There comes a time in everyone’s lives when we have to step out of our homes, our comfort zones to study or begin work, not knowing about the life we are venturing into. You feel it more when you need to migrate to a different town, leaving the comfort and candour of the hometown aside.
I left home to pursue my undergraduate studies from NIT, Bhopal when I was 17 years old. Just a teenager who had never been on his own anywhere, the idea of living in a hostel was a mix of scary and exciting. I was scared because it was going to be my first time away from home, and exciting because, well, independence, no instructions, no restrictions!
After completing the admission formalities, my father and I went to see the hostel and were utterly disappointed. It was a ‘government college’s hostel’, what were we even expecting? The building had been built in the 1960s and, by the look of it, it had never been repaired ever since. Leaking roofs and walls, faded paint, doors without locks, windows without glasses, fractured furniture, and toilets and bathrooms, you get the picture. The condition wasn’t too fit for human habitation. After convincing myself that it’s wasn’t that bad (but, it really was!), I was officially a ‘hostler’. And there, just that moment marked the beginning of a roller-coaster journey.
Living in the hostel really teaches you things which you couldn’t have imagined learning at home. It’s an institution in itself, which at the end of your tenure, gives you a degree in ‘life’. And with that degree, you’re, then, ready to face the world. But, as it goes, the syllabus begins with slight difficulties. From making your bed, cleaning your room to arranging your shelf, almost everything related to your life, you learn to handle yourself. There’s no househelp, no guardian, no parent for guidance or assistance.
All you have as solace is a bunch of students who are undergoing similar problems and are on the same journey as you become your fellow travellers. But, living in the hostel really teaches you to manage your own life. It gives you a complementary degree in management. Your body clock also tunes its schedule according to the schedule of your classes – you know when to sleep when exactly to wake up to reach your class on time. It teaches you to make the most minute of calculations – trust me when I say this, I’ve woken up at 8:55 am, and attended the 9 am class! I learnt the art of conquering the impossible(s)- going on studying for nights without sleeping, finishing an entire semester’s syllabus in one night and getting good pointers, at that!
The risk and fear associated with ragging ran right through my first year, adding to that were hundreds of preconceived notions and rumours. The one good thing about our college hostels was that they had been allotted on the basis of seniority. So, our hostel had only freshers. Voila, we were safe inside! After that, there was no way I was going to step outside. I was terrified of ragging. The mere thought of someone slapping me without any reason or making me do something against my wishes was enough to make me stay put. I had fixed my routine to just stepping outside to attend classes in the morning, and coming back, and staying in my room. Simple. There, one big problem solved. Hostel taught me when, where and how to stay safe. You make your own plans, you know when to sneak out. You become a neat planner and become even better at implementing those plans.
The only way to survive in a hostel, amidst all problems, is to make friends. And luckily, I found the best of people (at least, initially). We all do. There is no way you wouldn’t find people who share similar interests and likings. And in the end, they become the reason you’ll miss college.
It usually begins with a big group of 10-12 guys, going to class together, going for grocery shopping together, discovering teeny weeny shops located in the oddest locations. You discover places together, grow new interests together, all of that enhances and enriches the new friendships.
But as college unfolded, differences and conflict of opinions (and personalities) grew in the way of friendships and, my group kept getting smaller. And, before I knew it, it was just me. During my four years there, I was a part of many groups, but either the others screwed up, or I did. And by the end of the third year, I was really lonely. And, loneliness gets to you. You become broken, you give up on friendships, and a part of you vehemently protests every time you want to give friendships a try. But, the one thing I learnt was that you survive. You always do. You leave, out of it all, with a bag full of experiences that add value to your life. You grow accepting of the different temperaments of people, and learn how to deal with them effectively. You start valuing the strength of solitude. You learn to thrive and survive on your own; no matter what the situation is.
One of the major lessons and realities hostel life brought me to terms with, was the alarmingly growing cases of depression – the failures, the breakups, the battle with self-esteem and confidence, all leading into the dark, gloomy and withdrawn world.
In my case, since I had no one to talk to, it piled up and led to a lot of accumulated anger and frustration. Having someone to pour your heart (and mind) out to helps, but if you don’t, it ends up becoming a disaster. You really start blaming yourself for everything and your self-esteem, confidence starts dying a slow death. You grow remorseful, and you begin to despise things you do and think and the ways you act. I went through that, and I found my own ways to channelise the negative energy. I drowned myself in extracurricular work and started taking up many projects, with positive results!
One of the most positive things I did was to resuscitate the ‘cultural’ society of my very ‘technical’ college. Being a hardcore engineering college, we were not encouraged to participate in cultural events. I’ve always believed how arts and culture add value to the mechanics and monotonous aspect of life. So along with my two of my friends, I decided to take a step in further and change this once and for all. It was a welcome change, and there was appreciation and praise from all corners. People recognised me, and suddenly I become an integral part of the college. This is what hostel taught me – that, when everything goes south, wait for your turn to bounce back, because the lower they push you, the higher you’re gonna rise.
My takeaways from my hostel life went further on. It taught me how to respect everyone, to be accommodating of varied and conflicting opinions and perspectives and how to cherish the diversity and the unexplored night time. I did things I never imagined I’d do, realised that I enjoyed them eventually – right from blasting music on the speakers at midnight, to getting high, to chai and bike rides to getting caught by the police. All these experiences added to my personality and defined who I am.
I began this journey as an immature 17-year-old teenager, and there I was, a 20 year old, grown in intellect and experiences, ready to take on the world with all it has to offer.
And with that final lesson, I locked my hostel’s room one last time, with the luggage of my experiences, lessons and memories in my heart. I came back with a graduate degree from college, but most importantly, a degree in Life, from my hostel.