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The Modern Ekalavya

(Just a small thing from 2011)

I first wrote this at Penciljam, a forum for art-minded folks. The given topic was a contemporary variation on Ekalavya's story - the character from Mahabharata who had sacrificed his ambitions by cutting off his thumb at the request of (someone he imagined was) his Guru. 

Ekalavya belonged to tribal clans, lived in the forests, and was an expert, self-taught archer. He was considered a potential threat to the future supremacy of certain princes, whom this imagined 'Guru' was employed to teach.

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Ekki was unhappy, and disillusioned. He mulled over what the great Acharya had said, and he knew what it really implied. His dreams were done for. His career was over even before it had really started. 'Give me access to your file no.x2co10' - the Acharya had thundered. It was so very unsettling that Guruji even knew of the file's existence - had he been spying on Ekki? He looked warily at the two security cameras pointing at his workstation - those were supposed to be defunct!

Ekki shook his head in dismay. Guruji wanted to finish him off for daring to dream bigger than the scope of their little research lab. Of that he was very sure. Ekki had venture capitalists lined up to invest in his scheme - in secret, of course. And the great leap to bio-tech stardom he had envisioned was just a matter of transferring his talents from Guruji's lab to the company he was about to found. But none of that would be possible without file x2co10, which Guruji wants. 'Oh gawd!' - he groaned.

Legally, the file belonged to Guruji, but intellectually its contents were the result of Ekki's hard work and dedication. Guruji was not even a guru in that sense, because he had always neglected to instruct Ekki. Ekki had always been an outsider, gaining entry to the prestigious research lab only on the merit of his shining credentials. Guruji's favored coterie of analysts had always given him the cold shoulder, which he didn't really mind since he could work peacefully on his own.

His talents at unlocking protein sequences in the part of the genome that dealt with aging were unquestionable, and well known to his peers and Guruji alike. So the great Acharya left Ekki undisturbed, confined to his corner of the lab where he worked for long hours. That was his job, and that was why he was being paid.

The contents of file x2co10 were entirely different from his main line of work, and were developed during spare time. It was the result of one of those 'eureka' moments, a rare synergy of chance and insight. And its implications were so staggering that even Ekki wasn't sure if the world was ready for it.

But file x2co10 wasn't a secret anymore, although only Ekki knew how to access it. He wasn't troubled by the moralities of  releasing this work to private enterprise, even though the lab was funded by the government. For x2co10 to reach its fulfillment he needed funding much in excess of what was given to the lab. And he couldn't share it with Guruji either, for sure as daylight Ekki would then be removed from the project. Perhaps even be chastised or fired from the lab for undertaking unauthorized research work. And in the process, his labor of love and inspiration would be entirely appropriated by the Acharya.

Even that was okay with Ekki, as long as Guruji could arrange for extra funds from the government, and continue with the research. But x2co10 was doomed without its mother, who has lovingly tended to it all these months. Ekki's was the intellectual womb, and he was the mother without whom x2co10 wouldn't survive. And Guruji will never allow him to have the limelight. So Ekki had been secretly arranging for private funding, meaning to shift the work away from this lab one day. But now, all that has come to naught. Guruji wants access to file x2co10.

 It was clear to Ekki that his secret dream was over. He would have to, like a modern-day Eklavya, cut off his thumb and present it to the great Acharya. Humankind will have to wait for another burst of inspiration in some other Ekki, for x2co10 to be re-incarnated. This version was as good as dead.

He wrote down the password to x2co10 on a little scrap of paper, and his resignation on the department's pad, packed his belongings in his 'jhola' and slowly walked out of the lab. Before leaving the building he slipped both papers in an envelope, sealed it and dropped it in Guruji's mailbox.

He had no idea what he would be doing now... perhaps find a job in some pharmaceutical company. Or give it all up and start to paint. Yes.. he could paint! He loved to paint, a love he hadn't really indulged in in the last decade or so. But now he could teach himself to paint. 

 

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