As the lockdown has almost everyone strapped in their homes, seem to have hit the bookshelves for solace. Perhaps, it’s the ideal time to wipe the dust off H.G. Wells’ lesser-known debut work The Time Machine and check whether the future really has manifested the way Wells prophesied.
The novel revolves around a time traveller who recounts the story of his journey to the year 802,701. The central premise of the novel is this warped view of what the future holds through the lens of Darwinism, of whom Wells was an ardent follower — that humans would evolve into the Eloi and the Morlocks which are 802,701’s idea of the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’. The Eloi are the rotund, hedonistic overlords of the surface whereas the Morlocks are the nocturnal ‘human spiders’ pushed under the ground like dust under the carpet. While the Morlocks serve the Eloi, the latter also live in the fear of being devoured by their servants.
At first glance, it is tempting to be dismissive of such a polarised world. Yet, every passing day serves as a grim reminder that it is a divided world and there is clearly a winning side. The COVID-19 pandemic, which has brought the world to a standstill, illustrates it the best. The Eloi of contemporary times are the billionaire capitalists, standing on the worn and weary shoulders of the working class. Take Jeff Bezos for example, who saw a whopping jump in his net worth (in a matter of five weeks) despite his (overworked) employees being underpaid. Or, Elon Musk who echoes the message of the government in power, rebelling for freeing the economy, with a complete disregard for public health.
Sadly things are not far too different back home either. In the early stages of the lockdown, WhatsApp was rife with clips of the upper-class openly flouting social distancing rules at private gatherings and still getting away with it, the flouters bore a stricter brunt of stepping out of their houses. While the privileged Indian are busy beating the perfect dalgona coffee, and organizing Zoom parties, the now-unemployed workers are struggling to make ends meet . With its new “Vande Bharat” initiative, the government provides special flights for Indians stranded abroad, it has received much criticism for having kept the status of transport for the migrant labourers in a limbo. The list goes on.
And this is where the Eloi-Morlock analogy gains more traction. The rich Eloi continue to take pleasure in their life, as usual, oblivious to the struggles of the Morlock. While it is not inappropriate for the Eloi to enjoy the time in lockdown as long as they follow the rules, it must be with the cognizance that the scales are tilted in their favour. And naturally so — it is a government elected for business reforms and higher income tax cuts. Despite its cash transfer schemes to the poor, there has been little evidence of their success.
After having extended the lockdown for the third time, the future course of action is still unclear. With new cases cropping up every day, the curve doesn’t show any sign of flattening. Besides, this is without taking into consideration the several cases going undetected due to under testing.
Right now, the Indian government stands at the crossroads. It is imperative from a health perspective for the lockdown to continue. However, the continuation will only lead to further stress on the Indian poor. Already reeling under the first two lockdowns, with little to no forewarning, it is difficult to say how much longer they can sustain themselves. With no job in the present or in the near future, it is likely that starvation could get them before the virus does. It is a toss-up between lives and livings — how long the Morlocks can stay above ground.
All those labouring under the delusion that our society is still far from dehumanizing the poor to the extent of the Morlock, perhaps need to be reminded of the plight of migrant labourers being sprayed by pesticides and disinfectants .
The notion that our society is highly unequal and divided is not new. Nor is the idea that the rich make the rules. In a time where, for once, it is everyone against a non-human and invisible entity, the Morlock will still have the worst end of the stick. Thus, it may not be all that unthinkable that they too, getting fed up with the Eloi, learn to feed off them, like their successors in 802,701. Perhaps that could be the revolution Marx saw after all: beat the rich, then eat the rich. And perhaps, as this continues, we may find ourselves in a far, far-off future that the Time Traveller saw — one with no life but only the deep, blue sea.