“Alone With Gandhari” appeared in Clarkesworld #42, in March 2010. It was the second story I sold in 2010, but the first to be published. It was very sudden, and very exciting!
Despite going from sale to print so quickly, my first attempt at the story was back in graduate school, sometime around 1999 or 2000. (In the dreadful original, a rural Indian named Gautam, working for his biotech-terrorist and nutball-Hindutvavādi uncle Prabinder, unwittingly unleashes a [fortunately quite unfeasible] biotech plague designed to emaciate cows and render them and their offspring permanently unfit for agricultural use; the plague ends up mutating and affecting humans too, and he and his young cousin flee across the border and make a futile attempt to take cover in Vancouver). Far-fetched it was, but hey, everything’s gotta start somewhere, right?
Other than the passing mention of this plague in the final story, the only element remaining from the original is the epigram, from Romesh C. Dutt’s (very) late-19th-century translation/abridgement of the Mahabharata; while condensed not as well-regarded as other translations, I find Mr. Dutt busted a hell of a rhyme for a man of that time.
Kate Baker’s commentary at the end of the Clarkesworld podcast of the tale is astute: the story feels among the most near-future of my published SF stories so far, simply because so much of what’s in it — an obesity epidemic, religious extremism, and the sickening state of the majority of the corporate world’s attitude towards nature — are all just slightly funhouse-mirror versions of things that are major concerns in North American (or maybe all of Western, or even, increasingly, world) culture right now.
And while Guru Deepak is a caricature, I shall have to hope that readers realize he’s not intended as a caricature of Indians in general (nor is his insane cult meant to be any sort of mockery of real Indian religion or religions); rather, I’m mocking the public persona (and New Age cult) of just one very famous Indian(-American?) who ranks among the biggest purveors of woo-based idiocy in the West. I’m sure readers aware of the fellow can easily guess whom it is I’m mocking.
(His use of the name Gandhari for the much-revered cow alludes to the Gandhari of the Mahabharata having borne a hundred sons, perhaps a dark omen of the kind of biotechnological response Deepak hopes to inflict upon bovine population of the Earth through the cow of the same name, and upon humankind as well. (This was the plot of an earlier version of the story.) Deepak apparently ignored the fact that the Kauravas failed… or maybe thinks this is their second chance, or is sarcastically using the name to highlight the ignorance of his followers.)