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BW Businessworld

A Sci-Fi Take On India 2047

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Ian Mcdonald has created a future out of India that many of us cannot imagine even in our wildest dreams. Cyberabad Days, a collection of seven stories, is a triumph for showing what a scientifically advanced subcontinent would become: each faith, caste and creed could control its own destiny and be its own nation. Speedy growth of technology allows factions to create their own city states, destroying the Union.

The story picks up at a time when a war is raging between city states, with people fighting to control natural resources. In this period, Indians are as plastic as they can get; they prefer protein chips to drive them forward rather than reasoning on their own.

Hinduism comes out as a strong metaphor in the book. In McDonald's new world, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, where certain robots have special skills, while some just aspire to be like others. This theme is well used in the story, ‘Vishnu at the cat circus'. Here, a ‘brahmin robot' feels left behind when he finds out that the last remnant feature of human behaviour has disappeared because of technology. In the chapter ‘Eligible Boy', the author explores how men are now using technology to attract mates. This is captured in how online marriage portals are just making life simpler and easier to find mates, but the idea behind the whole thing is to make one sound the best for the prospective bride or groom.

McDonald is not as simple as Asimov, and his narration is complex. Those who do not have the patience to put up with the author's imagination will certainly feel they are wasting time. This book is only for those who want to imagine a "brave new world" of the subcontinent, and for those who can put in context Indian sensibilities to future trends.

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 07-12-2009)