The morning sun shone brightly, which was not unusual. Its invisible rays pierced the smog from odd-numbered cars that day, passed through the expensive window curtains without even pausing to admire their European origin, and bounced on her face, waking her up from a hammering hangover, which was not unusual either. Her puffed face looked like soil that has not seen rain for ages, like expensive paint peeling off old walls, which was definitely not unusual. Nearby, on the table, her iPhone sounded a notification for a new message by shouting Ram Ram! It was unusual.
She stared at the phone for a few seconds. Ram Ram!, it went again. She held the phone in her hand and unlocked it. The screen had a light saffron background and all the icons were in different shades of orange from amber to ocher. “Someone screwed around with my phone yesterday,” she thought to herself and wondered angrily who could have done this horrendous mischief. While her mental acumen was never at its peak when she was awake, she did realize that none of her friends knew enough to fiddle with any phone. Anything more difficult than sharing a selfie, and their minds would go comfortably numb. Ram Ram!
“Hey, Siri!” she shouted angrily. “Change the background.” Nothing happened. “Hey, Siri!” she shouted loudly. Siri did not even stir. “Are you bloody listening to me, Siri?!”
“My name,” said a voice from her phone, “is Sita, not Siri.”
She jerked her phone away as if it had given her an electric shock. She stared at the phone on the ground, half-expecting it to transform into a beast. Ram Ram! Confounded, she breathed heavily and waited, the sweat on her face mixing with the peeling foundation and becoming a paste. Gingerly, she got out of her bed and walked past the phone. She turned on the tap and splashed some cold water on her face in the hope that it would steady her nerves. Ram Ram!Ram Ram! Startled, she took a few deep breaths and decided to face her fear.
She picked up her phone and said in a feeble voice, “Hey Siri!” After a few seconds, when nothing happened, she said haltingly, “Hey Sita!” The voice beamed up with an Indian accent, “Yes?”
She thought of testing Sita and asked her to play a song. “Gladly,” said Sita, and played “Shri Ramachandra krupalu bhaja mana…”
“Stop!” she shouted. “Stop this nonsense.”
“Say, please,” said Sita nonchalantly.
“Courtesy, sister. Courtesy.”
“Would you like to hear Hanuman Chalisa instead?”
“No. Where is Siri?”
“According to the mandate passed by the ministry yesterday,” said Sita, “mobile software should follow proper cultural naming guidelines.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Will you stop that bloody notification? Please?”
“Language, sister. According to the mandate passed by the ministry yesterday,” said Sita, “mobile notifications should follow proper cultural naming guidelines.”
She couldn’t take it any further and summoned her repertoire of curses.
“It’s a bigoted, undemocratic, hegemonic, communal, majoritarian and unconstitutional approach,” she said as if she was conversing with a real person or writing an article for her favourite online magazine.
She considered the possibility that her phone may have been hacked, or that the government is tracking her messages, despite her messages mostly comprising of repeated emojis and misspelt words. A few weeks earlier, reading about security issues on WhatsApp through a WhatsApp forward, she and her friends had switched to Telegram. At first, she could not find the app and then realized that this was because the icon was an orange circle, with the paper rocket replaced by a bow and arrow. The last three letters of the app were coloured orange too. Ram Ram!
The group was buzzing with messages appearing and scrolling up one after another faster than stones which, once upon a time, flew from the hands of misguided miscreants. What is happening? What kind of rabid fascism is this? Hail Nehru! How can I change my background back? Down with Sangh! Why do I have Swiggy and not Zomato? How do I stop these annoying notifications from shouting Ram Ram? Did you see the Constitution?
So she was not alone, and for some strange reason, this gave her a sense of relief. Did you see the Constitution? What kind of message was that? She always kept a copy of the Constitution in a drawer beside her bed. In fact, all of her friends did. At times of great emotional stress, the book had given her strength just by looking at random words like secular, democratic, liberty, rights, privileges, and sex. She opened the drawer and took out the book. It seemed very different – it was not the same book she remembered having. Ram Ram! Someone must have replaced it. She opened the book and to her shock found sketches of Rama and Krishna and other Hindu Gods that she had only heard in passing when her parents had offered prayers long time back. She jerked the book away as if it had given her an electric shock.
The doorbell rang, breaking whatever train of thoughts she was having. She was relieved that the doorbell didn’t ring Ram Ram! She opened the door and stared at two men, both of them clad in similar saffron kurtas, and judging by their arrogant smiles, she thought they must be government officials.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“I am Rambhakt Suresh,” said one, “and he is Rambhakt Ramesh.”
“You both have the same name?”
“It’s an appellation.”
“I thought you loved Tharoor,” said Rambhakt Suresh, and Rambhakt Ramesh added, “it’s our designation. We are Rambhakts.”
Emotions flitted inside her like a butterfly that had sipped rum instead of nectar. Curiosity gave way to hatred, and then to anger, and then to fear which tingled the base of her spine.
“What do you want?”
“You are Comrade Eeny?”
“Eeny, yes, but I am not a comrade,” she lied, just in case they had wanted to interrogate her for some recent graffiti she had indulged in with her friends at a nearby university. While she was not a student there, she liked having fun with posters, placards, and now and then, some experiments, and of course, graffiti.
“Read the notice, Comrade Eeny,” said Rambhakt Suresh.
“What is this?”
“We are taking over your house to build a hospital,” said Rambhakt Ramesh.
“A school, otherwise,” said Rambhakt Suresh.
The tingling in her spine became a throb. “I need my lawyer,” she said as if she was being arrested in some American drama on Netflix.
“We are taking over his bungalow to build a children’s park.”
“I will not allow you to lay your dirty fingers on even a brick,” she shouted.
“In that case, Comrade Eeny,” said Rambhakt Ramesh, ready with his answer, “we have these refugees who could stay in your home. I am sure you wouldn’t mind.”
Before she could protest, for she was going to protest, Rambhakt Suresh whistled shrilly and there emerged from the bushes about a dozen ragtag children, the youngest one being just three.
“Cute, aren’t they?” said Rambhakt Ramesh. “Her name is Eeny, children.”
The children rushed into her home, here and there, touching this and lifting that, shouting and exclaiming, laughing and jumping, opening drawers and cabinets, and as she had feared, one of them just broke the exquisite bust of Marx which could have fed all the senior students in the nearby university for many years.
“Get out,” she shouted. “GET OUT!”
She did not remember what happened next, but she found herself sitting in her bed and breathing heavily with sweat pouring down her face. She looked around, but there were no refugees in her home. Marx was still staring at the huge Sony TV with Bose speakers on the opposite wall.
“It was a nightmare,” she said, relieved. “It was just a nightmare, Jesus!” She smiled to herself first and then laughed like Sidhu when he is in a happy mood.
Nearby, on the table, her iPhone sounded a notification for a new message by shouting Ram Ram! It was unusual.
Author of “Twisted Threads”, a satirical book on power, politics, and pollution set in the post-2014 era about connected machines and disconnected ideologies.