Extractive Practices Depicted in Adrish Bardhan’s Science Fiction

Extractive Practices Depicted in Adrish Bardhan’s Science Fiction

Monali Chatterjee

The imagination of human beings, beyond all existing wonders of science and technology, often fuels the creation of scientific inventions and interventions. One of the best manifestations of such imagination is science fiction in literature. Science fiction in films is sometimes restrained or modified by production constraints. But the world of imagination in literature is unlimited for both the writer and the reader. It is for this reason that the genre of science fiction is one of the most popular genres of the postmodern era. Although science fiction originated in the West, (Roberts 24) it has travelled beyond the borders of western countries as a highly sought-after and successful genre. Some of the most lauded authors of sci-fi in India are Satyajit Ray (1921-1992), Adrish Bardhan (1932-2019), and Anish Deb (1951-2021).

As a highly acclaimed writer of both crime and science fiction, a translator, and an editor, Adrish Bardhan is an immortal name in the world of science fiction among the readers of Bengali literature. He graduated in science from Calcutta University. His ingenious science fiction immediately captured the interest of young adults and adult readers alike. The main character in his science fiction, Professor Natboltu Chakra, is a dedicated and celebrated researcher who garnered overwhelming approbation among Bardhan’s readers. Apart from translating crime and detective fiction into Bengali and other stories, he has also edited a couple of science fiction magazines, Ascharya and Fantastic. Starting in 1963, Ascharya became the first science fiction magazine in India. 

As one of the pioneers of science fiction in a regional language in India, Adrish Bardhan’s stories have been immensely popular. His corpus of stories “distinguishes its fictional worlds to one degree or another from the world in which we actually live: a fiction of the imagination rather than observed reality, a fantastic literature” (Roberts 1). Much of his science fiction, without being pedantic, subtly conveys serious messages, hoping to encourage lay readers to become environmentally cognizant and socially responsible citizens through its subtle didacticism. As a postmodernist genre, science fiction is often a hard-hitting literary channel through which a futuristic depiction of the predicament of humans. This is typically characteristic of Adrish Bardhan’s literature.

These tales are erected upon flawlessly conceivable scientific elucidations of unusual manifestations or incidences and significantly concern human existence, like the mutations of hormones or organisms, an erratic android robot, and “dark energy” or “the talking tree” warning about the inevitable catastrophe of the irreversible destruction of the world. This paper explores how such innovative representation and techno-cultural advances demonstrate the concept of extraction in varying degrees and dimensions. Through this research, an attempt has been made to examine Bardhan’s use of coherently integrated science fiction and fantasy in some selected stories by proposing revolutionary resolutions for climatic changes, natural calamities, global terrorism, and extractive practices. Bardhan’s narratives conform to a “branch of fantastic, or non-realist, fiction in which difference is located within a materialist, scientific discourse, whether or not the science invoked is strictly consonant with science as it is understood today” (Roberts 2). The criterion for selecting these stories is the projection of science fiction through the lens of extractive practices that dominates much of the neo-liberalist economy in the present day.

The notion of extraction involves the coerced removal of resources, objects, or individuals from their current habitat to another space. This coercion may involve the violence of invasion, burglary, or parasitic infestation of another organism, individual, or space. Extraction also refers to the fortification of a certain structure or system by bringing resources from another place. This may lead to the imperialist displacement of entire communities and civilizations, thereby commodifying the resources of the victims.

Bardhan’s stories concerning such extractive practices can be classified into three categories for the purpose of this research: attempts of extraction, extraction of resources, and global extraction. However, every story that is discussed in this paper does not always befit a single category. The analysis of these selected science fiction stories by Adrish Bardhan is based on an English translation, originally written in Bengali. Sci-fi is a “cultural wallpaper” (Aldiss and Wigmore 14) and some of the Bengali diction has been retained in the analysis to preserve the authenticity of the research. Most of the stories are narrated by the character of Dinanath Nath as witnessed by him or told to him by Prof. Natboltu Chakra.

Attempts of extraction in Bardhan’s tales expose the vanity of human greed and ambition. The stories that are elucidated below depict failed attempts of extraction. A perfect balance of science and fantasy comes to the rescue and prevents this extraction. The story “Maron Machine” (“Death Machine”) demonstrates the sudden disappearance of rockets launched in space by various wealthy and ambitious nations. These rockets vanish into thin air, causing nations to indict one another with allegations of theft and deceit. Astronauts had previously reported seeing a planet-like puckered sphere, or a “death machine,” before they disappeared into this “black hole.” It is only when Prof. Natboltu confronts this machine through an expedition in a one-man spaceship that he learns that the world of machines in this spherical space-ship wishes to take over the entire Universe by killing all forms of life, including humans on Earth. It is only through immense persuasion that the professor establishes that humans and machines can coexist without making one feel inferior to the other, and he miraculously leaves with a cancer-destroying virus. Here, Prof. Natboltu uses extraction to his advantage. The story demonstrates a failed attempt at aliens’ extraction of the human race. Stableford points out that “Such accounts of ominous cosmic encounters often found abundant dramatic fuel in analogies drawn between physics and psychology” (65).

A more pronounced degree of attempted extraction is visible in the story “Molecule Manush” (“Molecule Man”). Pitambar, a well-equipped excavator, consults Prof. Natboltu and successfully excavates the hidden treasures of King Jaidev of Jaigarh Fort of Kashmir from clues that he forcibly extracts from its neighbouring tribal communities. The clues indicate that out of the four secret stone rooms under a stone slab, three are stuffed with gold jewellery and sovereigns, which Pitambar greedily extracts out of the cavity (Bardhan 421). The warning in the clues indicated that the fourth room should not be opened. However, Pitambar’s avarice prompts him to force open this cubicle, which contains King Jaidev’s tomb in a glass box. Suddenly, the corpse inside vanishes and all the extracted gold splashes and sinks into River Iravati, on the edge of which this secret vault existed. Pitambar mournfully relates this failed attempt to Prof. Natboltu in a very different voice, which later turns out to be that of the deceased King Jaidev.

King Jaidev had been hibernating in his tomb, through his capacity to change the structure of molecules within himself (gifted by this courtier scientist) and can assume the appearance of anyone he chooses. Since Pitambar comes to extract his treasures, he changes the molecular structure of the vaults and the gold appears to sink in the river, but is actually restored back to its vaults. King Jaidev parasitically invades Pitambar’s body by making changes to the molecular structure and assumes his appearance. Having reported about this extraction to the professor, King Jaidev likely moves into the body of some other powerful person in order to extract wealth and power from another place. While Pitambar’s extraction fails, King Jaidev’s extraction through molecular changes triumphs at the end of the story. This echoes the notion that “Values and beliefs, understanding and interpretations change with time and place but they take hold of the human imagination at a deep level” (Nichols viii).

The extraction of resources belonging to humans by external forces or aliens is vividly depicted in Bardhan’s stories. In the story “Android Atanko” (“Android Terror”), a human-looking Android tears apart a nine-year-old tribal girl after kidnapping her to see how her body was different from its own synthetic fibres. This is an unusual extraction of a human by an android machine. This android is not an operating system in a computer or a robot but, rather, a synthesised human manufactured in a laboratory. It reads the mind of a man and assists him in pilfering a lump sum of money from an ATM, claiming that the programme of morality or ethics has not been installed into his system. On learning this from the TV news, the creator, Dr. Mathamota (translates as Dr. Fathead) of this android machine, with Prof. Natboltu’s assistance rescinds the powers of the android to save the world from further damage. In this respect, the story recalls Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.

Extraction can also be a silent pursuit instead of a violent one. This is best illustrated in the story “Sona” (“Gold”). Instead of a single case of extraction, a series of extractive practices are conducted by aliens to secure gold from traditional sources that humans have accumulated for the last ten centuries and which are a form of a national legacy for each country from which it has been stolen. Two aliens receive shelter on the deserted island of Andaman with Prof. Natboltu’s help from the government of India. However, after some time, they send a swarm of insects loudly buzzing into a luxurious resort in Japan and cart away its prized gold bathtub despite strict surveillance. The locust-like swarm of insects dissolves statues of gold weighing hundreds of tons from a pharaoh’s tomb in Egypt, Ghengis Khan’s gold coins from Iran, Baron Rez’s gold from the Middle Ages, the gold of the religious crusaders of the 13th century in Paris, Khan Batu’s two golden horses from the Sahara desert, gold burgled from the temples of the Inca civilization by Spanish and Portuguese looters that had been drowned in the stormy seas, a large golden statue from Bangkok, Thailand, and vast reserves of gold from Fort Knox in the US. When Prof. Natboltu confronts the spike-headed aliens with charges of burglary, they admit that they need gold for survival just like humans require iron for their blood. Prof. Natboltu also detects that the culprits had extracted the idea of getting a species of insects to be able to coat itself with gold from the researchers of France and Germany so that the precious metal could be pilfered from anywhere in broad daylight.

These extractive practices demonstrate the subtle and dormant but immoral inclinations that sometimes take control of trespassing humans in the world. D’Ammassa is convinced that “it is extremely unlikely that humans would be able to live on alien worlds, even with compatible atmospheres, because the biochemistry of the local plants and animals would almost certainly not provide us with viable sources of food” (313). Therefore, Bardhan brings the aliens to the Earth to project his sarcasm about human avarice.

“Kaalo Chaakti” (“Black Diskette”) is a spine-chilling tale of a ruthless, rapid extraction of human bodies by a virus that pervades the world. It depicts all the forms of extraction mentioned above. In a lonely place, a medical student, Nikhil, finds a black diskette measuring an inch and half in diameter that suddenly pricks him with its unnoticeable barb. By the time Nikhil reaches his classroom with his roommate, Abhay, he is seized with a violent flu and is rushed to the hospital. The contents of his pocket are emptied into a drawer of the cabinet of the hospital ward. When no one is around, the black diskette emits light and a ray penetrates Nikhil’s eye and changes him forever.

Nikhil returns to the university campus hostel where he stays with Abhay, feeling fit and healthy, but Abhay notices drastic mutations in Nikhil’s body and personality. His eyes become listless and emit light in the dark. At 2:10 am one morning, Nikhil shows Abhay what appears to be a meteor shower in the dark sky. Nikhil does not seem to know how he knew about the meteor shower of Pleiades (Kritika constellation). This is a subtle extraction by a virus through the black diskette that inhibits his body and mind. Nikhil gets in touch with others who have been infected in a similar way and secretly disposes off the corpse of Natowar, a hospital ward-attendant whose case was under scrutiny because of his mysterious death by the diskette. This infection spreads in a police station and, at 2:30 am one morning, Abhay finds Nikhil in a secret meeting with thirty other such infected persons.

Abhay finds Nikhil downloading software, meeting Nitu Bose (in the same city), a software titan and Nikhil’s continuous efforts in spreading the virus. By this time, the mutating virus has infected not only the people of the city, but also spread throughout the world. People infected with the virus would buy the diskettes from infected shopkeepers for infecting their own children. People who were in power in various countries are also infected. Those infected exhort the others to join the community of the infected “superhumans.” Nitu Bose writes to the UN to get infected by the virus or be prepared for war. Abhay extracts a yellow fluid from the barb of the black diskette and consults Prof. Natboltu. The UN sends military arrangements through an aeroplane to the city of the university where Nikhil studies. A diskette flies past and the plane vanishes into thin air. This implies that the diskette is capable of creating a mini black hole, which is a lethal form of extraction. Instead of being governed by an individual’s own brain, a mutated person is governed by a super brain that exists in the Milky Way.

Apart from the diskette and the meteor showers, the extractors are not visible to humans. Prof. Natboltu realises that the black diskette releases “prion” proteins into the human body, which activates a dormant lethal virus that is present in the DNA of human genes. By spreading a special kind of laughing gas using missiles all over the world (with the help of his millionaire friend and missile owner, P. G. Putatundo) and dousing the diskettes into liquid oxygen, the effect of the mutation-causing virus is finally dispelled and the human beings are liberated from the deadly virus. About sixty per cent of the total population of the world had been infected by this virus. Most of these humans die and the rest are morphed back to their original human form. The Earth becomes much lighter with the decrease in population. This helps the governments to curb poverty and unemployment.

Global-level extraction is evident in those of Bardhan’s stories in which non-humans urgently point out important messages to human beings. The subtly didactic stories remind   the readers how human beings have been extracting precious resources from the planet without being concerned about its consequences and the possible extinction of the entire human race. Under the influence of neo-liberalism, humans have been extracting a far greater quantity of natural resources and non-renewable energy in order to commodify them in the international market. The human extraction of natural resources leads to the extinction of both.

The ultimate form of human extraction by humans in the form of war, terrorism and all forms of actions that threaten world peace is poignantly depicted in the story “Dark Energy.” In order to put an end to the violent atrocities, the “quintessence” (as expounded by Aristotle) or “Dark Energy” shows Dinanath Nath around the war-smitten and terror-stricken nations of the world. “Dark Energy” depicts the reification of scientific fantasies into reality by a sudden bombardment of all the defence systems of countries that are governed by the hegemony of terrorism and tyranny. Dark Energy—represented by a very heavy marble—turns out to be a wondrous antidote to world terrorism and anarchy. However, it shows how this extraction could be avoided if human beings value world peace.

The warning against human extraction of natural resources is firmly reinstated in the story “Gaachh” (“Tree”). Prof. Natboltu finds a square stone and is hypnotically drawn to Easter Island on the Pacific Ocean. A large ancient tree on its neighbouring island, Motu Nui, communicates to the professor through its cells about the perilous consequences of climatic changes due to the continual human extraction of natural resources and deforestation. Bardhan suggests a production-oriented economy instead of an “extractive economy” (Hecht 257).

Prof. Natboltu is an unbiased scientist who has taken upon himself the task of restoring world peace and stopping any form of forcible or unethical extraction. He ensures that poetic justice is present and retribution is meted out to those who deserve it. In most of these stories, the extraction is stopped or prevented in order to bring about poetic justice in the interest of humans and the survival of the planet. Bardhan’s style of depicting sci-fi vs reality rises beyond binary aspects like nature vs technology, history vs global progress, and human beings vs nature. Extractive activities have been part of human existence since the inception of humans on the planet. Bardhan’s science fiction proposes simple solutions that may require the vast majority to think alike, towards the conservation of natural and ecological resources in order to minimise the effects of climate change. The hope that the urgent messages against extraction in Bardhan’s stories may reach a wide audience convinces Bardhan’s readers (most notably, through the story “String Bhoot”) that the science of the past may become outdated, but the science fiction of today becomes the science of the future (Bardhan 658).


Aldiss, Brian. W. and David Wingrove. Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction. Gollancz, 1986.

Bardhan, Adrish. Professor Natboltu Chakra Sangraha. Ananda Publishers, n.d.

D’Ammassa, Don. Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction. Facts on File Library on World Literature, 2005.

Hecht, Susanna. “Extraction, Gender and Neoliberalism in the Western Amazon.” Nature, Raw Materials, and Political Economy: Research in Rural Sociology and Development, vol. 10, 2005, 253–285.

Nichols, Bill. “Foreword.” Cognitive Theory and Documentary Film, edited byCatalin Brylla and Mette Kramer.  Palgrave Macmillan, 2018, v-x.

Roberts, Adam. Science Fiction: The Critical Idiom. Routledge, 2000.

—. The History of Science Fiction. Second Edition. Palgrave, 2006.

Stableford, Brian. Science Fact and Science Fiction: An Encyclopedia. Routledge, 2006.

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SFRA Review is the flagship publication of the Science Fiction Research Association since 1971.

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