All was lost. In his twenty-four years of existence on earth, this was the third chance at immortality that he had squandered. His breath was coming out in rasps; he felt the onset of a panic attack, one of the many his ordinary mortal life promised.
Outside his room, preparations were in full swing. Pakodas were frying in giant woks, crackling in oil; freshly painted walls had been adorned by vague oil paintings that made him slightly nauseous if he tried too hard to understand them. Tiles were hiding their scars under recently polished furniture, vases stuffed and drowning in the happiness of fresh flowers, fairy lights were adorning the walls, their ends tied to every possible object that could exist in three-dimensions.
He opened the door and a brilliant shaft of light forced its way in, taunting his darkness. Immediately he shut it, unable to tolerate such brightness, no doubt emanating from his family, all of whom were certified demigods.
An annual meeting of the elite Council of the Demigods was held and this year, his parents had the privilege of hosting it. Each year, the council gathered and discussed the state of the nation, its ineffective governance and filthy commoners; each year they forecast certain doom, quietly reassuring themselves of the immunity their immortality provided. In this ocean of their brilliance he felt like an ugly oil spill— dark, depressing, toxic, filthy and forever immiscible with them. It was their very construct and nature that made sure he’d never be able to dissolve into their ocean.
The source of their divinity was the pristine Indian temple of knowledge – The Indian Institute of Technology. They had all entered as humans and emerged as Gods, forever secure in their abilities, with a lifetime guarantee of respect, and assured winners of all matrimonial alliances by default. Amidst them was he, kicked away for the third time from the altar of IIT.
In his room, he slumped back into his chair and stared at the computer screen. At 18, he had failed JEE and at 23, GATE. Having purged his soul of all things technical in a spectacularly unsuccessful stint in an ordinary engineering college, he finally came out to his parents.
I have the soul of an artist, he had said one day over dinner.
Stunned silence followed. He slunk back into his room to lick his wounds. His parents mourned for a fortnight, no doubt dumbstruck at how the two demigods had managed to produce this mortal weakling. Both their destinies had neatly been tied together in a perfectly arranged marriage satisfying all the planets and stars, castes and most importantly, their divine status, each having prayed at the temple of IIT for four hard years, albeit at different locations. Ever since, they had perfectly fit into each other’s life. Until he had arrived.
Exactly 15 days later, his mother walked into his room. His father was nowhere in sight. Smiling down at him, she sat down on the bed and pulled the headphones off of his head. Running her hand over his hair gently she said, “Beta, why don’t you wash your hair more often? All the oil and dandruff from your scalp is causing acne on your forehead.” He closed his eyes in surrender.
“Here, I have a present for you.” Tentatively, he opened his eyes to find a box of oil pastels rising and falling from his line of sight on his stomach. She had always been the one to recover first; his father was still battling with the six year old trauma of the JEE debacle. “We always wondered, even when you were child, why you could never colour inside the lines. Conformity was never your nature. Your struggle with words or even simple arithmetic…I understand that now. You’re not like the others. You’re meant for something different. Even your inability to understand rhythm and music… that makes you stand apart even from the rebellious Rockstars right?” She giggled in self-congratulation at her successful youth-oriented joke.
“Your father and I believe you have a lot of potential, beta.” She often misquoted his father’s stoic silence and passive-aggressive disappointment as belief in potential. “You really should become an artist.” He sat up warily, waiting for the trap to snap. It was coming, any minute now. He wondered what it could possib— “Fill up the CEED form na!” There, it snapped. Leaving him with a box of oil pastels and a backdoor entry into IIT, she walked out, full of optimism for his potential and her genius scheme.
The Common Entrance Examination for Design was another unconventional shot at IIT. No doubt his mother thought it was a masterstroke; her artist son at IIT, safely bending the laws. She was thrilled at this dare-devilish decision of hers. And so that’s what it would be, he thought. Until the day of the council meeting.
The doorbell rang. He jumped, fear flooding his body; the Council had arrived. He stared harder at the computer screen, hoping their divine proximity might cause miracles. It didn’t though. ‘You are NOT qualified for CEED 2015. Your Part A score is 32.8, which is below 37.4, the lowest of 10XN candidates in your category.’ The declaration itself seemed to be scolding him. Even the words on an IIT webpage arrange themselves condescendingly.
The panic attack had begun its descent; it would touch down any second now. “Beta, look who’s here, come on out,” cried his mother in her sweet high-pitched voice, the false chirpiness barely able to conceal the anxiety. He stepped out gingerly and caught a glimpse of the drawing room. The Council of Gods had settled and his father, the unanimously elected overlord, was urging his brethren to try out the new biscuits.
Bracing himself, he took a step forward and was yanked into the kitchen. His mother whispered urgently. Did you see it, she demanded. “No Maa, there’s too much traffic on the website. The page isn’t loading.” “Oh God, save us!” she exclaimed and quickly bowed to the figurine of Ganpati, the God of Wisdom. He noticed she had already lit the pooja lamp. He picked up the oil container and filled the lamp to the brim; the flame steady and strong.
He turned around, stood up straight and braced himself to walk out into an ocean of brilliance, to see if the Council of Gods themselves could figure out how to mix oil and water.