I was eighteen years old, slightly pampered, and completely clueless when I arrived at Hyderabad to pursue my undergraduate degree from Tata Institute of Social Sciences. I mean, sure, it was my dream degree and my dream college, and I was really happy about the path my life was suddenly taking.
But, it also brought with it plenty of changes which I was neither acquainted or ready to deal with. There was never one moment of realization when this had dawned upon me, but during the never-ending course of shopping, packing, and travelling, it kind of cemented into my mind. So honestly, when my parents dropped me at the hostel and drove off, I was more scared than sad about the new life I was supposed to lead – in a new city, with a bunch of new people.
I graduated from high school in Kolkata. Growing up, I was immensely involved with academics and a bunch of extra curriculars. Something I was extremely anxious about was the fact that I had to start from scratch in college.
In school, I was someone – I had built for myself a reputation which was very convenient for me to slip into when I was unsure about myself. It had taken me twelve years, and college brought along a sense of urgency to be someone who would not get lost in a crowd. It was difficult, even impossible at first glance, because it felt like the three years here would be spent just getting to know the people around me.
Back home, at least I knew that no matter what, there was something common between me and my immediate peer group; as opposed to college where I was immediately identified by a string of tags and stereotypes, putting me into airtight containers.
I had thought escaping those would take me so long and drain me so much that it would make me rethink the entire purpose of carving out a spot for myself all over again. But, really, it is worth the effort.
Beyond all doubts of fitting in and finding your people (which you will eventually), it is worth all the efforts and it will happen naturally if you really want to find your passion. I am lucky enough to be in a college with an enriching academic environment, but I feel that it is only a matter of time, depending on where you are. College will inevitably give you the freedom to be yourself and find your voice. Always.
In all these eighteen years, I had internalized not just Bengali culture but also a very comfortable, taken-for-granted, Bengali way of life which included almost everything which was not a part of the experience of being a student in Hyderabad.
For someone who had never lived away from home for more than a night, living in a hostel, for me, was more a newfound responsibility than a mere taste of freedom. It also meant that I was expected to handle my own finances, and the fact that I was not accountable to anybody about where my money was going was an even greater source of apprehension.
Besides this, there was also culture shock I had to deal with. I knew nothing about the way of life in this part of India, and all my life, everything I was accustomed to was almost completely in stark contrast to what I had to get accustomed to in Hyderabad. Everything was different – the cuisine, the weather, the public transport, the people, and most importantly, the language. I completely hated the change because it was such a huge obstacle even while doing daily chores. But I got used to it, as I suppose everyone does.
I have survived two years in Hyderabad knowing only one Telugu phrase (which translates to ‘I don’t know Telugu’) and it has been an incredible adventure; more so because it was all up to me to steer through it. It was very personal, something which only mattered to me and something which only I had to deal with in my very own way. When I look back at it now, I see all the mistakes I have made and how they have contributed to the person who I am now – who is very different from the naïve teenager I was at the beginning of this process.
All these mistakes, simply put, have helped me grow up. If I hadn’t gotten onto the wrong bus (because I cannot read Telugu and was too shy to ask other people) and missed a movie I pre-booked tickets for; if I had not explored the city on my own when I had only twenty rupees in my purse; if I had not travelled for two hours to attend a play which made no sense to me whatsoever; if I had not struck up conversation with random strangers who knew nothing of me and whom I knew nothing of – I would not have made the most out of my experience as someone studying in Hyderabad. which I think I have, all on my own terms.
But I can say with conviction now that people here are a lot more helpful than people back home; and although I still swear by my plate of Kolkata biryani, the one here isn’t all that bad. Only after making all the mistakes I have made, including the one that included having a skewed set of preconceived (mostly wrong) notions about South Indians, have I realized how important mistakes are – because they have filtered out everything I should not have done, and in that process, have taught me everything I should.
As cliché as this might sound, if I had to give my eighteen-year-old self some precious advice about how to deal with college life, I would not say much. I guess, I would only say that I understand that this life is new and difficult and weird, but it gets better. It gets better because you make mistakes. Make all the mistakes you want (except things which would land you in trouble, no, not those) and figure out what works for you and what does not. Because otherwise, you’d never really know, and that’s quite sad.