Sunday, March 12, 2017

Never Rains in California



"It never rains in California
But girl don't they warn ya
It pours, man it pours"
- *Albert Hammond (1972)*

These days I wake up to an unmistakable drum roll. It must be 5 AM, for that is exactly when the sump announces its utility, welcoming the morning ration, only to be briefly interrupted by a tap left open overnight sputtering to life. Vented, they make their peace, and the increasingly muffled beat picks up from where it left off. I don’t need to be up and about yet; this brass band aficionado has some more time remaining prone, appreciating the upcoming finer movements of the ensemble.

This third-floor two-room tenement, overlooking a wide expanse of greenish lake bed devoid of water and forsaken by Bangalore’s infamous land sharks, is shared among 3 of us old batch mates. The only employed ‘bread-winner’, and occasional generous benefactor, has justifiably hogged the main bedroom while we make do with the living. My immediate roommate maintains owl hours, sleeping during the day, and most important, leaving the “water-watch” to me. The sole duty being to be aware enough to close the valve once full; our landlord decided that installing a float valve was being too lenient on the serfs.

It’s hot, muggy and the rains have not been kind. We might be onto a drought, or so they say on TV. The arthritic ceiling fan, burdened with dust and grime, barely manages to push around its own shadow. I feel empty and tired. It seems like the dread that envelops you when you know you are forgetting something, something too frightening to recollect.

My elder sister had called me yesterday. It was very unlike her to dial, for from me she expects the right and privilege of a call incoming. She was at her in-laws, and sounded worried, mostly that I might be worrying too much, a circular logic that plays out even when my mother calls. I agree it is tough on her, always rooting for a ‘never-do-well’ sibling, in the shadow of an over-achieving duo that is her elder brother and her husband. “Try getting in somewhere. You can still give GRE. Wait, you gave GRE. What happened? Did they call?” and so on.

My mother, on the other hand, finds joy in being oblivious. I had made a passing mention, in hindsight avoidable, about a University in Southern California that I may apply to. The selection process to their School of Engineering was somehow lost on ‘simple village people’, as she liked to describe herself and her ilk. As a result perhaps, now everyone and her aunt have been appraised on her pride and joy moving to a place in the US, apparently named after a Mumbai suburb.  Yes it’s in Santa Cruz, CA, but she finds my correction beside the point. I am the cautionary tale, sheep gone astray, last on the boat, all rolled into one, whose mention in family circles used to attract a sigh and a change in topic. At long last, this one’s got onto something good, just like his brother, something that she might secretly hope would not involve discussing marks or grades, at least for now. She was relieved; I could be the next Santa Claus for all she cared.

Father stayed out of all this. His first two offspring had given him enough to take pride over. The eldest was “Stateside”, as in “hey, Bro, give me a ring once you're Stateside”. In his book, it only reads as, don’t call me while still a loser. The girl, my sister, a doctor, wasn’t doing too badly either. Until I’d say she married another, that Gold Medalist of Psycho, whose idea of small talk was always regurgitating a humble-brag as Fate had him cruelly torn between choosing Engineering or Medicine. The nut wisely chose the path to asylum sciences.

Not once did my Dad care to ask where I was headed, or why. He might have felt he had done his part. Most commonly summarized in “Do you need any more money?” a pleasantry he shared on every occasion he spoke to his youngest. It was not that my folks were comfortable. My father was very much retired, too proud to ask for help, and a poor judge of his own limitations. A combination that led to, among others, his recent ill-advised venture into organic farming, apparently to supplement his pension. The rains failed him, much like me, his crops wilting between a parched earth and a clear Nellore sky. But I suspect he saved the bulk of his disappointment over his bad loans and wasted crop.

On my part, I took the middle-ground in all I ventured. Especially in most fields academic, I gave a net return meeting the median GPA from a middling engineering college. The GRE score too stayed true to style. To complete the picture I aimed high enough to hit one of ‘US News & World Report’s “Top 3 Very Average Engineering Schools”, if there were one such category. For some reason I saw this as another shot at redemption, to prove to the naysayers that I too could make it. Not that many would say 'nay', that judgement was passed long ago. A Post Grad from the US, a Green Card, who knew. To be in the august company of those who got to dial their brother, this time local; only dial, for hell would need to be much cooler before I go visit that pompous schmuck.

The outlook might have been average, but a fortune was spent on classes, my present lodging and such, when it might have been much more prudent to look for a real job, any job. My sister had made that into a pointless crusade, only for me to play the 'Higher Education’ card. All this was not easy on my folks, though my mother did mention the troubles in passing. Like I said, he is too proud to ask, or tell.

I am not that proud. Not enough to lie to own sister. I did tell her of the red bordered envelope dropped off late yesterday. Post marked Santa Cruz, premium air, the University Seal large and mighty to the top-right corner. The document felt like smooth cardboard, triple-bond. The words seemed to float up, as the ground beneath gave way like a mountain of gravel.
They regret to inform my application has been rejected, the number of applicants being high, and so on.

The ringing from the tank had by now receded into a conspiratorial blubbering. Time to get up and about, for the Lord of the house had mentioned a series of walk-in interviews on the other side of town.
Headed for the exit, I glimpsed the small print on the envelope left face-down on the teapoy. 

"The State of California encourages all to save water, during its most serious drought since 1991”

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