By the end of our third-year summer training, two things became abundantly clear to me.
First, that I will likely live through a nuclear holocaust. And second, that I was not going to make a career running blast furnaces and Linz-Donawitz converters - not my thing, I would realize.
The college authorities were sleeping at the wheel.
In a couple of weeks, the college was shut down, the mess was closed, and the water connections (which were found to be reason for the epidemic) were stopped.
Those that could, fled to their homes, like rats deserting a sinking ship.The final years had to stay back as their semester exams were around the corner. This was, after all, the last time they had to rote their lessons and "give" their exams (which is how we characterized the activity of writing exams). Come what may; jaundice or plague, they were determined to brave it out and get the wretched degree in their hands.
Exactly a year ago, I had been comfortably ensconced in the familiar environs of my sister's home in Bangalore and took training at the relatively plush foundry at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). I was a year younger and hence a lot less cynical, and took my non-ferrous metallurgy, precision casting, and ductility of alloy steels, quite seriously.
To make matters worse, the training was a lot more organized in RSP!
We all had to travel by the college bus. The security didn't let us out without permits. So, we had to clock the entire six hours every day. We were shown the plants and offices over the first hour or so and made to sit around for the next five hours, with nothing to do. A few enterprising folks, sang songs, recited shaayaris, and cracked jokes, to while away time and keep others entertained. After a few weeks, however, we were wary of the routine - the jokes and the shaayaris were getting contrived and repetitive.
Within a matter of days, I hitched up with a few final years to cook our own food once we returned - the final years from classes and me from training. Through a summer of scorching heat and depressing boredom and desperation, we followed the same routine for forty days. We came back to the hostel, around one thirty; then, sat around, cut vegetables feverishly, and prepared food in meditative silence - we didn't have the energy to even exchange pleasantries - and then ate the food.
Due to the stoppage of the water connection, we had to ration the water that we fetched from a few kilometers away and use it ultra-judiciously.
Our life had become an under-funded, Malayalam art movie and a 1980's Doordarshan Tuesday drama, combined!
"Sir, how do you work at this place? It is so hot!", I asked the engineer, as we came out.
He smiled. "You will get used to it", he said, quite convincingly. I didn't think so.
At the end of forty-five days, as I took the thirty four journey back to Madras, I wrote my epitaph onto the "training diary".
I had to choose another gig...