Ali Ud-Din And The Magic Car(pet)
For our fairy tale week, we commissioned a modern retelling of a fairy tale. We were expecting something along the lines of the female protagonist not needing any male help, or maybe something that was LGBTQ themed, essentially something that is ‘in vogue’ right now. However, Sakshi surprised us with her fresh take on a modern retelling of a fairy tale. She merged science fiction with the magic and imagination that is so typical of fairy tales, and through this short but effective story, she made us think about the age-old debate between logic and faith. Our protagonist prays to science, while his wife to her God. Whose faith saves them in the end? Read the piece and find out.
The editors asked for a piece of creative fiction and laid down two radically different options.
So here is my take. Sit back and listen.
This is a modern retelling of a legendary fairytale, Aladdin living in a world so fixated on technology, it is compelling.
The question of the hour– “Does magic even exist? Or is talking too much about it going to make the investors resist?”
Science versus religion and facts versus fiction.
I will lay the story bare, and let you make a decision.
My only wish is you think, think hard with precision.
Ali Ud-Din was hosting a party for a few colleagues and friends. Food was being passed around the dining table and the drinks were regularly replenished. There was talk about the sorry state of current affairs in the U.S.A., interspersed with the occasional silence where everyone mulled over the insanity of it all. Ali was a man of science and engineering. He wondered out loud that the world was heading to an apocalypse of sorts.
“Doubt and suspicion lingers and we are all sceptical of news- is it even true? Fake news is a menace to society and it shows no signs of slowing down, despite all our efforts to curb it.” In a similar, but another vein, he continued, “In the past, we were foolish to have blind faith in certain things. God? Whether or not he really exists is a moot point now. Believing in the existence of miracles just doesn’t mean anything anymore. People have opened their eyes and come to the realization that we need concrete facts to survive. We need evidence. We need rationale. And that is why I will always be a true believer in science.”
“Hear, hear”, his guests applauded and then went on to sip on their beverages in quiet contemplation. Ali’s wife, Jaz, sighed at the opposite end of the table. He questioned her with his eyes, but she shook her head and smiled.
The food was over, and it was time to clear the plates and move to the living room where the guests could continue the conversation. As everyone made to get up from their chairs – Ali gestured to an antique carpet hanging on the wall. “Did you know that I am a direct descendant of Prince Ali of Ababwa?” he asked the room with a twinkle in his eyes. “A royal lineage and all I inherited is this old carpet!” On not getting the reaction he wanted, he continued, “You all know him as Aladdin. I was named after him. Legend has it that it was this very carpet that he used to fly around town. Shall we try and see if it works?”. By now, everyone was pleasantly drunk and game for a bit of fun and laughter. Ali’s daughters snickered. This was a party trick their father brought out all the time. If anything, it was good entertainment.
Ali brought down the carpet and laid it on the floor. It was beautiful but old and musty. One by one everyone took their turn standing on it and as expected, nothing happened. There was laughter and a feeling of good-natured embarrassment, a slight glee at being caught looking childish in front of your peers. Probably thanks to the liquid courage they had consumed. “You all should know that my next project has been loosely inspired by this old thing. But I will not share what it is until I see it all the way through. But know that I have faith in it. Science and technology are things of beauty, you see,” said Ali.
“Well, at least we can proudly say we took a walk on Aladdin’s magic carpet” quipped one guest. Another jibed, “Poor chap that Aladdin. He must have suffered serious injuries trying to fly on it. Such a nonsensical thing – magic.” The night came to an end and everyone left, but not before thanking Ali and Jaz for such a wonderful and entertaining evening.
Jaz looked at her husband lovingly. Yawning, they both headed for bed. When they were ready to turn in, she asked Genie, the AI assistant, to shut the curtains, lock the doors and turn off the lights, in phases- dim and then completely dark. One second later Genie responded, “Your wish is my command!” Jaz looked over at her husband and they both laughed. The Genie joke would never get old. The genius behind Genie was none other than Ali who had built it, especially for their house.
The next morning, Ali retreated to his garage. It was a large space that functioned as a workshop for his inventions, many of which were born here. In the centre of the room was a giant object covered by a tarpaulin. He removed it carefully and admired his most ambitious project. It was a car, one that he intended to make fly. And from the looks of it, it wouldn’t be too long before he would be able to take it for a ‘test drive’. Ali came alive when he was able to do what he did best- invent. Building the impossible.
A few weeks later Ali yelled out his wife’s name, asking her to come into the garage. “I think it is ready! I will test the car next week! I will hold a press conference right here in the back yard, and spend this week furnishing it and making it look really, really good. Isn’t she beautiful?” Jaz hugged her husband, but at the same time felt nervous butterflies in her stomach. She loved her husband and would always support him — but a flying car? It was bad enough that he was going to try out this ridiculous contraption by himself, but did he really have to do it in front of the media? At best he was going to make a fool of himself and at worst, get seriously injured.
She kept her thoughts to herself. Her husband was a believer in science and an ardent worshipper of technology. That was his only religion. She, on the other hand, believed in the existence of something less concrete but more comforting. When times were tough she turned to her faith and it had never let her down, but who was she to challenge her husband’s beliefs and convictions? Everyone had a choice and could decide what truth and reality were for them.
The launch date was set. Ali was going to change the world on a Tuesday evening. On Monday evening he took one long look at his furnished car and admired the beautiful paint job. Just before turning in for the night, he was struck by an idea- he would use the carpet as the flooring for the car. And when he went to file a patent for his creation, he would name it The Magic Carpet – a nod to his lineage.
On the fateful Tuesday evening, the house and its lawn were inundated with people. A crowd had gathered to watch an eccentric man unveil something that big tech companies had been racing to make a reality for years. Laymen were chatting away animatedly while scientists debated the possibility of success, the excitement in the air was palpable. Jaz sat quietly in the audience listening to the chatter and said a silent prayer.
Ali Ud-Din made a grand entrance and proceeded to tell the audience about the wonders of technology and why having a scientific minded approach had never let him down. He went on to talk about his blind trust in logical sequences, facts, data and research. How those combined with a love for tinkering with spare parts had brought him to this point. He introduced The Magic Carpet and told the audience how it had Artificial Intelligence built into it, how it would always have Genie along for the ride. Appreciative laughter went around the room as the journalists connected the dots between Genie, The Magic Carpet and Ali.
Ali got into the car and took a deep breath. He reassured himself, “Have faith in yourself, your work, and technology.” At the same time, Jaz bowed her head low, now praying fervently to the powers that be that this would work. The journalists had no clue but the energy in the room was strong. One prayer was being said to science and another to God.
The silence was deafening. Ali scrunched up his face in deep concentration while pressing the accelerator, but it felt like nothing was happening. A few seconds went by, but they felt like minutes, hours even. A few more minutes passed and the crowd started to look at each other and shake their heads. It was a let-down. A massive failure and a colossal waste of everyone’s time. The chairs scraped back as people started getting up to leave. Mostly everyone had made their way to the exit when someone screamed “It is working! The Magic Car, no Magic Carpet, is flying” Everyone looked towards the Sun, but there was no car. Till a finger pointed to only a few feet above the ground, and there, surely enough the car was steadily hovering.
“I did it!” Ali yelled out triumphantly, “I knew technology would not let me down!”. In a booming voice he talked to his car and said “Genie! Are you ready to embark on this journey with me?” A few seconds later he heard his favourite words emit from the car speakers “Ali!, your wish is my command!” He looked out at the crowd to soak it all in – the admiration and the disbelief that he had made this work. Amongst the people, he saw his wife’s smiling face, proud but yet beckoning him to come down soon.
He would come down, but not before going for a quick ride. He gave Jaz a look, reassuring her that he knew what he was doing. He couldn’t have done it without her love and unwavering support. Slowly but confidently he pressed the accelerator and pulled the gear, the car shot further up in the sky and he flew away from the crowd amidst deafening cheers. The faces became ant-sized and he dreamed about all the things that would happen tomorrow. As he turned the steering wheel, he looked down and to his horror realised that he had forgotten to turn the ignition on!
The car was flying, but why? Had his technology still somehow worked when he pressed the accelerator or was it because it was perched on top of Aladdin’s fabled Magic Carpet. The power of both his and his wife’s prayers had provided plenty of fuel to fly- but the question on whose faith had delivered could not possibly be answered. And this is a mystery no one can solve.
And now we are at the end of the story, I will leave you to read between the lines.
In the meanwhile take comfort and know this, Ali and Jazmin flew off into the sunset, the picture of bliss. Safe in their knowledge that while their beliefs may differ, the love for each other would forever endure till the end of time.
Sakshi is an introvert, dreamer and believer who best expresses herself through written words. When away from work, you can find her hidden between the pages of a really good book, devouring her favourite foods or living vicariously through her Pinterest page.
You can read her articles, here.