Every inventor has a dream that is bigger than himself – a dream that would be the consummation of his career. An invention that would make them, redeeming the years of their life that were spent trying to make it. For Ravi, it was what he called the Human Transformation Project.
The name happens to be somewhat bland, but that is because he didn’t have the time to even come up with a better name, for his time was almost entirely spent working on this project.
It was a machine that would allow a human to transform into another – completely. An ugly woman would be able to transform into the most celebrated model. A dying patient who is beyond medical help can transform into a healthy person. To design a human body from scratch is a stupendous, nearly impossible task. But to use an existing DNA blueprint to build one is relatively simpler. That was the key rationale behind his human transformation project – a principle that most scientists of the day had come to accept.
But it had never worked. It was as if there was an invisible barrier that prevented the transformation from being completed. In all of his experiments with monkeys, rabbits, pigs and mice, the output was perfect except for a single flaw – the resulting body was lifeless. The machine failed in porting life to the new body it created for the subject. Between the two bodies, a life was lost.
Ravi had never tried his machine on a human. But he had sacrificed over a dozen lives on the altar of his ambition, and this did not come without a price. With his pure Brahminical upbringing, he genuinely considered all life as sacred. To him, they were members of his team working on the same mission as himself, and not expendable test subjects. Each life lost is a comrade lost on the line of duty and he could never forgive himself for having allowed it, much less for being the sole cause for it.
Though his was a one-man project, the human cost of his work went well beyond himself. Married and with two kids, he hardly spent any time with his family. His wife, Amala, was a true paragon of virtue – an ideal wife who never complained, who made her husband’s dream her own, and supported him in his endeavor as a true sahadharmini (a wife who aids in carrying out dharma/duty).
Their elder child was Priya, a six year old girl who held the promise of one day surpassing her father. Learning came naturally to her, and so she had to study very little to stay at the top of her class. She spent much of her time following her father, watching him at work. Her parents took it for an interest in science, but it might have been just a little girl trying to get more of her father’s company in any way that she can.
She watched closely how her father devoted himself fully to his work, how carefully he did his calculations before an experiment, how nervously he awaited the results, how heartbroken he would be in the case of a failure, how respectfully he gave the lost life a proper burial, how earnestly he prayed for its soul, how he would open up when confessing another failure to his wife, and how she would comfort him and give him a fresh lease of life and inspiration with her kind words. Her little eyes could see what her father missed in spite of his thick glasses, that every lease of life that her mother gave was a slice from her own, that while she encouraged her husband to push further with his dream, it pained her immensely to see him burn himself out on a project that had already taken a heavy toll on his health and wellness.
They had everything they needed. He was already an acclaimed scientist and had been offered the most coveted positions in top organizations. They had enough money to live even if he stopped working. After all, he pumped more money into his research than it would take them to live comfortably for the rest of their lives. But she couldn’t bring herself to ask him to give up his dream. This project meant so much to him. It was the keystone around which he had built his entire life, and pulling it out might bring everything down crumbling. She could only wish that the God her husband had so much faith in would guide him out of the darkness he seemed to be lost in.
One day, he worked late and slept in his lab as he used to on busy days. Next morning, his wife woke him up with his habitual cup of tea. Sipping his tea thoughtfully, he exchanged a few words with his wife without smiling or looking up from the screen of his computer that had been running some calculations through the night. Then, shaking off his thoughts with a sigh, he made his way to his room to take a bath. He was surprised to see his wife there, tidying up his desk. “How did you get here?”, he exclaimed. “What do you mean?”, she asked looking even more alarmed at his question.
He did not answer. “Looks like you had a tiring night. I’ll get your tea in a minute”, she continued, noticing that he was absorbed in thought. At those words, he froze. Gathering his wits and breath, he ran towards his lab without uttering a word; Amala ran behind him. On reaching the lab, she saw him stare at the transformation machine with his jaw dropped in awe. “Who… who used this machine? Who triggered the transformation?”, he struggled to bring those sounds out of his throat.
“Where’s Priya?”, asked Ravi who looked clearly disturbed by now.
“Wasn’t she with you in the lab last night? I came here expecting to find her asleep on the sofa. What is wrong?”. By now, Amala was equally worried. Either her husband is acting strange, or something has happened to her daughter. She did not know which to hope for.
As they both tried to make sense of the situation, the answer made an appearance through the door. Amala walked into the room to the shock of Amala who was already in the room. To Ravi, it was like a confirmation of what he had already anticipated. It was just as he had feared, but he did not know how to face it. He was looking at the success of his dream project, but could not be happy about it. All he could think of was his daughter whom he suddenly began to miss. By now, Amala had also formed an idea of what had happened, and she sunk into the sofa behind her without taking her eyes off her other self.
Ravi ran up to the Amala at the door and shook her by the shoulders. “What have you done, my little girl?”, he murmured. Priya, who had been transformed into Amala, broke into tears as her father hugged her tight. “I only wanted to have those chats with you like mother has over your morning team”, said she in a voice that was stifled by grief.
“What have I done?”, he thought. “When my daughter wanted my time, when she followed me around silently and patiently seeking no more than an occasional conversation, even which was rare to come, I paid her no attention and devoted myself to my scientific pursuit. Now, when my efforts have finally been fruitful and I know that my invention works, I can only cry at the loss of my daughter”.
“I enjoyed our chat this morning. Now you can turn me back?”, she asked innocently. But how could he? He had the genetic profile of her wife stored in the machine along with a few other samples. His daughter would have found that while browsing his computer and used it to effect a transformation. But he had not profiled her daughter, and so had no way to turn her back. Even if he had that information, there was no guarantee that the transformation would be successful. It had never worked before, and he could not count on it to work again. Last night might have been a one-off success resulting from a rare coincidence of factors that he was not even aware of. The transformation that he had so eagerly awaited, but was now desperate to reverse, seemed permanent and incurable.
Helplessly, he dropped on the ground and wailed, restraining tears within his closed eyes. He prayed to God that a path be opened before him by which he could return everything to how they were before, as they should be. He felt the comforting touch of Amala’s hand on his cheeks and grasped it firmly as he opened his eyes. Daylight entering through the parted curtains of the window blinded his sight, but it gifted him with a reassuring revelation. He smiled, but could still feel warm tears running down his cheeks. These could be tears of joy.
Without rising or opening his eyes, he firmly embraced his six year old daughter who had fallen asleep beside him last night. Lifting her in his arms, he rose from the sofa and looked at the machine that was in exactly the same state that he had left it the previous day. As he turned to his wife smiling, she looked at his bright face and asked, “Did it work? Has it been successful?”.
“Well, yes, and no”, he said jovially. “The machine has not made any progress beyond what you already know, but it has shown me what is most important for me, helped me understand my priorities. It has guided me find myself in the darkness and unearthed what I truly care for in the depths of my heart. In that sense, it may be said that the human transformation project has been more successful than even I had ever dreamed”. She would not be able to make any sense of his words until much later, but she was happy to be in the company of the man she had always loved.
- Based on a true dream!
- Reading this again, I can see that the underlying theme is related to the story of Midas of the Golden Touch.