Making Space For Everyone
Making Space For Everyone13 mins 30 13 mins 30
"Did you pack Bimu's notepad?"
Vitthal Dhombe sighed. This was the 53rd time that his wife Sayli had asked him the same question. Vitthal now simply took out the battered digital notepad from the suitcase flap and presented it to Sayli.
Sayli stood nervously in their small flat located in one of the many closely-packed and towering chawls of 34th century Mumbai. Uncertainly she said "Okay great. But Vitthal are you sure that we should go for this trip?"
The trip that Sayli was referring to was in fact the first trip they'd be taking since Bhim was born. In this new age, with a new life came expenses for the costliest commodity - oxygen and water filtration systems. This meant the couple had to sacrifice many things and travel was the least of them.
But Vitthal looked at Bhim, asleep in one corner of the small chawl room that could barely fit a bed and a kitchen counter. As always he felt his heart melt. Gently waking up the child, Vitthal spoke "Come on beta. It's time to go to space!"
Like a rocket, Bhim was immediately up and running.
"We're going to the moon! We're going to the moon!" he sang.
Indeed they were. Vitthal was an aeronautical mechanic and Sayli a code relay checker at Nova Tech Limited - the world's only company that had space shuttles travelling to different corners of the galaxy.
Over the many decades, Nova Tech had been criticized for paying its workers and employees a salary which made life on Earth about as easy as tracking the last remaining tigers on the islands of Jim Corbett.
But Nova Tech's marketing team had found a few solutions.
The first was by Rohini Gyami who suggested that by changing certain fiscal policies, the workers could be paid a wage that would be quite satisfactory. The marketing team applauded her. The CEO applauded her. Rohini was awarded employee of the month and her report was then quietly forgotten in a mail trail longer than the Mahabharata.
A few weeks later, Uttam Kumar had a 'breakthrough insight' that he developed into a 'strategic pipeline' aimed at achieving 'stakeholder satisfaction'. Uttam's suggestion was that Nova Tech should include one of its worker's families on one of its luxury trips to space. Given the 'optimal pricing rates', Nova Tech could afford to do so with no impact on its profit margins and a huge boost to its brand image.
The marketing team applauded Uttam. The CEO applauded Uttam. Soon the campaign was launched with the catchy jingle of 'We make space for everyone!'.
This was how Vitthal, Sayli and little Bhim Dhombe found themselves in a small aerocab that would take them to the International Space Station Junction at Mumbai Namdeo district (Only recently changed from Mumbai Neo after a protest by the Maati Sena, though the GPS in the aerocab still referred to it as Mumbai Neo).
As the cab accelerated into air corridor 89.43 and away from Chawl Tower 503B, Sayli again nervously wondered if she had switched off the oxygen filtration system.
With a softly playing sitar score, the glasses clinked in a manner that was quite new to Vitthal and Sayli. Awkwardly they observed their co-travellers in the Nova traveller's lounge. Vitthal realised that most of the faces were quite familiar to him.
There was Ashfaq Khan, the star of Dabang 39945. According to some rumours, he had been cultivated in one of the many illegal but widely popular Bollywood Gene Labs. His DNA came from some actor known for his shooting and driving skills. In one corner were the leaders of BSS chatting with the singing sensations from Asian Idol. There were of course the usual leading CEOs and managers. Like Tony Faude, heir of the controversial wonder drug company CIU whose pills supposedly helped unlock the ‘child in you’ – Something that Vitthal and Sayli refused to believe.
Among these stars of Earth, a dark, curly-haired and slightly overweight Vitthal wished he hadn't worn the wedding suit that was now only too tight. With her hair in a formal bun and with a glowing complexion from years of regular Yoga exercises, Sayli was more at ease in donning a recent saree from her sister's wedding.
Meanwhile Bhim’s well-combed hair and ironed shirt and shorts were already in a mess. With great fascination, he looked on at a group of children wearing VR goggles and holding notepads that made Bhim's little pad look like an update from the stone age.
Trying to put his family at ease, Vitthal gently placed his arm around Sayli and Bhim. Looking at his child he spoke "Now Bimu, you don't want to be asleep during the trip right? Quick then, close your eyes for a bit."
And just like that Bhim fell asleep. Vitthal and Sayli shared a nervous smile knowing that it had been quite a while since slumber came so easily to them.
The shuttle was set to launch in just some 90 minutes. But in present company the Dhombe couple felt that the wait could never really be short enough.
There was no specific reason to feel uncomfortable, Vitthal kept telling himself. After all his boss had insisted so firmly on making Vitthal go on this trip. But Vitthal did notice the pointed ways in which they looked at him, all these faces from news streams that were mostly just ad streams.
After an unbearably long time for Vitthal (Other than that time when Sayli had stopped talking to him for not giving her a rose on rose day) the entry to the shuttle finally opened. With some excitement and trepidation, Vitthal realised that it was too late to go back home.
The Dhombe family had been included on a short flight to and around the Moon. This was as per Nova's 'robust pricing', 'fair practices' and 'stakeholder satisfaction' parameters that somehow completely matched Nova's 'profit margin protection parameters'.
With building excitement, Vitthal and Sayli boarded the Lunaire, maintaining some distance from the many celebs. Shaped like a turtle the Lunaire was about the size of a small stadium, with its platinum hull covered in countless brand logos and icons as per Nova’s commitment to ‘brand partner integration’.
The company’s management didn't realise this but the Dhombe couple was only too familiar with the ship, having been involved in different aspects of its launch.
Vitthal remembered the many nights spent in improving the turbo-engine's capacity to process both nuclear and solar power inputs. Sayli could not help wishing that she didn't know as much about the Lunaire as she did. With over a million almost synaptic circuits, debugging the code had been a task that made Sayli's life almost as bad as that of the last remaining tigers on Corbett island looking for the last remaining rabbits.
But under many layers of social awkwardness around the likes of Ashfaq Khan, Sahil Kapoor and other celebs, Vitthal and Sayli could not help feeling a glow of warmth. They had built this and they would get to finally travel in it.
After a quick check-in, the Dhombes were guided to their luxury rooms located somewhere in the mid-tier of the turtle structure.
Bhim burst into the elegant rooms and hurried over to the floor-to-ceiling glass window. He looked out as the ground seemed to shrink and the turtle ascended to the heavens. Vitthal sank into the comfortable sofa and smiled at Sayli, seated on the edge of the gigantic bed.
Soon enough Bhim was bored with the view of outer space. He wandered into the adjoining room and his jaws dropped with delight. The room had a video console with VR, sound and neural integration. Bhim firmly resolved to never leave this room during the entire trip.
Though Sayli and Vitthal certainly couldn’t allow this, they were willing to be more indulgent. After all this was the first time that Bhim would have his own room.
After a few moments, Vitthal slouched onto the bed and Sayli lay next to him. They smiled at each other, wondering if some marital bliss might be found in outer space.
That’s when there was a knock on the door. An annoyed Vitthal opened it to find a whole shooting crew assembled in front of him.
Inwardly Vitthal and Sayli groaned. They knew this was coming but were hoping it wouldn’t begin so soon.
There seemed to be no end to it.
During an evening session of star gazing for the Dhombe couple, the shoot team was with them. There was a musical concert featuring the Asian Idol stars and of course Vitthal had a camera shoved in his face.
Asteroid sculpting. Vacuum-refined wine tasting. Solar mediational therapy. Screenings of Dabang 39945. Techno-dance sessions. Floating in outer space. All of it, all of it was covered by the PR team.
That’s when Vitthal decided to try something different. He insistently took a horrified Sayli to the eel therapy session chambers – a new age popular treatment where indigestion was treated by inserting eels into certain bodily openings. This time the Nova PR team did keep its distance.
Once they were inside the eel therapy room, Vitthal politely asked the attendant to give them some time. Then holding on to Sayli, he slipped into the worker’s entry door.
Immediately it seemed like Vitthal and Sayli were on a different ship. Where earlier the ship’s cool interiors had gentle shades of white and gold, now the metal walls were a crumbling grey with a dry heat blasting through the corridor. Yet the Dhombe’s felt a great sense of relief. They had realised that being in heaven with a PR team could be worse than hell.
Looking around, it was now Sayli who grabbed Vitthal’s hand and lead him down the complex chain of corridors.
Vitthal was taken aback.
“Sai, you still remember the ship’s design?”
Sayli chuckled and walked ahead.
“I wish I didn’t Vithu. But after looking through some million minor changes in this ship’s circuit codes, I think I might forget everything else, but this bloody ship has sunk into my subconscious.
“Just follow me now, I think I know where we can get some breathing space.”
After a dozen lefts and rights, Sayli opened another worker’s door leading out to the passenger section. Vitthal looked at his surroundings with amazement.
“Oh Sai...this is what I wanted...this is really what I wanted!!”
With some pride Sayli replied. “I know.”
The couple looked on at the mini-beach with the waves crashing on the sandy shores. There were a few celebs but the beach was quite empty. Most importantly there were no PR people around.
As Vitthal slumped onto the sand, he noticed a man in blue maintenance overalls. The lanky young man was looking at a screen interface with a completely lost expression.
Without even realising that he was doing it, Vitthal walked up to the screen.
Rolling his sleeves Vitthal asked “What’s up buddy? What seems to be the problem?”
The young man now looked shocked. No guest had ever spoken to him or even looked at him.
Falteringly he replied “Well...uh sir...see the screen is showing that the wave cycle set by the underground motors has some issue. While the motors are taking in a lot of power, the waves seem just the same as ever.”
Now peering at the screen, Sayli exclaimed. “Vithu are you seeing this! There seems to be a serious power imbalance here.”
Vitthal was deep in thought.
“Yes, I do see it. But what could it be? Is it that the winding coils have malfunctioned? Is it a coding error? Buddy did anything come up in the latest maintenance report for these motors?”
Completely shocked with this display of technical knowledge, the young man couldn’t help being honest.
“Well sir there has really been no maintenance in the 13 years since this ship was commissioned. We just get our audit partners to publish reports saying that the ship has taken the right maintenance measures.
“My senior told me that this is all as per Nova’s...err something ‘improved supply chain management’ process.”
Vitthal and Sayli shared a silent gaze. They had heard rumours that Nova was cutting corners on certain expenses. But for this gigantic ship to have not been properly serviced and upgraded in the last 13 years, it was like placing the passengers in a flying death trap.
Trying hard to control his rage, Vitthal spoke kindly to the young worker. “Okay buddy, take care. And uh see if you can soon find work off this ship.”
Sadly, the young man replied “That’s what I want sir.”
Without another word Sayli and Vitthal walked away from the beach, back to the worker’s exit.
In the dark corridors Sayli spoke in a hushed tone.
“Vithu, no maintenance work in 13 years! Motor coils need to be relooked in 6 months, communication relays every 2 weeks, power panels on an at least monthly basis and life support systems...a separate team needs to almost constantly monitor those. What is Nova thinking!”
Sounding frustrated, Vitthal replied. “That’s the thing Sai. They aren’t thinking.”
After silently walking through the grimy corridors for a long time, Vitthal finally asked the question that was on both their minds.
“What are we going to do about this Sai?”
This was not an easy question for the Dhombe’s to answer. Vegetables grown in greenhouse chambers were only getting costlier. Prices of housing were only becoming more unpredictable (With pressure from the construction lobby, the government had hushed up any news updates on areas that may soon be submerged. As a result, a flat worth its weight in gold today could soon have as much value as the underwater colonies of South Mumbai).
In such a world, having at a job at Nova was the only stable thing in Vitthal and Sayli’s life.
Slowly Sayli looked up at Vitthal and smiled.
“Vithu, do you remember our college training on ship communication systems and memory banks?”
Vitthal looked back at Sayli and his worried face broke into a smile. He did.
Despite everything on their mind, Sayli and Vitthal did enjoy the rest of their journey.
They walked on the Moon’s craters with an overjoyed Bhim. They tasted the various types of wine distilled on satellites around the Moon. They even enjoyed the stand-up comedy acts with comedians complaining about how their domestic staff didn’t know the recipe for Spiced Mars Chicken (though with the wages the comedians paid, the domestic staff could hardly afford a few omelettes).
In between all this, the couple carried out a small task that could have potentially huge consequences.
As the turtle-shaped Lunaire made its way back to the Earth, Sayli cuddled with Vitthal in their bedroom while Bhim played another round of Kung Fu Fighters in his room.
“You think we did the right thing?” she whispered.
“Of course we did Sai.”
In just about an hour the ship would be back on Earth. Enough time as it turned out, to find some marital bliss.
The Nova Tech company was in a fix. It had expected the ‘We make space for everyone!’ campaign to be a sixer. But it quickly had left them stumped. The PR team had excitedly shared all their video footage of the Dhombe’s with different news (That is ad) streams. But somehow after being sent, in-between the great brand footage, there were random static breaks which were filled with different confidential mails between Nova and its audit partners.
How had this happened? It seemed that the PR team had kept their memory banks in the same ship server as various other Nova communication data sets. Nova’s chief engineering team theorised that an error had caused the mails to leak into the Dhombe videos when the files were being sent. In fact, all the mails sent from the ship had confidential maintenance mails sent along as attachments.
The engineering team understood that some virus had brilliantly broken through Nova’s defence codes. But they didn’t like admitting that someone might have outsmarted them. So the virus was classified as a ‘code 3 system error’ caused by solar radiations.
Of course no one suspected that an aeronautical mechanic and a code relay checker might have outsmarted Nova’s brightest minds. It was a possibility that certainly could not be entertained.
And so quite unintentionally, the news (ad) streams had done a breaking news story. Audiences all over the globe were not too surprised to know that Nova had been doing something illegal. They found it to be quite amusing. But Ashfaq Khan, Sahil Kapoor, Tony Faude and countless other celebs were not too amused. Any of Nova’s space flights could have ended their lives.
With infinite court cases looming on the horizon, Nova’s management team quickly retired and fresh new faces were seen on the board. Faces that found the time to go through old trail mails and approve Rohini Gyami’s wages proposal.
It was just a change in a few decimals, but it meant Bhim could get a better notepad. The Dhombe’s could find a better home. And a city that still welcomed people from every corner of the world could now make space for everyone.