Pyoli Swatija was born in Mumbai on 29 August, 1984. She started with poems and stories at the age of eight, though now she prefers writing prose. Her poems, articles and stories in Hindi and English have appeared in children's magazines like Chakmak and Balvigyan patrika.
Pyoli also loves acting and has been in one-act plays, street plays, etc. She also likes to dance and has learned Bharatnatyam for seven years. Pyoli has finished studying Physics at Miranda House in Delhi University and is a social activist.
Here we present a new short story by Pyoli - a provocative commentary on a possible future for India: Where have all the girls gone? Scroll down to read the story.
Where Have All The Girls Gone?
Shireen pushed the red button and got ready to take off her helmet. She struggled with it in a while but then decided against it. “Use some logic woman”, she told herself, “you are just about the enter the India of 2426. God knows what those fools have done with the country in the past 400 years. I bet the air is full of toxicants. So keep wearing your helmet if you don’t want to be choked to death.” She got up from her seat, said her prayers and left the time-machine with a curious mind and a fluttering heart.
She wanted to mingle in the crowd as soon as possible. She would have definitely have some answering to do if someone realised that she was from a different era. The evening was much prettier than she had imagined it to be. There were numerous trees along the street and they were swaying gently as a pleasant breeze blew. She tentatively pulled off her helmet, shook her long hair and smiled to herself. So the people did come to their senses and started doing their bit towards the environment.
After ten minutes or so she saw four men coming towards her. They were arguing heatedly about some thing. She caught random words like “You know she was mine for the day” … “I have her registration number with the date copied down in my diary” … “Well, I didn’t know it then so, it doesn’t count as an offence, does it?”
The men saw her and suddenly came to a halt. They appeared as if they could not believe their eyes. The tallest one came forward and demanded, “Where’s your ‘RC’ woman?” Shireen was taken aback by the brutality of his voice and the awkward question.
“I beg your pardon?” she said.
“That you might as well do. Show me your registration card and make it fast!”
“Do citizens need to have registration cards now?” she found herself saying.
“What are you, a moron?” the second one said.
“Use your senses Ramesh”, the shortest one said, “all women are morons.”
All four of them started laughing like hyenas at this. Shireen started shaking with outrage but tried to calm herself down. Trying hard not to loose control she told the men that she had lost her ‘RC’ and could they please tell her where to find someone of authority. They said they’ll do better and take her where she belonged.
Shireen had a thousand questions in her mind as she went along with them. It is not as if she had given in silently. She had kicked and shouted but all the men that she encountered on the way just looked at her with expressions of great curiosity and went on their own way. There was not a single woman to be seen on the street. She could not contain herself after some time and addressed the tallest man who seemed to be the leader. “Where have all the girls gone?” she asked. He looked at her with an incredulous expression and then said, “You’ll soon know.”
Shireen had been trying sitting in that room, staring at he wall for four hours now. It wouldn’t take a genius to guess that she was in state of shock.
She had been brought to this big building by the men around 6 hours ago. The building was divided into cells. Each cell had five women residing in it. Her loud, frequent and some times incoherent questions were finally answered by one of her cellmates – Sita. Sita told her all that she needed to know. The jigsaw puzzle started to take a shape and Shireen was appalled by it. Girls in India had been declining at an alarming rate in the past 400 years as a result of female foeticide. “Females have now become a rare species”, Sita told her with a sardonic smile. As a result of it all they were now reduced to nothing but ‘reproductory machines’ to carry on the human population and ‘sex objects’ to give men pleasure once in a while. They lived in closed quarters, each girl was given a registration number as soon as she was born. Girls started earning their right to live as soon as they reached puberty. They were not educated, not trained for jobs, not allowed to dream and lived under inhuman conditions – simply because they were not considered human any more. Lengthy tables were maintained with names of adult men along with different registration names of adult men and the girl bearing that number had to sleep with that man for the night.
“Weren’t there any protests by women?” Shireen asked her feebly. “Oh, sure there were but they were jailed and sentenced to severe punishments under ‘law’. Their voice was silenced by establishment. Can’t you get it, we are not considered ‘citizens’ anymore. We are conditioned to think that we are mere slaves of the males.”
“I recognised you as soon as I saw you”, Sita said. “I knew you were from the past by your appalled expression. People like you have come also, claiming to have come from the past. None of them got back though. Some ended up in the jail for taking the side of the justice and some men thought it was more profitable to adjust in the present condition. You see, as women are not allowed to work, they are forever short of labour, so they can not allow any extra pair of hands to go away. You being woman have absolutely no chance of escape.”
Shireen tried telling herself that it was all a nightmare. Her past life swam before her eyes as she sat there staring at the wall. She had always been a brilliant student dedicated towards her goal. Winning a Nobel prize at the age of 35 did not satisfy her. She went on to make the first time machine in the world. Life outside her lab was meaningless to her. She was on a quest to gain knowledge and didn’t care for the worldly things. One sign seemed to stand apart as events rushed by on the kaleidoscope from the past. The sign said “Rosemary clinic”. This so called clinic performed sex-determination of the foetus and made a fortune out of abortion cases. She had herself cursed the women groups she called ‘feminist fanatics’ who had ‘sit-ins’ in front of the clinic and shouted slogans. They disturbed her work. “What business did they have shouting slogans if someone wanted to know their child’s gender, she had asked herself irritated. Didn’t they have better things to do?
Now, sitting in the cell all alone by herself, she was prodded again and again by a voice back in her mind, that grew stronger as the time passed. “You should have been marching on the streets instead of working in the lab. You should have raised your voice against the inhuman practice. You are also to blame Shireen, you are a culprit too – for not protesting against the evil. This is the legacy you helped prepare for the future generations. You have humanity to answer to.”