“…I shall erase the accumulated past.
I shall make dust of history, dust of dust…
I bequeath nothingness to no one.”
From The Suicide, Jorge Luis Borges (1975)
We cannot say certain words with such conviction any more: finality, erase, end, past, death…. Technology has already started blurring the lines. Distance, entire oceans between continents, is rendered obsolete by a click of a mouse. Organic sensations are fast being replaced by simulated environments. Death may not mean ‘erasing of the accumulated past’. We shall not ‘make dust of history’, for we may leave a meandering digital trail long after we are gone. It is this bizarre-yet-everyday realisation that K.V. Praveen’s collection of stories, Ormachippu, walks us through.
‘Chithradurgam’ has a single woman and daughter going to a mall managed by robots. Artificial intelligence gets intertwined with complex emotions. A labyrinth of happenings later, as Seema walks away with her daughter Athira, a chilling revelation is being made.
The next story, ‘Darvinte Daivam’, can be read as the next chapter that examines the tension between the human mind and scientific logic.
Here, a professor is upset about an increasing popular belief in Intelligent Design, which proposes the presence of a ‘greater’ force behind the creation of life.
‘Ormachippu’ combines the tyranny of the Emergency and the possibilities of technology that help recover memories of an ailing old woman, who wielded vicious power in her youth. Hari is determined to find the reason for his recurrent love failures and hacks into the ‘memory chips’ of his mother. Capturing someone’s memories is equal to killing that person, the story concludes.
Eliminate with Love is the name given to the software a company devises to downsize staff in the story named ‘Jackpot’. It traces the lives of two friends of the company, with one moving on a straight line and the other taking off like an object fired into outer space.
The rather self-deprecating end for the protagonist evokes an equal measure of pity and relief. An average corporate job, in our world, means the ‘foreclosure of possibilities’ in return for an impression of relative well-being. ‘Jackpot’ does well to prick the bubble, leaving the reader to mull over Adam Smith’s definition of work as an activity that requires a worker to give up his tranquillity, freedom, and happiness. And, in the case of the man in the story, his dignity too.
‘Azimovinte Rathri’ posits the question on what differentiates us from the robots. Here, a night watchman is anxious about the longevity of his job as robots are fast taking over security tasks. He laments a cut in health insurance and is torn between attending to his sick child and keeping his much-needed job.
An unusual cigarette break with a young employee of an artificial intelligence department makes him leave his work place for a short while. At the end, when he indeed loses the job for dereliction of duty, the reader, like the protagonist, realises what differentiates us from robots: fear.
‘Wonder Woman’, ‘Kane’, and ‘Zebra’ place individuals within the family and other social constructs. Some of these people try to rise above or go beyond what is expected of them. Reena in ‘Zebra’, after much contemplation, decides to ‘perform at least one wonder’ in her mundane life. Abel, the helpless child in ‘Kane’, is caught in an insensitive situation both at home and school.
The man in ‘Wonder Woman’ prefers a fantasy world and comes to his senses only after a series of crazy events unleashed by a woman hurt by love.
Humankind is no longer at the mercy of Nature. Our senses are sharp and well-developed and we have created machines to predict rain and earthquake. Yet, we are perplexed by the calamities brought about by climate change. We can communicate to masses located in different parts of the globe through an electronic device. Yet we may fail to hear someone close to us.
Praveen’s stories do not espouse a higher cause or ideal. They just lay bare such irreconcilable paradoxes we have created for ourselves.