Enter the altklug

Ambika Shaligram
Thursday, 7 June 2018

Manjiri Prabhu talks about her dystopian novel, Revolt of the Lamebren, which is going to be launched on June 9

Manjiri Prabhu’s love for stray dogs and the way people around her reacted to them helped her pen a new dystopian world, ‘altklug’. Prabhu, who’s hosting a private launch of her new book, Revolt of the Lamebren on June 9, says that with this, she is stepping into a new domain. “I have written cosy mysteries so far. But Revolt of the Lamebren is different in many ways. It is the first time that I have written a dystopian — a futuristic reality — novel. With this book, I am also being published by Readomania, which is relatively a new publishing house,” says Prabhu. 

The Revolt of the Lamebren is the first of a trilogy series called The Super Dome Chronicles. 

Prabhu, who hasn’t read much of the dystopian genre, except for Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and George Orwell’s 1984, says, “What I have written in Revolt of the Lamebren is a reverse image of the world that we are living in. In our world, a dog’s one year is equivalent to seven human years. In Revolt... I have written about ‘altklug’ world. Its people are called ‘altkluger’. One altkluger’s year is equal to our 6.25 years. When a child turns one in altklug, s/he knows five-six languages. In second year, s/he starts going to school, from third year, s/he starts working. By the time s/he is 16, the lives that we lead till 100, are covered. So in altklug, everyone automatically dies at the age of 16. If they don’t, they are sent to dissolution crypts. If in this world, somebody like us is born, they will be treated as retards.” 

Zinnia, the heroine of Revolt..., is a flawed person, born in the perfect altklug world. “Some human beings harm stray dogs because they think that the animals have no right to live. I remember one incident from about 15-20 years ago. My mum and I used to take care of strays. One day, a van came to pick up a pregnant stray; she was thrown in the van. When I heard her squealing, I rushed out to see what had happened. I noticed a little boy watching all this gleefully, enjoying the plight of the dog. At that moment, I thought, ‘this boy is just a lump of flesh’. The boy’s behaviour gave me an insight into the future — this is what we are going to be like, devoid of empathy and sensitivity. Similarly, Zinnia and people like her are treated as nuisance and a threat to the altklug world,” explains Prabhu, founder-director of Pune International Literary Festival. 

The first part of the series deals with Zinnia and her group of friends, who are sent to dissolution crypts, with a termination date (the date on which they have to die). If Zinnia has to undo this termination date, she has to revolt.

While writing this book, Prabhu said that she had to do a lot of research, because she is not a science person. “I got the information about technological advancements 50 and 100 years from now from the internet. But to convert all the data, inputs into a novel was difficult. I had to do a balancing act between knowledge and imagination, especially when I believed that the fantasy could one day become a reality,” she said.

Besides getting the science and technology details right, Prabhu also had to coin new terms, because according to her, when you are writing a dystopian novel, you have to forget your present completely. Says she, “You have to forget (pointing) that ‘this is a plate’, or ‘this is a mug’. In my book, the trains are called ‘rattlers’, forests are called ‘The snarls’, buses are referred to as ‘charabanc’.  Lame brain children are called ‘lamebren’; Lame brain boy is called ‘Lamebroy’ and a Lame brain girl is called ‘Lamebirl’.” 

The writer of The Trail of Four, Astral Alibi also informs that even though the protagonists of the book are children, she wouldn’t recommend it to them. “The book is very gruesome, abusive and not suitable for children. Revolt...talks about baser human tendencies about cruelty, blackmail, fake lives, rape and murder. I don’t want children to read it,” she adds. 

Considering that the book is dark, how did she feel when she was penning it? Prabhu replies, “It was a difficult book to write. But I believe that we are creatures of dark existence. To bring light into our lives, we have to work at it. That’s why we are into spirituality, yoga, helping old people, looking after dogs etc. These acts will help us become enlightened.” 

After the dystopian novel is released, Prabhu will go back to her familiar turf. Her second book in the ‘destination series’ — Voice of the Runes — will be launched at the PILF. 

“Re, the investigative journalist, and the hero of The Trail of Four book, goes to Sweden, where the Rune stones mystery beckons him. I am still writing it. Hopefully, the book or at least the cover launch will take place during PILF, which will be held on September 28, 29 and 30 this year,” she says. 

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