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A Deal with Destiny – Subodh Jawadekar

Apr 9, 2021 | Fiction, Front And Center | 0 comments

Translated from the Marathi by Vidyut Aklujkar and Muktak Aklujkar

“Our baby has to have curly hair, ok?” Sajani said while she rubbed her head onto Aadit’s chest.
“And grey eyes,” said Aadit.
“Oh no, no way!” Sajani tapped him on his cheek playfullly. “Grey eyes look really bad on black-skinned people.”
“But she shouldn’t turn out black-skinned anyway. I want her to be fair-skinned. Like you.” Aadit cupped her face in his palms and gazed into her eyes as he spoke.

“She? So you want a girl? Oh no! We don’t want a baby girl. A boy! I want a BOY!”
“Why, my queen? Why not a girl? You don’t want a cute little darling girl?”
“No, I don’t. I only want a boy. With a straight, prominent nose. Tall. Tough. Like you.
“Then he’ll turn out black, like me.” He played with her hair as he spoke. “Agreed?”
“Yes, agreed. By the way, you’re not exactly black, OK? You’re brown.”

“All right, fine, Your Majesty. If you insist on a boy, it’s a boy. At least I would like him to be fair-skinned with grey eyes.”
“Fair? Yu-uck! A man only looks good with brown skin. And absolutely no grey eyes. I want black. Jet-black.”
“Don’t you want anything more?”
“Of course I do. I want him tall – height at least five feet ten inches. And clever. Intelligent. I.Q. around 140. And interested in music.”

“Oh boy! So many specifications! When you chose your husband, did you also fill out such a three-page spec-sheet?
“I’m afraid I didn’t. And so I got stuck with a specimen like you!” Sajani teased him.
“Fine, fine. You are so clever! I don’t mind daydreaming. But in reality, our baby will arrive with whichever features of yours and mine it inherits. Whatever Destiny decides to toss our way, we’ll just have to be content with it, right? I can accept that. In the end, it will be our baby. Ours.” He touched his lips to hers as he spoke.
“But I won’t accept that, OK? That’s what I’m trying to tell you. Didn’t you read the advertisement in yesterday’s paper?” She made a futile effort to escape his embrace as she spoke.

“Which ad? How come I didn’t see it?”
“Here it is. I saved the clipping.” Saying this, Sajani put a clipping in Aadit’s hand. Aadit read it and he quickly sat up. The advertisement was very short. Three lines.

“Your unborn baby’s nose and eyes, body type, and mental inclinations can be decided by you. Pick out your embryo’s features with help from genetic engineering. Reprogenetic International Limited. Phone no. 022-21123456/21123457.”

“Sajani, what’s going on here? I think it must be some kind of scam.”
“No scam at all. In other countries, these days, lots of people take advantage of genetic engineering to choose their baby’s skin and attributes before it’s born. It’s quite common. I’ve read about it, OK?”
“Yes, dear, but here? In Mumbai? How can you be sure this isn’t some kind of fraud?”
“No, Aadit. This is absolutely not fraud. I telephoned them and asked for all of their credentials. Then I telephoned the references that they gave me and made my own inquiries. And I did a lot of internet research. It all looks genuine to me. You can talk to them yourself. Only if you feel sure, then we can go ahead.”
“OK, but our baby will get our skin or attributes anyway. And if every feature isn’t exactly what we would like, what’s the big deal? Why should we go for this pointless scheme?”

“Look, Aadit. If we can’t control an outcome, don’t we accept it? Of course we accept it as our destiny. But science today has brought this opportunity to our fingertips. Why not take advantage of it?” The special tone that women use to ‘persuade’ their husbands was in Sajani’s voice now.
“So you are serious?” Aadit was melting now. “Do you really feel so strongly that our child should be exactly as we choose? Every last feature?”
“Yes, Aadit. I want to have a son exactly like you. Dark, brown-skinned, with jet-black eyes, curly hair. Tall and clever. So I am ready to do anything for it. No matter how much money it costs, we have to get exactly the child that I want.”


“Didi, I don’t think what you’re doing is right.” Suhaani brought up the subject the next evening over dinner.
“What are we not doing right?” A frown appeared on Sajani’s forehead.
“You understand perfectly what I’m saying. What you told me this afternoon is what I’m talking about.”
“So why didn’t you speak up right then?”
“I wanted to talk to both of you at the same time, that’s why. That’s why I waited until Jiju was here to bring up this subject.”

“What do you want to say to us?” Aadit asked. This just-grown girl’s lecturing them was not to his liking either.
“Just that this crazy idea you have, that you can choose features as you like and give birth to a child with that skin and those attributes, is entirely misguided.”

Sajani fell silent, while Aadit said, “Look, Suhaani, this topic … this matter is our …”
“Yes, Jiju, I understand that.” Suhaani cut him off midway and said, “This is your private matter. But you don’t realize how much risk you take on by doing this. That’s why I have to intervene.”

“Suhaani, you are still …” Sajani tried to suppress her.
“Didi, while I’m younger than you, I have an M.Sc. in Biochemistry, so at least keep that in mind. Your intention to use genetic engineering to give your baby whatever features you want is just not ethical. Get this nonsense out of your heads – that’s all I want to tell you.”

“Suhaani, that’s enough now!” Sajani raised her voice, “Genetic engineering is not a crazy idea. In technologically advanced countries of the world today, so many children are born using genetic engineering – you don’t know that?”

“Didi, which are these ‘technologically advanced’ countries?” Suhaani calmly asked. “The U.K. and the U.S.A. still don’t permit these practices, you know that, right? In Germany and Sweden this technology used to create babies only in a few exceptional cases. It’s true that in some Scandinavian and South American countries, human genetic engineering is not against the law. Still, this technology has not been universally adopted.”

“Suhaani, even in India a couple of treatments like these have been successful,” said Aadit. At Sajani’s insistence, he had skimmed the pamphlet from Reprogenetic International.
“What does ‘successful’ mean, Jiju? It means that the children’s eye colour and hair colour became what their parents asked for, that’s all, right?
“It’s not limited to that. Those children are absolutely, entirely free of disease. Not only that, compared to other children they are more intelligent.”

Suhani shrugged her shoulders. “Cool, Jiju. The children born in India by this process are still very young. Barely three years old. In fact, none of the children born by means of genetic engineering anywhere in the world are even adolescent yet. I admit that there are neither physical nor psychological defects in them as of today. But whether this practice has any long-term effects or not, no one knows. Don’t you think that by trusting this technology, we are being too hasty? I think this is tampering with nature. Honestly.”

Aadit and Sajani were quiet for a moment. Then Aadit said,
“A world-renowned company like Reprogenetic International is making this technology available to us.”
Suhani smiled and said,
“Jiju, that’s the scam. Reprogenetic International, this American company that won’t do treatments in their own country – why is it doing treatments in our country?”
“What are you trying to say?” Aadit was a little uneasy now.
“It’s simple. They are using people in our country as guinea pigs.”
“Say what? Suhaani, do you even understand what you’re talking about?” Sajani challenged her.
“I understand very well. You’re the one letting them pull the wool over your eyes. Didi, have you even tried to comprehend what this genetic engineering process involves?”
“Yes, I have, sure,” Sajani said, “From the fertilized egg’s chromosomes, the unwanted gene is removed and the chosen gene is added. Then later that gene’s effects appear in the embryo. Isn’t that correct?”
“Generally correct. But that’s not all it is. And it’s not as easy as you think. Genes are very small. Extremely fine-tuned. It’s not like a string of beads from which you can easily remove some beads and add others, Didi.”

Not knowing what to say, Sajani just stared at her.
“Compared to the narrowest microinjection needle, genes are a hundred thousand times smaller. We cannot routinely or casually add them to a cell, nor remove them.”
“So what?”
“One has to make use of a virus to do it.”
“A virus? Oh my!” Sajani bristled
“That is not such a big deal. Don’t worry about it. There is no chance that the kind of virus that is used for this will cause disease in fetal cells.” Suhaani reassured her. “But the real problem is quite different. Genes are so subtle that when the unwanted gene is removed and the one you want is added, there is a very big probability of accidents. That’s what really worries me.”

“Suhaani, let’s do this,” Aadit said. “Tomorrow, we’re going to Reprogenetic’s office. Come with us. Whatever concerns you may have, ask them. Of course, we have our questions too. If we’re fully satisfied, only then we’ll proceed. Is that fine?”
“Yes, Jiju.” Suhaani nodded. “That’s fine. I’ll go with you.”

The very next day, the three of them went to Reprogenetic’s office.
They did not have to wait for long. Soon Dr. Jaajoo called them in.
The doctor was young. He looked like an intern fresh out of medical school. But his personality was quite attractive.
Aadit introduced himself and Sajani.
“Welcome,” The doctor greeted the three of them. Then, looking at Suhaani, he asked, “Who is this lady?”
“This is my sister-in-law Suhaani, Sajani’s sister who lives with us. She’s doing her Ph.D. in Biochemistry. She has more questions than we do. So we brought her along.”

The doctor hesitated a little, then smiled and said, “That’s fine. We don’t normally talk to anyone other than our client. But no problem. Our policy is complete customer satisfaction. If she has questions, she can ask.” Suhaani’s loveliness might have impressed him.
“I suppose you have given the reports, which we asked you to bring, to the receptionist?”
“Yes, yes. All of them.”
“That’s fine, we’ll review them later. Our meeting today is to address your concerns. Mr. Jamenis, whatever concerns you have, please do ask. And you too, if you have anything to ask, you can ask me.” He glanced sidelong at Suhaani, storing her beauty in his eyes.”

“Will our child definitely have the features that we want, or not? This is our main question.” Aadit said.
“You see, Mr. Jamenis, a hundred percent guarantee isn’t possible. You can’t imagine how complicated the whole business is. I’m sure you’ve read our Terms and Conditions.”
“Yes. We’ve read them, all right. You won’t be able to guarantee one hundred percent, we understand. But if it costs us so much money, then how many of the features that we choose will our child have? Will you tell us approximately what to expect, or not?”
“That depends on what specifications you have,” Dr. Jaajoo said in his mild but wary voice. “Generally, one could say that if you choose ten features, then the probability that the baby will have at least seven of them is ninety-nine percent. To get eight features, the probability’s ninety percent. In five percent of cases, actually, the child has every last one of the chosen features.”

“You’re talking about a numbers game.”
“Sorry, we can’t predict any more precisely.” By now, the doctor’s tone had become a little too businesslike. “We don’t have a hundred percent guarantee, but we offer a warranty, OK? Our contract will have a compensation clause.”
“What do you mean?” All three spoke at once.
“I mean that if some of our predictions don’t come true, you will receive compensation.”
“Compensation?” Aadit was startled. And Sajani’s expression had become dead serious by now.
“Oh, no. You all shouldn’t take it too seriously. Compensation means – for instance, suppose you told us that you want your baby’s eyes to be this colour, and unfortunately it didn’t happen, then out of the fee paid by you, some money would be returned to you.”
“Oh, I see! How much?”

“That depends on how tough it is to fulfill your specification. For example, the blue eyes gene is fully mapped already. That means, we know for sure that a baby’s eyes will be blue. Then hypothetically, if for some reason it didn’t happen, out of the fee paid by you for that gene, we would return ninety percent. But the gene for drawing or painting talent has not been completely mapped yet. The probability of imparting it to the baby is maybe seventy, seventy-five percent. So, if the child turns out not to draw or paint well, out of the fee for that gene, we would return only fifty percent.”
“What about intelligence?” Sajani asked. “Will our baby be intelligent, at least?”

“The thing about intelligence, madam,” said Dr. Jaajoo, leaning back in his chair, “Intelligence is of many kinds: numerical skill, logical thinking, comprehension, memory, etc. There’s all of this, and also creative genius. The intelligence required to visualize abstract concepts is different, and so is athletic marksmanship. So, one can’t predict accurately which type of intelligence, to what extent, comes from which gene. Rather, each type of intelligence has its basis in several genes, and one gene can endow the baby with more than one characteristic. All of that is not yet entirely understood. So we don’t guarantee intelligence. But in general, your baby will be more clever than other children, we anticipate.”

“If the consequences are not fully understood, as you say, then you admit that this treatment is risky?” Suhaani spoke up for the first time.

“Good question!” Dr. Jaajoo found his chance to talk to her. He moved a little closer, watching her face, and said, “What isn’t risky, Miss Suhaani? Isn’t heart surgery risky? Or angioplasty? Even angiography carries a slight risk. In fact, even a routine injection of penicillin is risky because the patient could be allergic to penicillin.”

“There’s a difference, Doctor,” Suhaani said, eye-to-eye with him. “One accepts the risk of heart surgery because the risk to the patient’s health without surgery is greater. But here I see no reason to accept risk.”

Dr. Jaajoo felt a bit embarrassed. Trying to cover up, he said, “What you say is correct, Miss Suhaani. But here we are not discussing actual risk to the baby’s health. We are discussing the probability of a chosen feature not appearing in the baby. Right?”
“And what about the actual risk to the baby’s health?” Suhaani asked in a quiet tone.

“Using genetic engineering, we’ll only modify genes in the embryonic cells, Madam. After that’s done and the embryo is implanted in the mother’s uterus, the health risks for this fetus or a naturally conceived fetus are the same. Whatever risks that fetus has, this one has the same. No less, no more!” said Dr. Jaajoo in a triumphant tone.

“I am talking about the actual health risks to the fetus due to accidents from the procedure.” Suhaani’s shapely eyebrows rose slightly.
“Accidents from the procedure? A few years ago, such concerns were reasonable. But now the science has progressed a lot. Now there are no such accidents in the procedure.”
“Are you sure, Doctor?” Suhani’s voice was still calm, but her gaze was rather pointed. “If that is so, then why this contract, with its compensation clause, its consequential damage clause and all that?”
“Those … those are all just legal matters. You know, if someone goes to court, shouldn’t lawyers have something to argue?” Dr. Jaajoo said with a forced smile. “We have to do all of this just in case. But normally that situation won’t happen.”

“You said, ‘normally it won’t happen.’ So, it could happen, right?” Once again, Suhaani used the doctor’s words to trap him.
“Yes, Miss Suhaani. It could happen.” The doctor’s hands fidgeted as he spoke. “I won’t lie. The probability is insignificant, but one cannot say zero.”
“So you mean that risk exists,” Aadit said.
“To be honest, it does. But only theoretically. Practically zero. We take every precaution that no such accident should occur. And by now this technology is totally safe. I mean, you see worldwide, by now almost three thousand children have been born in this way. Each and every one of these children is healthy. Nothing happened to even one of them. So, you can draw your own conclusion.”

“But all of the treatments being successful so far doesn’t mean that future treatments will be, right? And none of the recently born babies having any problem so far doesn’t mean that problems won’t develop later, either.”

“You are very smart,” the doctor said, inwardly impressed by Suhaani’s cleverness. “Your concern is indeed valid. But such second-guessing has no value. Thirty or thirty-five years ago, when the first test-tube baby was born, the same concerns were raised. But what actually happened? As you see, now there are thousands – hundreds of thousands of test-tube babies worldwide. Nobody had any problem. All of them are living healthy lives. Right? So why worry about this? Do you agree?” The doctor looked at each of the three in turn as he spoke.
“I agree.” said Sajani.
“We agree.” Aadit also nodded in acceptance. He looked at Suhani.
The expression of distrust on her face had faded.
“We’ll have to sign some contract papers, etc.?” Aadit asked.
“Indeed. Both of you, Mr. and Mrs. Jamenis, and we, Reprogenetic International, will be the two parties to the contract. We’ll need signatures from both of you and two witnesses.”
“And what would be our obligations?”

“No obligations as such. But what legal rights each side will have will be written in the contract. Meaning, for example, whatever genes we add to your child’s embryo will belong to Reprogenetic International.”
“Meaning what?” Aadit asked. “In what sense would they belong to you?”
“It means that you or your child won’t get to sell these genes to anyone else. You won’t get to trade them or even give them to anyone for free. If you try to do so, you may face a lawsuit. Or Reprogenetic International may take preventive action against that.”

“Which genes? Just the ones that you will add to the embryo, right? How would we even be able to trade them?”

Dr. Jaajoo took a moment to think, then said, “You see, to prepare the genes that we use – that is, to map them properly, to characterize their specific functions, to isolate them, to ready them for delivery to another cell – it’s quite expensive. A lot of research goes into it. Our competitor – the company GeneWin International – hasn’t succeeded at it so far. In the future, that company could approach you and offer you money to sell them the genes that we developed.”
“No, no! We would never sell them the genes that you use!” Aadit scoffed at the suggestion.
“Of course not. You wouldn’t. You would never do such an unethical thing. I have full faith in that. But the thing is, our company is American, right? Americans are too suspicious. They want everything legally written into the contract. Typical American mentality. What else?”

“Right, that’s fine then.” Aadit said. “If that’s all, then we have no objection to including these clauses. Why would we trade the genes for anything? If they serve our purpose, that’s enough. Isn’t that right, dear?”
Sajani nodded her consent. Suhaani also didn’t think it was unfair at all. In fact, she was a bit amused. How could these people imagine a transaction of every item?

“Satisfied? If you have anything else to ask, please go ahead and ask.”
“I have read that when a functional gene is introduced into an embryonic cell, it can affect some other gene as well. Nothing like that will happen here?” Suhaani asked.

Dr. Jaajoo smiled. He expected this question. His answer was ready as well.
“Well, Miss Suhaani,” he said, “What you’ve read is quite correct. But that was the situation ten years ago. Now the science has progressed a lot. But we are not touting our science as absolutely accurate, at all. We’ll take all possible precautions and apply our entire skill set to ensure that your child receives the genes that you want. To be honest, that’s all I can say.”
The doctor’s words had their desired effect. All three of them nodded their consent.

“Any other concerns?”

“Fine then. I suppose you have the answers now to all your questions. If you have filled out and brought in the forms that were sent to you, give them to me. I’ll see how many features you have chosen, and which ones, and tell you the prepayment amount over the telephone. And I’ll also tell you how much compensation you’ll get if this or that gene doesn’t get transferred. Here’s the draft contract. When you’ve decided about the price, we’ll fill in those amounts. And then we’ll decide when to sign the contract. OK?”
The contract was signed within a week. The treatment started. Every month, Sajani had to go to Reprogenetic’s clinic for examination. There, an ovum would be harvested from her, and if fertilization was successful, they would perform the procedure of introducing suitable genes. In just the fourth month, they told her that the procedure was a success. The genetically modified embryo was implanted in Sajani’s uterus. Days and months went by as the fetus grew.
After nine months, Anim was born. The baby was dark-skinned, alert. Robust. With jet-black eyes and a thick mop of curly hair. Aadit’s and Sajani’s happiness knew no bounds. Suhaani was also happy to be proved wrong for all of her second-guessing.
As Anim grew, they began to notice that his intelligence was quite extraordinary.
He never lost his first place in the class. He was taller compared to other children to begin with. By the time he was thirteen, he became five and a half feet tall.
However, he had not much interest in music. They probably were not successful in inserting this gene in him that Sajani had wanted. The idea of seeking compensation for this sometimes occurred to Aadit. But why bother, it’s done; didn’t they impart so many other genes? He would reason with himself like this. Besides, in spite of a child having little affinity for music, it could develop in youth – he knew plenty of examples of this. As for Sajani, her dream had become reality. She had given birth to a son with the skin and attributes of her choosing.
Anim was not just excellent in academics. He also excelled in sports. He participated in an elocution contest and won a trophy for his school. No one was surprised when he won the first place in Mumbai for the Seventh Grade Scholarship exam. He liked to participate in school plays. Among both male students and female students, he was phenomenally popular. Only one thing was slightly strange. He absolutely did not like to talk to girls. Even in plays, he never took the hero’s role – so that he wouldn’t have dialogue with girls! He avoided his girl classmates of course, but even if there was an occasion to talk to any young female relative, he would clam up. Even his parents had noticed this curious thing.
“How can our son be like this?” Sajani even spoke to Aadit once. “All boys try hard to talk to girls. But he’s on a different wavelength. The other day, when he won first prize in the elocution contest, two girls from his school came over to congratulate him, but this prince charming actually ran away!”
“My dear, boys at this awkward age behave just like this. Don’t pay too much attention to this. Let him grow up some more. He’ll start to chase girls on his own.” Aadit persuaded her. But it didn’t happen. His skittishness just increased.
His friends of the same age got deeper voices, but Anim’s voice stayed the same. When his friends’ faces grew fuzzy, and some sprouted a mustache above the lip, Anim’s face was just glistening smooth. Then a terrible suspicion occurred to Sajani. She even voiced it to Aadit.
“What nonsense!” Aadit brushed off her concern. “My dear, our son is five feet nine inches tall and sturdy. Just because he doesn’t have a beard or whiskers yet, you think that he doesn’t have what it takes? Don’t raise suspicion over nothing. They’ll come in next year.” He said this and quieted her.
But when even the next year, the dark line hadn’t appeared above Anim’s lips, then they really began to feel worried. They took him to visit a doctor. They went through all the tests that the doctor ordered. The results of all these tests were normal.
“Anim has no disease or sickness that I can find,” the doctor said, “but the hormones that his body should be producing at his age, it isn’t. A boy of his age should be past childhood and into puberty. There must be some problem with the glands that secrete the necessary hormones for this transformation. You should have him examined by a good endocrinologist.”
Dr. Vaishnav was a renowned endocrinologist. They decided to go to him. He examined Anim thoroughly and reviewed all of the reports. Then, telling Anim to wait outside, he said to Aadit and Sajani, “It’s obvious that there’s a hormonal problem. But his development is otherwise apparently normal. Generally, a hormonal imbalance has other associated problems. Your son’s height is above average. His overall health is excellent. So, why is puberty delayed? Did he reach the milestones of childhood on time? I mean, rolling over, learning to walk, was everything on time?”
“Yes, everything was quite normal.” Sajani informed him. “By just four months, he was rolling over, by six months he was crawling, and he took steps before he was a year old.”

“That’s amazing,” Dr. Vaishnav said. “This is the first time I’ve seen such a case. What about you two – when it was time for you to grow up, did any problems occur?”
“None at all,” they both replied instantly.
“See if you can remember exactly. Mrs. Jamenis, at what age did you first get your period?”
“I was in eighth grade then. I remember it very well. That means I was thirteen years old,” Sajani informed him.
“And, is it regular?”
“Yes, very regular. No problem at all. “
“Mr. Jamenis, when did you start having wet dreams?”
“I don’t remember exactly, but I must have been thirteen or fourteen years old. Everything else was normal with me. Meaning, feeling attraction to girls at that age, secretly reading naughty books, all of that. But Anim may never have felt curious about sex. I’ve never seen entertainment magazines or tabloids in his room. I’ve never caught him looking at ‘those kinds’ of sites on the internet. Never once.”
“All right. Now tell me, was Anim born the normal way? Or, did you have to take some treatment for assisted reproduction?”

Aadit and Sajani looked at each other. Then Aadit said, “Doctor, Anim’s birth was assisted by genetic engineering,” and with that he told the doctor the whole story, hiding nothing. The doctor listened in silence.
“Oh, I see. So that’s how it is,” he said. “That means, we’ll have to perform some more tests.”
“Doctor, could there have been some mix-up in the procedure leading to his birth?” Sajani asked. Aadit sensed the tremor in her voice. He gently patted her hand.
“After we do the tests, we’ll find out about that. Here’s what you should do,” Dr. Vaishnav said, handing them the address to a lab, “Meet Dr. Mudgal from this lab. I’ll have a chat with her to tell her exactly the kind of analysis that I want done. These tests generally take at least a week. Then telephone me for a meeting. OK?”

After a week, Aadit telephoned Dr. Vaishnav, but the results of the tests had not arrived by then. He was asked to call again after another four or five days. When he called after five days, he got an appointment for that same day in the evening. He went alone to meet the doctor. After asking him to sit down, Dr. Vaishnav said, “Mr. Jamenis, sorry to tell you, the results are not good news.”
“Meaning what?” The words somehow made it out of his mouth.
“I’ll explain. Your son has a problem with his chromosomes.”
“You mean, there was a mix-up in the genetic engineering procedure?”
“It doesn’t seem so, at least outwardly. I mean, in Dr. Mudgal’s opinion, the genes imparted to Anim were correct. His other genes are also fine. To progress from childhood to puberty, there are specific genes that regulate the initiation of necessary changes in the body. What’s amazing is that they’re just fine. Not defective at all. Completely normal. But …”
“But what?” he asked with impatience.
“But they are not being expressed. So, the changes that they regulate are not being initiated.”

“That’s what I couldn’t explain. So I had some more tests done and discussed them with Dr. Mudgal. From those, it came to my attention that when your child’s embryo received the genes that you wanted, one more gene was added, off the record. That gene is inhibiting expression of the genes that regulate the changes in the body that accompany puberty. It’s not allowing their functions to initiate.”

“How could this happen?”
“It has happened, that’s for sure.”
“You’re saying, Reprogenetic International added this inhibitor gene to his embryo on purpose?”
The doctor was silent for a moment. Then he said, “On purpose or by mistake – I can’t say for certain, but normal human cells don’t have this gene. It’s obviously extraneous. So it would have been added on purpose, I strongly suspect.”
Aadit was flabbergasted. His body began to tremble violently. He began to hyperventilate. His face was flushed red. The doctor got up and stood close to him, patted his back, and said, “Calm down, Mr. Jamenis, calm down.”

“I … I …” His mouth could not form words. The doctor put a cup of water before him and he gulped it down. It took five or ten minutes for him to be somewhat able to speak.
“By putting this inhibitor gene in Anim’s body, Reprogenetic International has ensured that puberty can’t happen for him – is that what you’re telling me?”
“That is my deduction,” said Dr. Vaishnav.
“Ten or twelve years ago, the Monsanto company marketed genetically modified cotton and eggplant seeds in which they added a terminator gene so that farmers couldn’t propagate them. Like that?”
“Exactly right,” the doctor nodded. “Reprogenetic would have done the same.”
“But why? Why would they do that?” Aadit was wailing now.
“I cannot tell you that. You will have to ask them why.”
“I will ask, I will ask. I’ll grab that Dr. Jaajoo by the throat and ask him,” Aadit said, stammering with fury as he got up and walked out. Dr. Vaishnav tried to stop him, but he was already out the door.
Right there, as soon as he was outside, he made a telephone call to Reprogenetic International.
“Hello, I want to speak to Dr. Jaajoo,” he told them.
“Dr. Jaajoo does not work for us any more.” said the telephone operator.
“Then to whom should I speak?”
“Who is speaking?”
“I am Aadit Jamenis. I am your client.”
“Just a minute,” she said, and typed his name into her computer.
“All right. Sixteen years ago, you signed a contract. You are that client?” she said, looking at his name on the computer screen.
“Yes. I want to talk about that. To whom should I speak?”
“If you have any complaint about Reprogenetic International, if you want any compensation from us or you want any clarification regarding the contract, you’ll have to talk to our lawyer, Advocate Mehta. His phone number is 21123344. His office is closed at this hour. Please call him tomorrow.” She finished and hung up.

Aadit fretted, but he had no choice but to wait until the next day.
He went home. He told Sajani and Anim nothing. Only that the doctor wasn’t available.
He spent that night in turmoil as he lay on his bed.
The next morning, he telephoned Mehta right away. After finding the line engaged a couple of times, finally he got through.
“Hello, Advocate Mehta speaking,” he was greeted in Gujarati.
“You rascal, you’ve devastated my son’s life! I won’t let you go!” He was oblivious, shrieking.
“Who is speaking?” Mehta replied in Gujarati, his voice calm.
“I am Aadit Jamenis.”
“Who is Aadit Jamenis? What can we do for you?”
“I … I am your client. You have put an end to my son’s life!”
“Are you a client of Reprogenetic International?” Mehta was trying to speak Marathi now.
“Yes, yes. And you’re their lawyer, so I’m talking to you.”
“Right. Tell me, you made a deal with Reprogenetic International, right?”
“Yes, yes, we had a contract.”
“Good. It simplifies the matter. In which year did you make the deal?” Mehta began in English, and slipped into Gujarati as he switched back to Marathi.
“Sixteen years ago. It was in 2019.”
“What’s your name? Aadit Jamenis? Yes. And 2019. So I’ll find it right away on the computer. Just a minute, yes. I found it. Aadit and Sajani Jamenis, October 12, 2019. Right?” Mehta’s stream of thought alternated between Marathi and Gujarati.
“Yes,” Aadit said, barely containing his fury.
“Please come to my office tomorrow afternoon, at two. We’ll talk.”

He had no choice but to wait in silence for his meeting with Mehta. Another sleepless night. The next afternoon, at exactly two o’clock, he arrived at Mehta’s office.

“Come in, Mr. Jamenis. Have a seat. You have something to say? Tell me. You want to say that we breached the contract. We didn’t abide by the terms. Right?”
“You didn’t abide by the contract, of course, and you did cruel mischief to my son’s life.”
“Which clause in the contract did we break?” Mehta asked calmly.
“I don’t know which one. You figure it out.”
“OK, never mind, we’ll take a look. I’ve read the contract. You wanted your son endowed with seven genes: curly hair, black eyes, brown skin, height of five feet ten inches, I.Q. about 140, affinity for music, robust body. Right? Now tell me, which of these features does he not have? Then we’ll work out the compensation.”

“You can take the compensation and shove it! You’ve devastated my son’s entire life. And now you’re offering me compensation? Pervert! Predator!”
“Wait, wait. No name-calling. Name-calling is bad. Foul name-calling is worse. And name-calling to a lawyer is the worst. Never mind. You’re upset. I won’t hold it against you.”
“Oh go to hell, you mother…”

“Wait, wait, I’ll tell you again, calling a lawyer names will cost you. Let’s talk calmly. You and we had a deal. To endow your son with seven genes. How many of those genes are in him and how many are not?”
“He didn’t get the musical affinity gene. But that’s not the point. You put an end to my son’s life …”
“If the musical affinity gene wasn’t imparted, then we’ll return half the money that you paid for it. But first you’ll have to show proof that he has no musical affinity.”
“Proof? My foot! You can take your compensation and shove it. I am telling you over and over, that’s not why I came to you. Take that musical affinity gene and put it in your …” He caught himself. Gaining control over his tongue, he said, “Never mind that. But like predators, without telling us, you added an inhibitor gene to Anim’s body. So that puberty can’t happen for him. Is it true or not? You tell me.”
“It’s true. It’s quite true.” Mehta calmly informed him. Aadit was transfixed. He reeled a little. Mehta had admitted it readily and that was totally unexpected.

“Why? Why did you behave so cruelly? Why did you spoil my son’s life? Who gave you the right to make a mockery of his life?” His eyes filled with tears.
“Mr. Jamenis, be calm. Calm down. Keep in mind, we have done nothing that would breach the contract. We have abided by the terms of the contract.”
“You abided by the terms of the contract? Which terms? How can you say so? Are you crazy? You did it, you hid it, and on top of that, you tell me you’re honestly abiding by the terms of the contract?”

“Mr. Jamenis, refer to the contract, clause 10, subclause 10(c). Read it. You see, it reads, ‘You or your child may not sell these genes to anyone else. You may not trade them and you may not give them to anyone for free. If you try to do so, you may face a lawsuit. Or Reprogenetic International may take preventive action to ensure that you are unable to do so.’ Correct?”
“So what? Did we ever set out to re-sell these genes? Or make an attempt to trade them?”
“You didn’t attempt to sell or trade them, that’s correct. But your son was on his way to donating them for free, wasn’t he? So we took anticipatory action. What we did was in accordance with subclause 10(c) of the contract.”
“Anim was on his way to donating those genes for free? To whom?” Aadit felt trapped in a vortex.

“To your grandchild! Whom else? If Anim became an adult, wouldn’t he have thoughts of getting married or living together with some girl? Then of course they would have a physical relationship. They would have a child. The genes in Anim’s body that came from us would be transferred to that child. Isn’t that right? That means, it would be as if Anim gave it those genes for free. Isn’t that a breach of contract?”

“Reprogenetic International owns those genes – this is written explicitly in the contract. We have to protect them. That’s why we imparted that inhibitory gene to him to ensure that puberty won’t happen for him. Advance anticipatory action.” Mehta’s gentle voice was explaining to him.
His voice was quite unemotional. Cold and dry.

Subodh Jawadekar

Subodh Jawadekar

Subodh Jawadekar is a renowned science and science fiction writer in Marathi. He has authored 16 books, edited two and co-authored one in Marathi and English. His stories and books have been translated into English, many Indian and a few European languages also. He has earned more than 15 prestigious awards. He is a chemical engineer from IIT Bombay and has served in chemical industry for 37 years. He lives in Mumbai and enjoys reading, music and travelling. He has recently developed interest in Neuroscience and Evolutionary psychology.
Photo credit: Kumar Gokhale

Vidyut Aklujkar

Vidyut Aklujkar

Vidyut (Vidyullekha) Aklujkar is an award-winning writer, author of several books of fiction and non-fiction in Marathi, and an editor of Ekata, Toronto, a Marathi literary quarterly journal. She has served as visiting faculty at Harvard University, and faculty at the University of British Columbia in Canada.  She has numerous publications in international journals on her name. She lives in Richmond, B. C. with her family and enjoys fine arts, gardening, photography, and several other crafts. Most of all, she enjoys storytelling.



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