My superhero novels, Turbulence and Resistance, are going through a fairly standard hero’s journey of their own: they did well locally, went to foreign lands and performed quests, and have now returned home to find that their native land has (inconveniently) changed dramatically. If I’d written Turbulence today, it would have been a completely different book.
The whole premise of this superhero universe is that it’s set in the present day and involves people getting physical abilities based on their innermost desires, whether it’s flat abs or flight. Turbulence was written just a few years ago, and two things have happened: first, far too many of the events in the book have come true, leading me to wish I’d built a career as a fortune-teller instead, and second, the things people want have changed significantly thanks to the interesting times we live in.
So if Turbulence were written in 2016, a lot of the abilities that people would have acquired would have been specifically suited to deal with present-day India. Here are some.
People are silenced all the time in India, but it seems to involve a lot of effort and unpleasantness. Social media allows you to simply silence people; TVs let you change channels. Reality should come with a mute button as well. Whoever you are, you would misuse this power and turn into a tyrant eventually, of course, but every superpower is like that; it depends on the person using it.
A real-world Superman who landed in a farm owned by Donald Trump supporters would be the whole world’s nightmare today. But, obvious tyrant-creation issues aside, the comic situational possibilities of this power are phenomenal. Imagine a TV panel news show where one guest secretly has the power to silence any of the others.
This one is for ladies. A simple shift in the werewolf myth, where you’re able to turn into a cow, ideally whenever you choose as opposed to full moon nights, which would interfere with your festival participation or avoidance schedule. The immediate benefits are obvious: freedom to roam at will, police and political protection, powerful people actively fighting for your rights instead of against them, marketable urine.
It gets more interesting if you extend the werewolf myth and decide that you can turn anyone you bite, or graze on, into another werecow, irrespective of gender. Add a voice translator chip, which I’m sure the Chinese have already made, and you’re ready to rule the country.
Already explored by AIB in their excellent Indian Mario video, but the live-action possibilities of this are infinite. Just imagine this: your superpowers would include infinite and inexplicable charisma, laughter in the face of physics, effortless swagger, immortality, telekinesis, reality-bending, constant availability of eager young lovers, entertaining people to beat up, and popularity in Japan.
A Rajni superfan who acquired all his hero’s abilities was actually on my shortlist for Turbulence but was left out because he would simply be impossible to overcome, because Rajni Mode is where your whole life is a videogame played with cheat codes.
Yuga Placement Manager
A YPM would be able to sort people out by the era appropriate to them. We’re a country capable of living in a hundred different eras at the same time, from pre-civilisation to a slightly dystopic future. The YPM’s ability is to transport people to the era best suited to their general behaviour and attitude to life. Every day, around us and in the news, we see people best suited for a hopefully saner future world, and others who’d do so well in the Paleolithic era, or even the Jurassic.
Even on a shorter timeframe, it would be very benign to send a few people to the 1980s, or the 2020s. Whether you’d choose happy-making era-posting or punishment postings is, of course, up to you.
This one’s pretty simple; your superpower would enable everything to be available to you at a 10 per cent discount. We’re a country where at least half the pride from our moon mission came from the fact that our lunar orbiter was cheaper than anyone else’s. We’re only able to value concepts and abstract ideas when the numbers suit us, and our notions of quality are nearly always valuation-linked. Of course it’s unfair to suggest this quality is uniquely Indian in any sense, but this is one superpower that we would all queue up to acquire.
This is actually a character in Resistance, but he’d do very well in present-day India. Everything you say instantly goes viral. You’re every marketing person’s dream: there is no way to avoid the messages – or spam – you send out into the world.
So whether you’re trying to tell people to calm down, feel better, or simply offering cheap real estate and Motape-pareshan reductions, for at least one moment every day, you are absolutely sure you have everyone’s attention.
This is actually something I’m pretty confident Augmented Reality technology will achieve one day, but this just gives you the ability to see the world the way you want it to be. If you’re a racist, everyone looks like the race you like. If you’re very religious or just a big IPL fan, everyone’s wearing the right team colours. If you’re really into hats, everyone would be wearing them. If you have no prejudices at all, you wouldn’t even notice having this power, but if you’re human, it would make you feel so much better about the world.
We all know that saying things is nice, but singing them is better. And singing out your everyday speech is nice, but it’s better if every emotion you feel can be conveyed through the magic of a Bollywood dance number.
As a Sarojinator, you are able to make people around you transform into an impeccably choreographed backup dance crew as you perform one hit song after another. Of course this could potentially destroy the lives of people around you, but look, they’re just backup dancers. You’re the lead.
Samit Basu writes books and other things and is here on Twitter. The new Indian editions of his superhero novels, Turbulence and Resistance, are out now.