Author: Mandira Pattnaik

First time it felt like a huge soap bubble had released at the nape of my neck, and, rising to the cerebrum, burst in slow motion, into pixelated colors—an unspecified shade of purple dominating an array of pinks and crimsons. My head had throbbed with all the electrical impulses it could collect—sugar rush of a candy; thrill of telling a lie; chill of first snow…even the static despondency of a leisurely falling leaf.
I made each second of the two hours of cathartic release from the bondage of the App avatar of my Code Master, count.
Then I put on the wired mesh that covered my eyes and ears. The transparent head mask extended to the cerebrum and Code Master took control of me for the rest of the week, bombarding me with orders and directions as I negotiated the lanes of old Delhi, behind Qutb Minar; a lunch packet, warm and ready for delivery, in the box fitted to my bright yellow Lambretta.
Most days, my dazzling orange bodysuit and purple cap marked a conspicuous getaway in the swarming traffic; through daring pedestrians; and motorists attempting death-defying stunts.
The memory of the second time is not as clear. I binge watched Television, croaked with the frogs in the puddle when it rained suddenly, then ate alone—a cup of reheated noodles.
On a typical workday, Code Master barked a slew of new orders, punctuated by increasingly abusive slurs. I made calls to the next customers; thumbed messages, then kick-started the old Lambretta, swerved into alleys behind Rajiv Chowk. On special days, I ran into pompous wedding processions displaying filthy wealth. Under the hot afternoon sun, and balmy air, they made a song and a dance about another sacrifice—at the altar of fleeting happiness-es!
I smirked. Lucky them—slaves of humans than androids!
I began to like the orders barked at me. Being slaves of Androids is not that bad. The unachievable targets spurred me on; the abuses egged me to be even more reckless on the roads and onto better ratings.
At the beginning of the fresh week, I waited intently for Code Master’s malevolent voice. My approval ratings were high, time after time.
I earned a two-minute increase in Drop Time last, which I celebrated with a rumble in the sack with my lady.
Would you like to be in my place?
The Drop Time has stayed at two plus two, two years on; though they aren’t the same anymore. I try hard to squeeze too much into too little. I scramble and fail; I cry. I fiddle with the wire mesh, waiting to put it back. It blinks at me all this while, counting down.
At Time minus ten, I laugh villainously (it’s a reprieve), then wait for the walls of the empty room to reverberate with the unworldly sounds. I oscillate between megapixel hallucinations and a numb, manufactured, necrosis. I am scared to take my two plus two. It means a void without the bondage of Code Master.
Drop Time means staring at the blank walls; my mind like one. No more bursts of pansies; no more frog croaks; my lady left me for the intelligent cab driver! Take me back, I implore Code Master.
Digital bondage makes me super-human (or, is it semi-human?).