I wrote two little tales sometime in the past week, as part of a fun event that India Software Labs Pune organized, as part of the Science-Fiction story-writing competition. Now that the event is all over and done with, I thought it might be time for my vast reader population (please, please note that I’m always sarcastic!) to be offered the pleasure of reading these entries.
So here they are. The one that immediately follows, is my favourite (among the two), but the other one (in the previous post) won first prize! Enjoy!
Gazing out onto the waterlogged area around Nariman Point, Mumbai’s Municipal Commissioner Ramnath Borkar was not a happy man. And nor would you be, dear reader, if you had Borkar’s job. It seemed to him that just about everything around him was falling apart.
You see, Mumbai had been lashed with the most fierce of monsoons. The last time Borkar remembered seeing such fury was ten years ago in 2005, when he was in college. But this was at least twice as bad. Big promises had been made then, innumerable committees had been formed, but the infrastructure remained right the way it was. This year, there were no roads discernible in Mumbai. Your guess as to where the roads actually were under the water, was as good as that of the stranded citizen beside you. It would take months to drain away the water, since over the last ten years, the water table had risen – the city had “sunk” with respect to the sea. So here he was, reliving the monsoon of a decade past. Then he was in college, just another Mumbaikar. Today he was the Municipal Commissioner of Mumbai, its de facto CEO. After the Mumbai Administration Act of 2009, the metropolis had been made a Special Administrative Region, with the BMC having full autonomy – and responsibility – for its functioning. An enviable job, you might think. But uneasy lies the head that wears the crown, and no head in the city was uneasier than that of Ramnath Borkar.
The Opposition in the BMC had savaged the Government over charges of kickbacks over purchases from Indo-British Machinery, or IBM. The BMC had bought machines worth Rs. 1000 crore, a full 10% of its annual budget, as part of the Shanghai Human/Infrastructure Turnaround project, now in its 5th year, with its aim (still!) to turn the city into Shanghai. (That, dear reader, also gave him the most uncoveted title of Chairman of S.H.I.T.) These massive machines, a revolution in mechanical engineering, were capable of moving huge amounts of earth. Projects that took a dozen years could now be completed in a year’s time. The other large purchase, also from IBM, was a bunch of wall-building machines. Together, they were supposed to bring the S.H.I.T. project to a close, finally. Then came the sale of IBM’s heavy machinery unit to a Chinese firm named LenovEarth, and that was all it took for the Opposition to be up in arms against the purchase. “A sell-out to the Chinese!” “The Government knew of the deal all along!” and other such accusations had now put his political future on the line.
And the icing on the cake was the embarrassing bankruptcy of his son-in-law, Ramesh Usgaokar. What had made his daughter choose such a dim-wit was beyond his imagination. A 5-watt bulb was much brighter than he was. Entrepreneur, she had described him. Bah! He couldn’t even spell the word! The fool had grand plans of building a Hovercraft industry. For the teeming fishermen’s community in and around Mumbai. He had set up gargantuan manufacturing plants, arguing that “economy of scale” would make his hovercrafts so cheap, everyone could buy them! “Mera sapna, sabka apna!” was his slogan – even that wasn’t original! Hovercrafts?!?! What was the peanut-brain thinking?! Consequently, then, had come the inevitable failure, and bankruptcy. And he, Ramnath Borkar, was supposed to bail him out.
No, sir, things were not looking up for the Commissioner. Flooded roads. Next-gen building machinery. Hovercrafts. The words circled around him like vultures, spelling doom. Flooded roads. Next-gen building machinery. Hovercrafts. How was he going to get out of this? Flooded roads. Next-gen building machinery. Hovercrafts.
Brainwave! He knew what would save him! Save his Government! Save the city! Oh, and save the damn-fool of a son-in-law too!
All of his problems had fallen together, like pieces of a jigsaw, to form the perfect solution! Sunshine broke onto Borkar’s face! He considered running naked out onto the streets, a la Archimedes, screaming “Eureka!”, so elated was he, but decided hastily against it. He didn’t want a fresh attack from the Opposition about a lunatic Commissioner, especially if they had footage on National Television to prove it.
With alacrity, he convened a meeting of his cabinet. And outlined his plan to them. As they listened to their boss, a dozen sunshines broke onto a dozen faces of a dozen ministers!
Exactly one year later, Ramnath Borkar was a hero. The stuff legends are made of. Every single honour had been conferred upon him, national and international. He was scheduled to visit tens of universities the world over to address courses on Urban Administration. A Chinese delegation had met him only yesterday; they wanted to start a project to make Shanghai into another Mumbai. And today was the day, one year after that historic cabinet meeting, when he was ready to show his master plan for Mumbai to the world. From atop the Commissioner’s official vehicle, Hovercraft One, he began his speech:
“Bhaiyon aur Behenon!
Today we mark the completion of the Venice In Mumbai Project! We have dumped our transportation problems of the past century, into the dust-bin of history, where they belong! With our Hovercrafts, we can now cruise down our Waterways without any worries of traffic jams or delays! Indeed, who needs roads when we have our waterways? Who needs cars when we have hovercrafts?
Indeed, by replacing all of our roads with waterways, and cars with hovercrafts, we have achieved fuel and transportation efficiency other cities can only dream of! We have created Tomorrow’s Venice!
These enormous walls around the city are testimony to our expertise in infrastructure building. These are the edifices which will keep water flooded onto our roads, maintaining our waterways. We must thank IBM/LenovEarth for their EarthMovers and WallBuilders, without which we would never have been able to complete this undertaking in the short time span that we did!”
He looked across at the Opposition. There they were, looking black as thunder, unable to digest the fact that IBM had become the most admired company in India, and that Ramnath Borkar was reponsible for it. Then he glanced at his dim-wit son-in-law, waving a little foolishly to the assembled crowd. He had become rich beyond his wildest dreams, and he hadn’t a clue as to what had made it happen. Perhaps someday, some angel Up There would tell him it was his father-in-law. He concluded,
“Finally, I present before you Ramesh Usgaokar, Entrepreneur of the Year for 2016, whose company has built the hovercrafts that we all use. He has, singlehandedly, given birth to the Hovercraft manufacturing industry in the country!”