Rob McKenna

Rob McKenna
Photo by Dave Hoefler / Unsplash

Anyone who reads Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and doesn’t come away thinking it belongs on the list of the best books they’ve read has to get themselves checked. I don’t think this about many things but if I had to think it about just one thing, it’d have to be Hitchhiker’s. I’ve also had one more reason to cherish the book than most, beyond its near-complete exploration of the human condition and unrelenting optimism. Since reading the book a decade and a half ago, I’ve accrued considerable reason to believe that I’m one of the characters in the book, in spirit. This is Rob McKenna, an ordinary lorry driver we meet for a brief yet exhilarating moment in the second half of Hitchhiker’s. The very first line about him goes like this:

Rob McKenna was a miserable bastard and he knew it because he’d had a lot of people point it out to him over the years and he saw no reason to disagree with them except the obvious one which was that he liked disagreeing with people, particularly people he disliked, which included, at the last count, everyone.

This is the bit I really connect with:

Splattered in his rear mirror a couple of seconds later was the reflection of the hitch-­‐hiker, drenched by the roadside.

For a moment he felt good about this. A moment or two later he felt bad about feeling good about it. Then he felt good about feeling bad about feeling good about it and, satisfied, drove on into the night.

At least it made up for having been finally overtaken by that Porsche he had been diligently blocking for the last twenty miles. And as he drove on, the rainclouds dragged down the sky after him, for, though he did not know it, Rob McKenna was a Rain God. All he knew was that his working days were miserable and he had a succession of lousy holidays. All the clouds knew was that they loved him and wanted to be near him, to cherish him, and to water him.

You see, whenever I’ve felt lousy, there’s been rain at my location. It rained on my last night in New York, in 2014, when I was done dropping out of university. It often rained in Bangalore, where I used to live until last year, but it would often also rain just as I was starting to feel low, preceded and succeeded by sunny days. It would rain for a few hours in the morning and then the sun would break out. It would rain without warning in much the same way a dark cloud descended on my psyche. This January I moved to Chennai and, much to my relief, I’ve continued to be Rob McKenna. Chennai has a barely-there relationship with rain, especially outside the October-December monsoon. Yet it’s rained every time I’ve been knocked down.

Just this morning, I woke up to overcast skies, brilliant arcs of lightning, and a ceaselessly cool wind blowing straight through my living room bearing flecks of drizzle (lovely word in Tamil for it, saaral). I’d gone to bed yesterday with a heavy heart and a murderous headache. Rob McKenna is a miserable bastard alright, but I’ve just loved the rain.