Subramaniam had no idea where he had been. All he could remember was the shipwreck and the lifeboat which he was pushed on to along with a few others. The huge waves that tossed the boat up and down.
When he opened his eyes a few men, naked except for the rags tied round their groins, were standing round his staring into his eyes. There was fear in those eyes as much as curiosity. A couple of the men carried a bow and arrow each.
It didn’t take him long to realise that he had landed up on the island of some primitive people. His ship had wrecked in the South Indian Ocean. The people spoke a language that was curiously similar to Subramaniam’s own. After all, his was a classical language, one of the oldest in the sub-continent called India, one which withstood many onslaughts from languages of the North. At any rate, his ability to communicate with the island people did not surprise Subramaniam too much since he had read Gulliver’s Travels and knew that Gulliver could communicate with people who spoke languages which had nothing common with his own.
The people on the island turned out to be more friendly than Subramaniam would have hoped for given the context which he had left a few days back. He came from a peninsula on which people were being hunted out for questioning the government. Emergency, they called it. “India is Indira and Indira is India” and such slogans had become popular. People who refused to bow to the divinity of the new Bharatmata vanished from the society. Subramaniam’s best friends had all been arrested. A few of them just vanished. No one knew where such people went. Slogans resounded in the vacuum created by “vanished” people. “Talk less, work more,” “Be Indian, Buy Indian,” “Efficiency is our watchword,” and so went the slogans that bewitched a whole subcontinent. Subramaniam must now count among the many “vanished” persons though he had just run away to escape being caught by the over-zealous police personnel of the Government of sweet slogans.
Soon Subramaniam became a hero on the pristine island. He brought them civilisation. He was a student of engineering and so he knew how to civilise a pristine island. Civilised buildings replaced the huts made of mud and leaves. People learnt to assert “I”, “my” and “mine”. Currency was introduced. Trade followed. People began to buy and sell things which they had hitherto shared freely. They made theories about what was right and what was wrong. They made rule so that people’s liberties could be curtailed. They made boundaries and borders.
In the meanwhile, Subramaniam managed to collect enough materials to construct a hot air balloon. When the balloon was ready to take off, he said goodbye to the people whom he had civilised. They shed tears on the ascent of their Messiah into the heavens.
Four decades passed.
Another era of resounding slogans rose on the subcontinent. “Good governance,” “Swachch Bharat,” “Ghar Vapasi” and “Make in India” resounded in the air. The subcontinent once again witnessed goose bumps sprouting on its nationalist skins. People did not start vanishing, however, though the Cassandras began to see auguries and omens of imminent vanishing acts. Priests and oracles drew the boundaries and borders between Us and Them. Some of Them were lured to become Us.
Subramaniam felt nostalgia for the primitive island which he had civilised four decades ago. He found a way to reach there.
He was amused as well as surprised to see temples on the island with his image in the place of the deity. He had become a God, the God, on the island.
Subramaniam was not a fraud, however. He told the Elder (who was his bosom friend four decades ago) that he was just an ordinary human being with some skills which they had not yet developed when he entered their island.
“No, no,” protested the Elder. “You are our God.”
Subramaniam protested more vehemently.
“Please,” pleaded the Elder, “leave this place immediately before anyone recognises you. All the morals of this island are bound around the myth and if the people come to know that you did not ascend into heaven they will all become wicked.”
Subramaniam walked silently back to the boat that awaited him on the coast.
Note: Inspired by the ‘Sun Child’ in Samuel Butler’s Erewhon Revisited.