-Telugu Original by Dr K.Geeta
-English Translation by Madhuri Palaji
“‘Como estas?’ means ‘How are you?’ in Spanish,” said Maria.
She was standing in the verandah talking to her mom when she saw me coming from the shop. She came to me and hugged me affectionately.
Maria is Alicia’s eldest daughter. She works in the Whole Foods nearby.
“Please come inside, sit down and continue your conversation,” she invited us in.
“That’s okay. I’m utterly bored of sitting inside home,” I said.
“Lucky you, Priya! It’s the life many cannot afford, people like me who stand all day at work.” she said.
“Daily 8 hours, 8 dollar per hour, even if I work all week including Sundays, I still worry about being able to afford proper studies for these two kids,” she said again.
“It’s been five years since he left Maria and kids for another woman. She is living with us because it will be difficult to manage kids living separately. Her life’s goal is to make sure her kids graduate from a good school,” said Alicia.
“Why? Isn’t education free here?” I asked.
“Education is free only until 12th grade. People like us can’t afford college studies. Still I have high hopes,” she sighed.
“Our kids studied only till 12th grade. Not only us, all our relatives and friends are in the same situation,” said Alicia.
“I heard kids pursue their studies in colleges by working part time jobs. Also that they move out of their parents’ home as soon as they are 18 yrs old..”
While I was still saying something, Maria interrupted, “Not all families are like that. Especially among our mexican families who are used to joint families.”
“Do you know, strangely, there are many similarities in both of our cultures and traditions?” I said in a surprised tone. We continued with our pep talk until the twilight’s last ray disappeared.
“So sad, apparently, no one pursued studies after 12th grade,” I told to Surya while we were having our dinner.
“By the way, you said you wanted to take admission in some college. Did you enquire about that?” he asked.
“Not yet, Prashanthi is coming tomorrow. We are planning to go and meet Catherine to enquire about her college.”
“Which course are you planning to take?”
“I’m still not sure. Matha, Physics and Chemistry were my major subjects in my 12th grade. Should I go for Computer Engineering?”
“Why? You already finished your PG, right? Why do you want to go back to graduation?”
“Right. I don’t know if any university is offering Ph. D. in Telugu. Or to pursue some other PG, I wonder what the terms and conditions are. Even if I do, don’t know if I will get a job here based on that.”
“That’s your idea. Look, Priya! Stop thinking of studying with the ultimate goal of getting a job. Try to go for something that you like,” he said.
“You won’t understand,” I looked away quickly and said.
“I don’t get it. If I say anything, you say I won’t understand. Anyways, I will enquire in my office as well. Don’t be angry,” he said convincingly.
Surya has a good habit. If I am not smiling and happy, he does everything in his limits to change that.
“Also, this weekend is a long weekend. Shall we go to Santa Cruz? It has your favorite beach.”
“That’s the way you should be, happy always,” he said again, looking at the happiness and excitement in my face listening to the name of the beach.
I couldn’t get hold of Catherine on the phone. So, I dropped her an email. She replied saying she is busy that week and shared her college website link asking me to check the details there.
I quickly browsed the page about the fees instead of the page about the courses available.
After seeing the numbers there, I was very disappointed. It costs more than ten thousand dollars per semester for foreign students. Also, the applicant must qualify the TOEFL test to prove proficiency in English. For engineering, SAT or ACT test, for MBA something else.
Prashanthi came in the afternoon.
“I’ve been checking the details about the college on the web,” I told her.
“I can see those details clearly on your face,” she said looking at my disappointed face.
“Yes, too much fee. We cannot afford,” I said with a small voice.
“Let’s see. Don’t lose hope,” she said patting my shoulder.
“I enquired, apparently, community college fee is relatively very low,” she said.
“Is it? You are an expert at finding such details,” I said happily, “I’ll make some tea. In the meantime, please open that web page and check the details, Prashanthi.”
She started reading one by one.
“Wow, the fee per semester is almost three time lesser.”
“Anyways, the foreign fee is applicable to us only for one year, you know?” she said.
“How is that?” I asked with curiosity.
“Though we are dependents, we can get a tax identity number for ourselves. If we pay the tax for one year, we become residents here. Almost all colleges give admissions to the residents here at the fee three times lesser,” she said.
“That means, it’s better if we join college next year. That too, it is enough if we pay one third of twelve thousand foreign fees,” I quickly calculated, “ which comes to four thousand. Oh God, even that is high. We can’t pay so much.”
I suddenly remembered Maria’s saddened face. I understood why she was so worried.
“What are you thinking? Did you see, prestigious private colleges like Stanford charge more than thirteen thousand for each semester. Who can afford that? How can anyone study in this country?” she said.
“Scholarships and campus jobs help foreign students to manage the fee to some extent. But for dependent visa holders like us, nothing helps,” she said again.
“We cannot work because of this dependent visa, anyways. The doors are closing even in this direction,” I said with disappointment.
Catherine called in the meantime, “Hi Priya! I came home early today. I will bring the kids to the park. Will you come, too?” she asked.
I told her that Prashanthi is also with me. “Let us all meet then,” she said.
We all met in an hour.
Kids started playing in the sand, happily. Since it was soft sand like that on the beach, I wanted to play, too.
“We can’t play like them, but we can dig our feet into the sand and sit,” we thought and laughed.
June month’s twilight started spreading in bits and pieces on the ground through the leaves of the trees, as if the sky had holes through it.
Air started blowing breezily. The weather in the park was warm, neither cold, nor hot. My head soaked in thoughts at home felt light when the outside air touched me.
“You know, Priya, apparently, a fifty year old professor at my college is still paying towards the loan she took towards her college education,” Catherine said after listening to our research about colleges.
“This is one of the sad things about this country. No one is able to control the college fee that is increasing uncontrollably. The entire system is spoiled. The fees of public colleges have increased two times in the last ten years. Private colleges are like stars in the sky. Even they increased three fold. Rest are community colleges. Though they, too, increased, it’s relatively cheaper when compared with others. But they don’t provide a four year degree. They provide only two year diploma courses. We can transfer those credits to any other public college and complete third and fourth year and get a degree if you want. But, all companies target people with educational standards earned from a good college. To earn jobs quickly, we have to take admission in these so-called expensive colleges even when the expenses are high. Sorry. Did I talk too much?” she said.
“What is the situation in your country?” she asked again.
“If the fees were so high like this country, we both wouldn’t have completed our PGs,” I said.
“For me, these are the reasons for not being able to complete graduation even after reaching thirty five. Until I married Victor, I put aside the thought of pursuing education. I stopped studying after completing high school and worked as a receptionist for a long time at different places,” she said.
“What is the government doing then? What about the students?” Prashanthi asked.
Catherine smiled in reply, “Students do what they can do and the government does what it can do.”
“Any country is similar when it comes to situations like these,” Prashanthi sighed.
“Victor will be home soon. IfI fail to prepare dinner by six or six-thirty, the next day, the entire day will be spoiled,” Catherine stood up.
Since we are not yet used to twelve O’ clock lunch and six O’ clock dinner, we said we will spend some more time and leave.
Nidhi is playing alone, now.
No matter how many times her sand castle collapsed, she continued to build it patiently.
“If you build it with sand without adding water, the castle won’t be able to stand,” I said.
Prashanthi smiled at my words, like she understood something and said, “If man didn’t have the trait of trying again and again in unfavorable conditions, he wouldn’t have invented so many new things.”
Madhuri Palaji is a writer and book reviewer from India. Her book “Poems of The Clipped Nightingale” is available on Kindle. She writes book reviews for various publishing houses like Penguin Random House, Meerkat Press, Hot Tree Publishings, Bethany Publishers, etc. She is one of the top 50 book reviewers in India. Her reviews are available at http://www.theclippednightingale.com/