Wednesday, 10 September 2014

A Home Called Hostel.

There is a saying that a girl has two homes: her parental home and her marital home. But for a lucky few, there is a third home as well. A home where you can choose your family members, a home that begins with adjustment and ends in inseparableness and a home that gives you a crash course on life lessons. The word ‘hostel’ will probably invoke a sense of cold and scary loneliness amongst those who haven’t had the experience of living in one, but if you ever meet someone who’s been a hostelite you’ll be surprised to find that she’d kill to relive a single day of that oh-so-fabulous life. 

My Happy Place.

I distinctly remember my first day at the hostel. I was expecting grey patched walls, dirt and dust galore, cramped rooms, damp smells and an overwhelming sense of dullness. What I got instead was a huge iron gate opening to a long cobbled path bordered with patches of manicured grass and covered by the shade of trees embracing above my head. I walked along in awe till I reached the reception. I noticed how clean everything was. The marble on the floor was shining and I looked out of the window to see a man watering the lawn. I was allotted my room number. It was on the first floor. As I walked, crossing the long spiral corridors, I peered into the dining mess. Again, the first thing that caught my eyes was how spotless everything was. From the steel tables to the stools, from the plates to the spoons, everything was shiny. 

Lovingly Called: The Golden Prison.

A Walk to Remember?

I know. It looks good.

I went up the stairs. The room looked warm.  Sunlight was streaming in through the dark filmed windows giving the room a purple haze. I placed my luggage on the middle bed and looked around. Each person had one portion of a steel cupboard, a long side table and a nice study table with a book shelf by the window. There was a common dressing table with a huge mirror! I walked sceptically to the bathroom. To my relief, I did not find any dead lizards or cobwebs. On the contrary, it was spick and span and spacious. I locked my room and went out exploring. The library was on my floor. Wooden four seated tables were evenly distributed. Girls sat working on their laptop or revising notes whilst walking. I quietly pulled the door behind me and went up a floor when a spark of blue caught my eye. I looked through the window to find a glimmering swimming pool with its inviting water. Just opposite it were huge gallery steps, the sorts on which you would sit and watch a centre stage play. I almost couldn’t believe my eyes and tottered ahead, feeling slightly happy. I then came to what they called the attendance cum TV room. It housed a large LCD television with rows of chairs in red, green and yellow. Few girls had formed a cluster and were watching Main Hoon Na on Star Gold.  I walked back to the reception, a mixed bag of thoughts racing through my head.

Lump in throat moment.

Study table used for everything but.

View from the room.

As I drove for lunch with my mother and uncle, I thought of the names of the girls I was supposed to share my room with. I tried visualizing them. My biggest worry was: will they let me have chicken in the room? After all one was Marwari and the other Maharashtrian. The Bengali in me shivered a little. I went back to my room to find that it was locked from inside. God alone knows how nervous I was when I knocked the door. It was worse than a meeting a prospective groom. At least one had the option of saying a no there but here I was prepared to be doomed for one year with whoever opened the door. A bespectacled sleepy eyed girl smiled at me. Will she scream at me for disturbing her sleep? I thought to myself. But she looked warm and approachable. So I started talking to her. And I talked and talked and talked. I unpacked my belongings and talked some more and she didn’t get to sleep. Till date she tells me how flabbergasted she was at my incessant chatter. I feared the night a little because I had never slept on a single bed before. But S offered to keep the bathroom light on for my comfort. That was the moment I nominated her for the position of my first friend in Pune. And when she went with me to college next morning, came back with me, had lunch with me, gave me innumerable anecdotes about the college, helped me send the first picture to my mother from her laptop, I realized that the words first and best became synonymous for me.
P.S.: She had kept the light on because she was a scaredy cat herself. She admitted this many years later. Also, she loved watching me eating chicken though she was a vegetarian. 

Hugs and Hues.

One picture to define it all.

My other roommate, R was extremely reserved (at least that what was what she tried to portray). How tall is she?! I had thought. She would sit immersed in a book on architecture and I sat yapping with her. But she would always be polite and calm (I am laughing as I write this). They say there are moments when you realize that certain things are meant to be. I realized that when she fell sick and collapsed once. I hadn’t handled such a situation before. But I felt panicked, worried and determined at the same time. Everything happened in a blur and the one thing I remember clearly was how S put her shoes on the bed in her nervousness. The event wasn’t a happy one but it made me bond with R like quick fix glue. Happy would feel sad if it met her. I haven’t seen her not cheerful and touch wood to that. Even in the moments she was tensed or pissed or sad, she would laugh between her tears and abuses. She opened her crazy side and rubbed a little off on me too. I am very rule abiding and don’t like anything that is sudden. R was the one who made me dance on the road in a midnight Ganesh immersion ceremony. She was like the one friend you see in the movies who teaches you to live life to the fullest.
P.S: R was a chicken lover and we devoured with passion. 

Food will keep our love alive.

Do not read captions. Do not judge.

I was quite pampered at home. My only responsibility was studying. Well, studying was my duty here too but coupled with only a million other things. From folding my quilt to a lumpy mess, to the first self service of rice. From buying household stuff for the room, to making maggi in the kettle. From maintaining a book of expenditure to putting out clothes to dry. From haggling with the auto driver to fighting with the college administration. From learning to fall asleep with the lights on to studying with gossip and laughter in the background. From flying all by myself to killing a cockroach all by myself. What was the biggest task? Adjusting to the new me.

Being a single child, I was very territorial, possessive and rigid. I wasn’t used to the concept of sharing. I wasn’t used to being surrounded by people all the time. There were times I withdrew into my shell. My friends have complained that often I refused to accompany them for walks or chores. I remember moments when all I wanted was some alone time and I was surrounded by people. I was cold and unresponsive. Probably I hurt them. But that is how I was then. I loved them dearly but couldn’t always reflect it in an expression. Over a period of time, I made a dozen more friends, heard a motley of their tales, marvelled at our differences, enjoyed each of their quirks, got blown away by their acts of concern, laugh-cried myself silly at their eccentricities  and at some level I could feel myself breaking out of that cocoon. From the girl who returned from college to disappear under the blanket I could feel myself eagerly awaiting their company. I was never a tea/coffee lover but I was always there for the evening break at a local shop. If I could create my own definitions, then I could safely say I had turned quite a groupie from a selfie. 

A Wild Night.

I repeat. Do not judge.

A Blurry Christmas.

N was my roommate for the last two years. In quarter of a century of my existence I have not met a more caring and selfless girl like her. She took care of me and R like a mum, fulfilling all our unreasonable demands. She took me for a scooty ride when I felt low, got chips for our sitcom sessions and gave the best head massages. There were times when she felt hurt by a friend or relative who had taken advantage of her goodness and I would snap at her angry, that she had not given it right back. That was when she used to tell me that she wouldn’t want to ruin a relationship due to such a trivial issue that would be forgotten shortly. I would gape at her and congratulate her on turning 80. But deep within, I admired her a lot and she was the one whose reaction I would think of when I was in the mood for murder. Good is her middle name.
P.S.: She has bought chicken roll for me a dozen times. 

After a ride on 9700.

Crazy is as crazy does.

Examination days were the toughest. Independence really pinched my pocket. How I wished someone would feed me a spoonful as I revised that pathetic chapter on mortgage. But all of us were goldfishes swimming in the same bowl. No one had the time to even scratch a mosquito bite. So I turned to myself for help. I managed time to squeeze in meals, cut down on the post exam self bashing, cut down further on cursing the college for the no-break exams and neck snapping syllabus, took much needed talking breaks with the mother, gave understanding nods to fellow victims in the library and did smart (not hard) work when the wall clock gave its evil grin. After an A grade on my first semester mark sheet and a gold medal at the end of five years, I kicked out modesty from my dictionary.


No matter how old you turn your mother will always be the human alarm that goes off at 9 pm to know where you’re getting back home. God knew mums can’t be in hostel with their babies so he created the revered hostel bell. Mine would sing shrilly at the dot of 9. Yes, he could be snoozed twice but if you missed his last call you had to face the wrath of the warden. I remember crouching behind R and controlling my giggles as we were being threatened to be left on the roads. But I knew deep down she could never ask us to leave because she knew deep down that if she did we would walk out happily. There was a time she suspected me of drinking (I actually hadn’t, I was just grinning endlessly) and fished for my mother’s number to which I said, “Karlo phone. Main ghar pe bhi yahi peeti hoon.”  Her expression was frame worthy. By the end of five years she was so exasperated that she laughed along with us. 

Post 9 pm roadside madness.

I have a favourite corner of the sofa in my house. It is my happy place. Be it a home get-together or some alone time at night, that is the place I occupy. It acts as the best stress reliever. I sorely missed it at hostel. Oh, did I mention? My hostel is so huge that even now I am not sure if I have seen every portion of it. So one day into my first semester, I walked towards the end of the corridor to find a back staircase spiralling its way up. It was very quiet here because normally the girls used the main stairs. If I strained my ears I could hear the birds chirping. I sat down on a top stair next to a window overlooking the backyard of the hostel and for the first time in the three months that I was away from home I felt a strange sense of serenity. From phone calls to last minute revisions, from the jump-in-joy moments to the not-so-nice feelings, this place has seen it all. Unfortunately I don’t have a picture of the stairs. I guess something’s are best left uncaptured because probably a photograph wouldn’t do justice to the relation it had with me.

Clumpy rice. Rajma with thin gravy. That was my first dinner at hostel. Needless to say, that was the first time I felt like howling. I have a strange theory that if someone serves you, you tend to eat more than when you serve yourself. So my theory plus the unbelievably insipid food ensured that I almost starved myself. My only ‘knight in shining armour’ moments were on Wednesdays where they served non vegetarian though I doubted whether the chicken was actually chicken. Oh, and Sundays too, where they served a dessert.  We used to stop a fleet of stairs away from the dining hall and sniff the air each one taking a guess at the torture that awaited us. The days the hostel served Chinese the restaurants outside made the best business. Let me make it clear. Chinese meant rice and chowmein (read:maggi) mixed together and covered (read: hidden) with veggies that suspiciously looked like grass torn from the garden. It’s best I don’t go into the brown and sticky gravy with ‘lucky draw’ Manchurian balls escaping your grasp. The food never met my hunger but the gossip/bitching sessions at the table for hours on end was something that filled me till the brim.
Confession: There is one thing I miss from the mess:  The amazingly soft chapattis. They were the best I have tasted till date.

A standard
mess-food expression.

Of all the things I learnt, there was one thing I could never do: Sleep alone. If my roommates were out for the night I would camp out in someone else’s room or invite a friend over to my room. It was just a psychology that I didn’t want to wake up alone in the morning. It’s not that I was scared. There were days when I walked all the way across the dark corridor at 2 am to fill water in my bottle and not for a moment did I ever feel spooked. But I just couldn’t sleep alone and thank God that in these five years I never had to. But the last day changed it all. My roommates had already left and I had packed my stuff. The room was bare and cold. I was supposed to sleep in a friend’s room that night. My sleep broke at 3.30 am. I don’t know what came over me but I had this weird feeling that I would never be able to sleep in my bed anymore. Ever. So I picked up my pillow and quilt and walked out quietly. I entered my own room, curled up on my middle bed and fell fast asleep. When I woke up it was 08:45 ish. I smiled. I hadn’t woken up alone. My room smiled back.


In the end, I cannot but help going back to that first day once again. As I waited for my turn to complete all the formalities I saw a mother was crying profusely and the chairman of the hostel trying to comfort her. She was saying, “I can understand. This is really tough. But it’s almost like you’re practicing to send your daughter away to a different home and it will be a learning experience for her too.” Seven years ago, I had found her words very dramatic and irritating and I thought to myself, “Home? And this? I am doing this only as a formality.  There is nothing to learn from this place. I shall only sleep, eat and study here, get a degree and go back to where I belong.” But now, as I write this, I retract my thoughts. What I learnt in my college classrooms ensures my pay check, but what I got from my hostel are permanent life notes written with the ink of experience and is something that will guide me always. For me, home and hostel are synonymous only with a tiny difference. The latter came with an expiry date. 

The Last Shot.


  1. So you could find no other photos to post?! :\

    1. I love them! And thats how we looked back then :P

  2. Definitely some 3 Idiots moments there. I was actually waiting through the entire piece for the bad news. It seemed to be too good to be true, and then the food para!

    1. Hahaha! The food shockers are common to all hostels I guess!

  3. These are the priceless moments.You should enjoy it as much as possible.

    1. Thanks Anusia. I did enjoy it to the fullest. And welcome to the blog :)