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Excerpt from Temporary People by Deepak Unnikrishnan, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Temporary People

by Deepak Unnikrishnan

Temporary People by Deepak Unnikrishnan X
Temporary People by Deepak Unnikrishnan
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    Mar 2017, 272 pages


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Lisa Butts
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Print Excerpt

"Ali wrote me," the sultan mumbled to the fidgety trio. "Plantains and hammour, eh? Be back here July 16th. And by the way, fellows, if this is a joke, need I say much else?"

The men had taken a big risk.

A cousin of Tinto's told him one afternoon there were rumors that since the late 80s a Malayalee scientist, Moosa, 'Agro Moosa' to friends, had been helping the al-Nahiyan and the al-Maktoum families grow Malayalees on secret farms cocooned inside industrial size greenhouses in Musaffah, around 45 minutes away from Abu Dhabi's city center. The Canned Malayalee Project was born after the Labor Ministry in 1983 realized the country would have to multiply its workforce by a factor of four if the sheikhs wanted to accomplish the growth they envisioned in the time they wanted it. Employing more white men was not an option. They wilted in the sun. Then the Head of Intelligence stepped in. A trusted lieutenant, he shared, had noticed the hardiness of a certain kind of man, native to soil where thousands of years ago King Mahabali ruled. "They call this man 'The Malayalee,'" Head of Intelligence explained, and "many of them operate grocery stores." Thus they began observing The Malayalee. Field agents took notes, studied temperament, vulnerability to weather. Then they began studying cadavers. And when Intelligence found the Czech, Dr. Petr, his reputation cemented after cloning two-legged mice, then training them to locate land mines, before being apprehended/ license revoked for trying to grow a human brain in a crystal ball, the project had its Head Researcher.

Laboratories were set up. Experiments conducted, results noted. Early breakthroughs involved growing nostrils in a petri dish. Then some hair, the wrong colored toes. They grew a little man without a brain and he lived for a week before he succumbed to an algae infection. Efforts to grow women eventually were abandoned. The first female prototype germinated stark naked, which made handling the merchandise a cause for concern. She died of loneliness in her little petri dish. Then Moosa, assistant to the Head Researcher, made his breakthrough. From seed he grew a miniature baby with two limbs and a brain. Within two weeks the baby reached adolescence. Sulked, then died. In a year, Moosa perfected the technique, taking over the project from Dr. Petr. Instead of petri dishes, Moosa favored flowerpots packed with earth. Moosa's first batch only managed to grow dwarfs, but after adjusting the crop's exposure to light, giving the soil some air, sizes improved. He also began making his own fertilizer in order to have absolute control over the process. For the testing phase, Moosa switched operations to a greenhouse. Insisted on a climate-controlled environment. And somehow what he grew came out fully clothed.

Moosa's special seeds, fertilized by imported plantains from the Malabar Coast and breaded hammour fillets, hosed with tap water, beef liver, human dung, and imported toddy, was rumored to have grown into oak-dark heat-resistant five-foot-seven Malayalees in 23 days. These fruits, MALLUS (Malayalees Assembled Locally and Lovingly Under Supervision), or canned Malayalees, were picked and washed in concentrated Dettol, before being checked out or "cerebrally customized" as Moosa called it by trained personnel in the Briefing Chambers. Then they were put to work.

MALLUS spoke excellent Arabic since the greenhouses piped in Umm Kulthum records and old Egyptian films as the fruits matured. The gardeners, hand-picked Malayalee scholars, were instructed to speak Malayalam in the greenhouses as much as possible. This was to encourage assimilation and avoid suspicion once the MALLUS began to mingle with the expatriate population, especially Malayalees. MALLUS were also designed to have an average shelf life of 12 years, after which each would report back to headquarters like a dying pachyderm and be driven to the desert for the final chapter in its life cycle.

Excerpted from Temporary People by Deepak Unnikrishnan. Copyright © 2017 by Deepak Unnikrishnan. Excerpted by permission of Restless Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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