He took his place amongst the world’s topmost swimmers in the Olympics finals of the swimming event. He had dedicated twelve long years of his life for this moment. This was the day he had waited for, lived for and breathed for. The odds of winning a medal were in his favour since his technique was legendary, the best in the world. Vinod, was representing India in the final of the swimming event. Just five swimmers separated him from his claim to glory.
This pistol shot had the adrenaline in him racing. He pumped harder and faster and began to overtake his competitors. He was surging ahead, taking the lead. The Indians were delirious with joy. They sensed the possibility of a medal for their country.
Then, suddenly, the racers behind him seemed to accelerate their pace. The swimmer immediately behind him began to cut through the body of the water roughly and with great force – a complete contrast to his style. It was sheer, raw physical force. Vinod plunged his arms into the water, cutting it silently as he too increased his pace. It was strength versus style, force against technique. Then, in a flash he was overtaken. The foam from his rival seemed to be intimidating. One after the other, two more swimmers left him behind. They went past him like powered submarines, with incredible thrust and power.
He finished fourth and emerged out of the pool his head hanging in disappointment. He was almost there, yet he would never really be there – among Olympic honours. He would remain ‘a could have been’, instead of being an achiever.
He had hoped to silence those who considered his physique too frail for a champion but he had failed. Many sport commentators had commented that his tiny hands would not cut as much water as a person like Anwar Hussain, the Pakistani who had snatched the bronze right under his nose. Though, his technique was better than Hussain’s, Hussain was endowed with a large body and a large pair of hands. The Pakistani hadn’t ever beaten him in swimming but today he had extracted his revenge in the event that mattered most. He had come so close to this golden moment! Now he was left with regrets, remorse and wringing hands. He would readily swap all his medals for that bronze that he had missed by the whisker of a second.
The next day’s newspaper was something he tried his best to avoid. But when he opened it, his heart came to his mouth.
“Body Beats Technique! Anwar Steals Bronze From India ”
The rest was familiar. The sports analyst repeated what had already been said to death.
“If only Vinod,” went the report, “had a little larger frame, bigger hands and more muscle, India might even have won the Gold. It’s a sad case where the best of technique which Vinod exhibits, went down for want of suitable body features and strength. It’s perhaps the story of all Indian sports persons. Will recent genetic breakthroughs make it possible to overcome our frailties? The Olympics Committee is under lot of pressure to allow genetic modifications as an integral part of sports. The world is about to witness overwhelming performances from genetically modified athletes in future Olympics. The future holds tremendous possibilities.”
The era of genetically modified human beings had come to stay. They were making their presence felt in all fields. But the sports arena had equated genetic modifications with drugs and had banned them. Yet, the pressure to incorporate changes was mounting. The lobby that felt that sports should derive the benefits of gene alterations was getting stronger. It was seen as an important milestone, necessary to raise the standard and level of competition. Sports, it was felt, could not be isolated from reality.
He tossed the newspaper away. He didn’t feel good. His spirits were broken. His friends and relatives had consoled him. They told him there would be a second time, but he knew he would never perform better than this. He was 22 and had peaked in physical form. From here there was only one way to go. Downhill.
Vinod, now a very successful businessman, settled down to read his newspaper, a cup of coffee in hand. He went straight to the last but one page of the newspaper to see the sports news. And the news that he had been waiting for, appeared in huge headlines. The Olympics Committee had finally allowed genetically modified human beings to compete in the race for supremacy in the world of sports. It had just released a list regarding the kind of modifications that were being allowed. His heart raced with an unknown thrill.
“Neha!” He shouted on top of his voice. “Neha!”
She came running from the kitchen.
“They have allowed genetic modifications in sports! Now we shall have a baby with the right body and the perfect features. He won’t have my disadvantages…”
Vinod had as if, put all his energy and frustration behind his work after missing a medal in Olympics. His hard work had paid off and he had become a rich man. But the pain and heartbreak was something that even time and success had failed to heal. Whenever he remembered that moment in history, he would invariably shut his eyes in despair. Now his offspring would rekindle that failed promise.
“We want a GMB.” They announced to the doctor at the London based Gene Clinique. This was the most distinct of the few clinics in the world that offered specialized services to incorporate desirable modifications in the genetic make up of a baby that the parents had conceived. The cost of a genetically modified baby, popularly known as a GMB, ran into thousands of dollars. But it was something that Vinod could afford now.
“And what are your special requirements?”
“We want the child to be tall with lots of muscle. And his or her hands and feet should be webbed…”
“You want your progeny to become a good swimmer.”
“Not just good. But the very best.”
The doctor smiled. “Yes, nothing but the very best.”
A baby girl was born to Vinod and his wife. But the road had not been easy. Two attempts to modify the embryo in Neha’s womb had resulted in a deformed embryo, a problem that still dogged the process of gene alteration. These two pregnancies had to be aborted. The third attempt was however successful.
“I told you I don’t like swimming! I hate it!” Screamed Neha at the top of her voice.
“But what’s wrong with swimming?” Vinod tried to reason.
“I’m scared of water. Why force it on me? Do you want me to die of suffocation?”
“You will get over your fears, once you start practising swimming regularly.” Vinod persisted.
“Yes, Supriya. Your father was so good at it. You can’t get a better teacher…”
“But why don’t you understand it. I can never be a good swimmer!”
“Then tell us what is it that you like?” Vinod was barely able to control his rage.
“I like music. It thrills me and I forget all sense of time and space. I wish to learn the Piano, like my friends, but my teacher says that my webbed fingers are useful only for swimming. I can never play the piano.”
“Of course she is right. You are destined to be a world class swimmer.”
“Can’t we somehow cut these webs? I wish to learn playing the piano at any cost.”
“We paid lacs of rupees to modify your genetic make up. Those webs are not a deformity, but an asset. And you are asking us to get rid of them? Go and ask the aspiring swimmers, what it means to have your assets! They will envy you but laugh at your stupidity.”
“But they are a hindrance to my playing the piano.”
“Forget the piano. You could win the Olympic gold in swimming. Think of the….”
“Forget it!” Screamed Supriya as she stomped her foot and retired to her room in anger.
On reaching 18 years of age, Supriya on her own volition got the surgery on her hands done. The thick webs caused by the genetic modifications were surgically removed. The doctors warned her that the removal of the web could make the fingers very weak. Still Supriya had been adamant and had opted for the surgery.
Two months later, she tried but failed to play the piano with her fingers. Her fingers felt weak and she had difficulty controlling their movements. The doctors suggested physiotherapy.
The two years after the operation was a dreadful time in her life. There were times when she felt she would never be able to play piano or even be able to use her fingers. But her physiotherapist was an extraordinary man. He persuaded her not to lose her courage and motivated her to fight the mighty odds. She responded and fought determinedly. In two years, together they performed a miracle.
“Now we can say that your fingers are normal,” the physiotherapist told Supriya. “I hate to say it but you need not come to see me from tomorrow onwards. I guess I have just lost one of my best patients.”
Supriya smiled with happiness. “Thank you doctor. I cannot forget what you did for me. You saved my fingers and gave me a new life.”
“Your will and dedication is the cause behind this spectacular recovery.”
“I’ll miss you,” Supriya gave him a hug.
“Do come and meet this old man, whenever you have the time. We can share a cup of coffee and I can find out what my budding musician is upto.”
“Yes, of course.”
Supriya never looked back. She did exceptionally well in the world of music and became an international celebrity. Her concerts staged in the UK, USA and Germany won her rave reviews. She had more than a hundred albums to her credit.
She was nominated for Grammy thrice in this period but missed the coveted prize.
While performing in the Albert Hall in London, Supriya collapsed on the stage. She was rushed to a hospital and was admitted to the intensive care unit. She remained in coma for three weeks.
“Where am I?” She asked the moment she gained consciousness.
“In the hospital. You broke down, while performing on the stage,” said John Smith, the doctor attending her.
She stared at her fingers, her expression turning to horror.
“I can’t move them doctor! My fingers feel dead! I can’t move them doctor!” She screamed.
She learned later that the overuse of her weak fingers had caused a great stress on the nerves and she had lost the ability to use them altogether.
One day, she tried to commit suicide. Dr. Smith’s timely intervention saved her.
“Why are you so selfish?” He was furious.
“Selfish? I am selfish?” She screamed at him.
“Yes, selfish,” Dr. Smith retorted. “What if you cannot play your piano anymore? You think that you are finished because you will miss the adulation, the applause and the limelight. You still have the rest of you! This life is a precious gift from God. Don’t dismiss it so cheaply. So what if you cant play the piano anymore, you can try help others for a change! Try to bring sunshine into the lives of less fortunate people. But all you can think of is your own glory. Thats why I called you selfish.”
“Its easy for you to preach charity…”
“You still can have peace with yourself, Supriya. By giving, instead of taking. You are a beautiful, warm and nice woman apart from being an achiever. You are capable of playing a much more evolved kind of music, the music of life….. The music of joy. A piano is just an instrument. It is not the end of life. Think about it.” He smiled and left. His words made her thoughtful.
The dressing down from Dr. Smith seemed to have an effect on Supriya. She became peaceful and cooperative. She even began to smile, though it was not too often. She shared a special relationship with Dr. Smith after that fateful day when she had tried to commit suicide.
“Supriya,” said Doctor John Smith, as he signed her discharge papers.
“I wish to ask you something.”
“What is it?” She said as she slid down the stool.
“Will you marry me?”
Supriya was stunned. It wasn’t something she had expected.
“Because I love you!”
“But I am a handicapped woman!” She protested. “You are merely pitying me!”
“No, Supriya. I wish to marry you.”
“But of what good shall I be to you? You can get a much better match.”
“I have met the woman I want and it’s you.”
“But I am incapable of doing anything at all. There is a whole life ahead of you doc. Don’t waste it on me.”
“You have achieved enough for a lifetime as a musician. Now you can settle down to a new role. Of being my wife…”
“But my fingers?”
“I told you once and I tell you again. You are much more than your fingers and your piano….”
She looked at him and smiled.
John Smith and Supriya got married in a very quiet and private ceremony. Only a few close friends were invited on the occasion.
Supriya was watched the latest Grammy awards ceremony in the comfort of her home. The awards ceremony evoked feelings of pain and misery in her. How very close had she been to getting the coveted honor! And she would definitely have got it one day, but for those unlucky webs on her hands. Now there was no hope.
She saw the winners exulting, crying and shouting with joy. She wiped away her tears. Life without being able to play music would never be the same again. The efforts of those award-winning performers had been rewarded. Her music career had been preempted.
She remembered that she had missed her period. She could be pregnant. This reminded her of the dilemma she faced. John had been dead against GMBs.
She played and replayed the Grammy Awards ceremony on the TV. There was a time when she had been sitting in the front rows, one of the hopefuls, one of the greatest. She could have been the winner….
She switched off the TV abruptly and picked up the directory.
She rang a number.
“Is that Paula’s Genetic Engineering & Consultancy Service?”
She got a reply in the affirmative.
“I was wondering if I can have a musically perfect GMB… ?”