Greetings to New Zealand

In H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine (1895), the Morlocks represent the working class and the Elois the rich upper classes. The Eloi are clothed and fed by the Morlocks – who eat the Elois in return. The Morlocks live underground while the Elois live above the ground. Wells is describing the English countryside of the year 802,701 A.D.

The uneasy feeling that the best of SF always gives you is that it is more augury than science. And SF is still science because what it describes is not fiction but the state of things to come, whether in the near or in the distant future. Take the Elois and the Morlocks, for example. Or take the Internet billionaires on the one hand and the urban poor on the other. Better still, think of the American Internet billionaires and the urban poor in China. Think of the megacities in China to which the jobless of the countryside flock in the hope of finding work, amusement and – however fractionally & marginally – the goodies of life. China has added 500 million to its existing horde of city-dwellers in the mad rush to urbanisation over the past 35 years. There are 15 megacities in China today with a population of 10 million and more – welcome to Chongqing and Chengdu, for example.

I’m not just talking of China – just as H.G. Wells was not just talking of the English countryside. SF is always here and everywhere. We could have taken India’s example as well. The world is dividing itself into Elois and Morlocks – the prosperous, confident, burgeoning middle class in India, for example, especially the urban middle class; they are the Elois whose daughters are now in the danger of being preyed upon by the Morlocks – how awful & unfair! Yes, but not just to the Elois.

Wells belied his ‘class’ origins & loyalties, despite all his fabianism, by putting the onus of ‘cannibalism’ squarely on the shoulder of the long-suffering Morlocks. A film like Shyam Benegal’s Ankur (1974) will remind us that the wives – and naturally the daughters of the Morlocks were being preyed upon by Eloi gentlemen till the other day. So if Wells is talking about cannibalism, the Elois are – or used to be – the real cannibals, forcing the Morlock men to work themselves to death while the Elois, men as well as the women (think of the way some mistresses of some households occasionally treat their maids), well, Elois of both sexes have been using, misusing & abusing Morlock women for as long as we’ve had caste & feudalism in India.

As for the rest of the world, you’ll find billionaires buying mansions in Malibu with private beach access, unless they’ve joined the own/rent your own island craze from Fiji to the Seychelles. You’ll find private safari lodges in the middle of the African bush which are so expensive & exclusive that you’ll never come across one of your office colleagues/neighbours having a shower by pulling the string of a tilted watering can hung from a tree while giraffes play peekaboo from behind the canvas partition. And last but not least, we must not forget those palm-shaped islands they’re heaping in the Gulf for customers unlike you but with an uncanny likeness to David Beckham.

Yet even the Beckhams are not the new Elois, the coming Elois – then the new Elois will be living in villages smelling of cowdung in India; they’ll go hunting with the bushmen – armed with poisoned arrows – in the Kalahari; they and their model wives will be bringing babies into the world in the humid Amazon rainforest in natural labours where the billionaire himself will be cutting the umbilical chord with the serrated edge of a palm frond and disinfecting the wound with the secretion of a tree frog. Sound like Jungle Camp to you?

As it should, since what is happening to the rest of us – Morlocks – is that we are moving up the ladder of prosperity and acquiring comforts & amenities which were reserved for the rich and the super-rich once. We Morlocks are moving into the cities and living in labyrinths which grow upwards instead of downwards – with one common problem: there’s as little (clean) air to breathe up here as down there, while the smog can lower visibility to the same extent. No trees – that, again, should remind us Morlocks of our old habitat.

So where are the Elois? They’ve put the time machine into back gear, it seems: look at our Internet billionaire and his model wife in fig leaves asking a modern day Lucas Cranach to take a selfie of the two of them dressed (or undressed) like Adam and Eve while Ukrainian watchmen wearing bling-bling & kalashnikovs guard the state-of-the-art Garden of Eden. The snake has been conveniently left behind in Australia, where they are used to such things.

The billionaire and his model wife have just bought the South Island, New Zealand, and kept only the sheep.