soon he was working at his desk in his office.
Hunched over his computer console he checked again the work which had accumulated in his absence- but thankfully it had been a quiet night and the overnight alerts were few. Not many people had made fun of or criticized the government last night so he didn’t need to alert the special riot squad of the cbi to raid their homes and taser them with a 1000 volts charge – to fry their brains and memories- before transporting such anti-national culprits to the Andaman jail for life. He felt dirty doing such work and remembered a time long back when he had done work as a cyber-security consultant who hunted people for releasing torrents of new film releases. But that was before the new constitution which made watching unsanctioned films a crime worthy of being sent to jail for ten years without bail. As most films, make that 90% of the films, didn’t get censor sanction for one reason or the other and no one in their right mind wanted to risk watching a film, any film and then go to jail for ten years the once thriving film industry had gradually died down and been replaced by documentaries on nature which easily passed the censors. Now all cyber security experts worked on government contracts trying to trace anti-nationals who criticized the legitimate government and the supreme leader.
As he was sitting there mulling over the changes in society over the past decade, his co-worker from the next terminal leant over and said “happy birthday sirji, just now saw the alert for your birthday on social media platforms, how come you kept it so quiet?”. He smiled outwards at that greeting but inwardly cringing he said “aww, shucks, we are not kids are we? to be celebrating birthdays?”. His colleague was persistent if anything and said “but sirji you can’t escape so easily, you have to give us all a party next pay day” before turning back to his terminal to continue working. He was suddenly captivated by the word party and started reminiscing on past birthdays, how they had been filled with friends, booze and biryani. Ever since the supreme leader and the party of the pure had come to power he had forgotten the pleasures of both, like all the rest of the citizens and had turned into model subjects- vegetarian and teetotalers.
But the reminder of biryani suddenly triggered long dormant memories and cravings inside him. He thought over his life in those days and compared it with now- a meaningless, routine existence where the government ruled over everything you did, including what you ate and suddenly felt within himself a small spark of defiance. It had been ages since he had eaten biryani, so why not try today? His work as a cyber-security consultant had its advantages, occasionally he came across online posts on contraband availability. He had recently seen one such post on biryani being available at a nearby city called Ambur, clandestinely. The thought of tasting biryani after ten years made him light headed reckless and strangely rebellious. He decided to head out to Ambur in his lunch break and see if it was authentic biriyani made of non-vegetarian mutton.
Once he had made up his mind, he surreptitiously opened up the old post he had flagged with the number of the biryani shop and noting it down walked down to the rest room and made the call. A voice on the other end gave him his instructions to take a cab and be in ambur central by 30 mins. So he went back to his cubicle to wind down his work and filled out the form for his lunch break and forwarded it to his superior who Okayed it and allowed him to go out and eat. Once outside his workplace he flagged down a cab for the ten minute ride to ambur. Once there he stood looking around for five minutes till a shady looking character sidled up to him and said “are you the one who called for the biryani?” when he affirmed that it was indeed him, the shady guy asked “do you have any identification to show you are not from the anti-non veg squad ”? when he had shown the man his aadhar card and had assured him that he was indeed a legitimate customer if a bit kinky who just craved meat suddenly, the tout invited him into a vehicle and said “we will go in this vehicle to the actual place, it’s just a few minutes away in vaniyambadi nearby, we don’t advertise the actual locations for obvious reasons”. Fine, he said and went along with him till they reached what looked like a prosperous little eatery advertising “pure-veg food prepared exclusively by Brahmin hands” as he hesitated on the steps, his contact smiled and said “don’t worry saar, we have a special section upstairs” and hustled him into the eatery and up a small flight of stairs to a dingy little hall upstairs where a small group of people were looking around furtively as they ate the banned biriyani.
As the smell of well-made ambur mutton biryani wafted through his nostrils he leant back his head and sniffed it to his heart’s content. And then a plate of it was placed before him and he rolled up a morsel and popped it into his mouth. It was just the right taste, hot, spicy and a little bit tangy as a proper biryani should be. The accompanying side dish- again a banned item- chicken 65 – was crispy and fresh and he took the time to savour a piece chewing it softly. It was while he was in the midst of satisfying his long suppressed desires and on the way to achieving food-nirvana that the police raided the small hotel and burst into the hitherto secret room upstairs serving non veg food. A few patrons tried to escape but they found that an entire platoon from the anti-non veg squad had surrounded the place with orders to shoot on sight those trying to escape after committing this heinous crime of eating non-vegetarian food in swaach bharat country. The next day all those arrested for the crime of eating meat, a hundred or so daily, were produced before a fast track court especially set up to deal with such capital crimes and were summarily sentenced to death.
As he was strapped to the latest model koodankulam mark-4 type electric chair and the electrodes placed on his chest to transmit the 10, 000 plus volts needed to fry his heart to death instantaneously , he looked up and out at the cameras live telecasting his death to the cowed millions watching the daily death show of anti-nationals who defy the dictates of the supreme leader (and his storm troopers) and smilingly said “tyranny comes in many forms and it’s not easy to recognize it in its initial avatar. I should have protested when they banned rupee notes, I should have protested when they made identity card carrying compulsory, I should have protested when they banned my local language, I should have protested when they made me, an individual, responsible for everything the government should do. But I didn’t, not even when they told me what to do, what to speak, how to live and even what to think. Well, it ends today, one way or the other for me. For, it’s a far far better place I go to, a place where no one will dictate what we should eat and as I go there with the still lingering taste of biryani in my memory, i think my death is worth it” as the lever was pulled and he was fried to death for desiring a biryani.
P.S. if you think this is a bit far-fetched, wait till the election results of the 2019 general elections. A fair warning to all of you- please voluntarily convert yourselves to pure vegetarians by then.