Farewell, ill timed bells and shared toilets

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“Hostel in India”

These three words hold the immense power to immediately set off loud alarm bells in any NRI kid’s mind. That moment also marks the beginning of a deep hatred for hostel bells.

Now when these words made an appearance in my life, I didn’t feel too threatened or apprehensive. I was going to a hostel which was considered one of the best in Kerala, the school was run by Mum’s bestie from college and  my sister had lived in that same hostel a few years ago. And as an angsty, confused 16 year old, I truly believed that it was high time I enjoyed some freedom and independence.

And so, typically wide eyed and eager, I embarked on what would be one of the biggest adventures of my life. In other words, two years in a hostel in a new school to complete the last two years of my school life.

Somewhat educated about the hostel life (this HAS to become a thing. Like the thuglife. All hostelites out there will agree that it’s just as badass), I then moved to another hostel in Bombay where I joined college.

An overwhelming new city, a completely different new college, a huge bunch of new people, new rules to learn and new freedom to enjoy.  Hostel was no longer what my adventure was about.

But hostel life being hostel life, it continues to influence and shape me silently, while I am blissfully unaware.

I realise this when I decide to take at least an hour for a hot water shower, more than an hour to eat a meal at midnight in front of the TV, and stay out for longer than the hostel rules would permit me. You see, after a good three whole months in hostel, I am finally home for summer. I’ve become the very opposite of the ‘hostel-me’, which has both negative and positive implications.

It’s been four years and two different hostels now. If things go as I’ve fervently hoped for them to, I’ll be moving this year to a PG (Paying Guest, for all you living-at-home brats) residence with my friends.

Bidding farewell to hostel certainly won’t be easy. This post is a part of my attempt to deal with the whole range of widely varied but intense feelings I have for hostel.

Now this means acknowledging a big bunch of things about hostel all us hostelites would like to pretend don’t exist.

First and foremost would obviously be the hostel bathrooms. Anyone who has lived in a hostel understands my need to mention the bathrooms first. In lots of hostels the loos can be the stuff of nightmares. Thankfully, I’ve never been so unfortunate as to have had spent time in hostels like that. Nevertheless, don’t ever expect to go through your hostel life without having some sort of scarring experience in the bathrooms. This stems from a tendency that far too many girls have to leave behind little ‘gifts’ after they visit the loo. Flushing is apparently a waste of time, and far too often we’re treated to the sight of poop merrily seated at the back of the toilet. If you’re brave enough to use the Indian toilet on a regular basis, you’ll soon get used to the fact that it’s always the people with the worst aim possible who unfortunately use it. Girls in hostel, I realise that you being on your period means that you have a hundred other horrid things on your mind, but PLEASE don’t leave your used sanitary napkin in the washroom to completely ruin our lives. I don’t think I will ever stop feeling sorry for the people who have to clean up the bathrooms.

Then you also have to deal with the food. Because hostels have to serve so many people, and at the least possible cost, the food is almost always insipid and tasteless. This has two results: you learn to survive on one square meal a day or you dissolve into an extravaganza of junk food. One thing for sure, you learn to become inventive. Making papadums on ironing boxes, manipulating the heater timings to cook Maggi in mugs, not much seems outlandish after a while. You also learn to sniff out all possible sources of cheap food as hygiene and safety take a back seat. Before you know it, the grubby teenager selling chaat out of suspicious looking tins at the corner of the street become a favourite regular. Invariably hostel will leave you with a stomach of steel, capable of keeping anything and everything down.

Another thing that will occasionally make you want to burn hostel down, is the lack of privacy. You’re almost never alone. Even if you head to the shower looking for some quiet and peace, you won’t find it. Nine times out of ten, there will be someone in the neighbouring cubicle who likes to lather themselves to the tune of the latest Bollywood hit. Soon enough you start to think it’s fun too, and find that it IS pretty boring to shower in silence. The rare moments that I did have the room to myself were often the highlights of my week. I’d set the fans to the exact speed of my preference, don my ugliest comfort-clothes, throw the windows wide open, play my favourite music and sprawl on my bed with a book, conveniently using the neighbouring beds as trays for my water, biscuits and phone.  

But hostel can also make you feel like maybe privacy is a tad bit overrated and that the absolute lack of it isn’t so bad after all. Barriers that would otherwise take much longer to break down, crumble away in no time on hostel. We realise that we’re just a bunch of girls, with flaws and strengths and dreams and problems. And really, we’d much rather accept that immediately and be there for each other instead of wasting more energy on being ‘polite’ or judging each other silently. In hostel we don’t hide ourselves away, interacting with the world from behind numerous walls and facades and screens. You’re free to be whoever you want to be, from a ridiculously passionate Salman Khan fan to just the studious girl-next-door. And so, you can walk into a hostel room at any time and find groups of girls lying around in various degrees of undress (at least one will also be involved in the process of grooming herself or someone else), discussing topics ranging from future career plans to the frequency and characteristics of bowel movements to family problems to love interests. What’s better, you’ll also be called to join in, not by some special invitation but just by an unspoken feeling of welcome. Unless you’re known to ‘borrow’ things or be one of those who make life difficult for the washroom cleaning didis. In which case hostel life is pretty difficult for you and you have other problems to worry about. Never having any alone time doesn’t really seem like a problem at most times, because friendships get cemented much faster in hostel, and you fast forward to the much spoken about ‘enjoying the silence together’ phase.

Living with a bunch of girls can be an absolute party. On the Saturdays that we didn’t have any plans, or were just not allowed out of hostel, we’d dance the night away to hushed music in dark rooms or have chick flick/ horror movie marathons. Stalking crushes online becomes a regular way to pass time. You also have the collective knowledge and range of opinions to help widen perspectives and discover new areas of interest. Even the most mundane things can become fun just because of the company you have. I’ve seen laundry sessions turn into full blown water fights and midnight study sessions turn into midnight feasts with all sorts of games played in the study hall.

You can also count on your hostel friends to take care of you and be there for you when you hit rock bottom. Family slowly becomes a bunch of girls your age, all somewhat clueless and lost, but undeniably caring and fun.

Hostel has taught me to take care of myself, as well. Clothes won’t magically fold themselves up and there are no laundry fairies (though Dhobis make a decent substitute). Food will need to be arranged for and duly shared. Paperwork will have to be filled out and queues will have to be waited in. Life isn’t just in the grander moments of joy or despair. It’s also in the cleaning up of your room or the awful early morning waits at the bus stand. Hostel has taught me that I am enough. To look after myself, to keep myself happy, and to occasionally look after those I love.

Hostel has taught me that happiness CAN be found in the smaller, everyday things of life. Every weekend doesn’t have to be spent out in fancy clothes, an evening walk with my friends to the nearest ice cream place in my pjs works out just as fine. Happiness can be just sitting on the porch swing under the stars and listening to a friend talk about her day. If I look hard enough, there always is some sort of a silver lining. Which gets brighter when shared, of course.

I’ve loved hostel, I’ve hated it. It’s given me memories that I will eternally cherish and it’s given me memories that I will eternally cringe at. But most of all, it’s taught me so much, and for that I will be eternally thankful.

 

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