It is the 11th today, and March 17 happens to be her date of birth. She twisted her wrist-watch band and then read the date tattooed on her skin underneath – March 17, 2050. This was her date of birth. Then she read No. 653. This was her birth number.
She worked at the Population Control Department of the City Municipality, specializing in keeping records on women’s birth charts and life programs. She was aware of the number of women who were ready for pregnancy in all the regions of the nation. She knew exactly where these women worked and what they were involved in. Additionally, she also knew that men’s records were also similarly maintained. And that her counterpart in that department would also know how many infertile men there were in the nation. The government had total control over childbirth and reproduction because she herself was given life as a result of this predetermined nationwide program.
The family planning laboratory at the Health Department had by now secured an ample supply of male sperm which were safely preserved for the government’s program. In a temperature controlled room, male sperms were stored in millions of bottles, predestined to create future farmers, doctors, scientists and the likes. With scientific efficiency, researchers controlled every aspect of human life related to birth and population. Only one goal remained unmet. And that was the development of an artificial womb.
Therefore, every year, 1200 hundred fertile women were created with the sole purpose of eventually removing and preserving their naturally given wombs. The government had begun taking the necessary steps towards this objective during the end of the 20th century, especially since women then had already begun demanding for equal rights. In order to free themselves from the agony of pregnancy and childbirth and to allow them just as equal opportunities as men, a new legislation had been passed by the parliament allowing for this long-term project to move forward. As a result, the government had been compelled to bring artificial pregnancy and childbirth under its control. This move had brought a rising population and its resulting economic crises under control.
A 25-Year Plan that began at the start of the 21st century had by now more or less been successfully completed. Researchers had now projected that, in the next 25 years, they will have succeeded in their plans to tackle the issue of deficiency in both pregnancy and artificial reproduction of the womb.
Among the current fortunate (or unfortunate in her own words) 1200 women, Maya was numbered 653. The date to remove her womb had been determined. Only seven days remain. But…
A strange feeling had engulfed her in recent days. Whenever she inadvertently came in physical contact with a man in a crowded theater or a cafeteria, she experienced a tingling sensation. She preferred to hear him say, “Can I take you out for a date?” instead of, “I am sorry.” Yet, many months had already gone by and she continued to wait for that right man to ask her out on a date.
She looked at her wrist-watch. It was 1640 HRS (Military Standard Time). She had to be at the hospital by 1900 HRS. She was worried. Is she going to be just an ordinary citizen without ever fulfilling her naturally endowed womanhood? The selected and lucky (or unlucky like her) 1200 women are so far complete as women, with herself being the 653rd among them. One in this group will be made barren artificially on March 17.
It was 2000 hours when she left the hospital. In her handbag, she had a copy of the report from the doctor and a complete itinerary of her daily activities for the coming week. She had also been granted a month-long leave—the first week assigned for her health and well-being before the surgery, the second for the surgery itself, the third for rest and recuperation and the fourth for recreation and leisure. She was worried most about the first week.
Under the street-lamp she read the doctor’s prescription note. Written on it was a list of activities she had to avoid before the surgery: Actions that can stimulate and arouse, over-eating, consumption of alcoholic beverages, physically strenuous activities, mental and emotional worries.
She laughed when she read about mental and emotional worries. As if they depended on man’s own desire. She folded the note and placed it back in her hand-bag. She then went into a nearby café. When she ordered coffee, a woman standing next to her looked at her and softly said, “Why did you order coffee? Has the doctor also barred you from drinking alcoholic beverages?”
“Didn’t I see you earlier at the health clinic?”
“Do you then also belong to the unfortunate 1200?”
This one question had the explosive power of a hydrogen bomb, simultaneously pounding at her heart with ripples of amazement, intimacy and empathy. Maya’s eyes began to shine with a bright glow, and her silence itself answered what her questioner wanted to know.
“653 March 2050. And yours?’
“342, February 28, 2050. That makes me older than you. Your elder-sister (didi).”
The word just escaped Maya’s lips—with a blend of curiosity, love and joy. After a sip of coffee, Maya asked, “So, you are now on vacation following the surgery?’
“Yes, but I did not desire to leave this city and go elsewhere. I guess you have yet to undergo the surgery yourself?”
Maya’s face expressed her agony.
“Have you had the experience of womanhood?’
Maya felt alarmed by the casualness of this question. Didi brushed aside this question and said, “I am Eliza. If you have the time, why don’t we take a walk in the park?”
Both went out. They sat on a bench and Eliza said, “Until a month ago, I used to feel a sweet tingling sensation in my mind whenever I sat here in this park and watched the moon and stars. Perhaps the same way you may be feeling these days.” Then she clasped Maya’s hand and squeezed it gently.
Eliza explained how she had sought out a complete man. How her quest had ended up a failure. And how, from the inner core of her soul, she had mentally cursed this society for its restrictions, domination and control over all. She explained how, after being unsuccessful in her quest every day, she would pray to God that, in her next life, she is born in a country where women were women and men were men.
She asked Maya where she worked. And added she worked at the museum of the Department of Peace compiling events from the past. She explained how she had found books from the 19th and 20th century and read about how women were veiled (purdah) until they eventually married men and began a family and a household of their own. She mentioned how difficult it had been for her to comprehend words such as veil (purdah), marriage and household. She then explained the meanings of all the three words to Maya. She said that during those days men were responsible for providing the financial support for the family while women were to manage the household with the funds provided to them by their men.
“Do you know Maya that during those times women carried and nurtured their babies in their own wombs? And then gave birth to their children in their own homes?”
Maya felt like she was hearing a utopian story about the lives of celestial and mythical Gods and Goddesses.
Eliza continued, “What I found most amazing was that during those days men were given wages for cohabitating with women. There was no dread or fear like now…”
Maya found herself in a dream-land where she did not have to go to have her ovaries surgically removed in seven days—where women became men’s wives, partner, and a distinct individual. Her ears were unable to hear the rest of what Eliza was saying.
Eliza was saying, “I felt a strange sensation when I saw my own body’s part alive and moving inside a glass jar. In a month’s time, my first son will be arriving, a son whose arrival will cause no agony or pain or even feelings of love for the mother. A son, whose own mother, has no knowledge about the child’s father. I….Maya, you are also like me…”
Nearly three months later, Maya’s request was granted and she was given permission to look at the child conceived from her extracted womb. The baby’s number was 11478, June 20, 2070.
She was walking along the verandah of the infirmary of the hospital at around 1400 hours. Along with her was a doctor who was going to identify her child for her.
“This way, Ms. Maya, let us first clean and disinfect you. We ourselves do not go near the child without first getting cleaned and disinfected.”
Maya was made to stand up under a large electric lamp after which the doctor switched on the lights. A strange illumination covered her body entirely. The doctor then gave Maya an apron to wear and said, “We do not want the child to ever remember seeing a new figure of a person other than the nurse.”
Maya felt no significant emotion upon seeing the child. She felt like she was only watching a regular documentary of a baby in a maternity hospital. Just as plump, just as similar in looks. The lines from the commentary began to automatically repeat in her mind – “You have the need for “Glaxo” to develop.”
She asked all of a sudden, “Is it possible to look at his documents, doctor?”
“Why not, come.”
Maya read –
1. Birth – June 20, 2000, 1800 hours, 47 minutes, 33 seconds.
2. Place – Government Maternity Hospital No. 653
3. Number – 11478
4. Bed Number – 653
5. Serial Number – 827
6. Name – Spike
7. Life – Program Outline
a) Engineer – Solar – Heat – Electricity Curator.
b) District No. 10 – Section 553.
c) In place of Number 9786, June – 20, 2010.
d) Date: June 20, 2090.
e) End Date – June 20, 2130.
Maya knew what the End meant – she worked at the Population Control Department after all.
“Thank you, doctor.”
Maya came out, feeling inexplicably disgusted at herself, her society, the history of the society and the future of the history as far as she could envision.
(Translated by Deep Lamichhane)
(The translator’s note: My father Shankar Lamichhane wrote this science-fiction more than half a century ago, very soon after he had read George Orwell’s “1984”. Therefore, there are similarities between Orwell’s “1984” and Lamichhane’s “Maya 653”. Both the stories are based on a futuristic society that is totally state-controlled and citizens have no rights to make their own decisions in every aspect that affects their daily lives. The basic concept of a futuristic state-controlled society may not be Lamichhane’s original, but “Maya # 653” should definitely qualify him as the first futuristic science-fiction writer in Nepali language).