“May be I should have held on longer or at least now learn from the lessons I was given”.
“The place you hate will give you experiences to recall with pride later-if you survive”
“Join me sister, you are not the only ones who hate this place, we are in this together”
“What shall you learn from a place if it isn’t different from your home?”.
“Dear temple, though you made me tear and bleed, you sculpted me in the end, for which I thank You”.
MUM: “You are going to no co-education college, you ought to pick either Avinashilingam university or PSGR Krishnammal College for Women or if you want to stay in the district, you can pick CSI college of engineering”.
ME: “I’d rather not attend college than be stuck in this district in that boring college, I’d go to PSGR Krishnammal”
MUM: “Its far for me to come visit, dad’s going abroad too… am putting you in Avinashilingam.”
ME: “I am not going to PSGCAS nor GRD so anywhere else you put me would make no difference” (Actually , it did).
DAY OF THE 12TH BOARD RESULTS
. Mum and I had left early from home, (2 days before the results) and were at a Browsing centre crowded with people who had also made their way here early to hand over register numbers over the crowded counter. Two guys on the computer were asking people to stay calm (pacifying people is hard in cities of India at times of need) and neatly write down their register numbers and their names on a white sheet and pass it over while they poke the traffic-laden 12th board results’ website , to get the results of all people standing through the little alleyway. Apparently everybody was here to secure early admissions to Avinashilingam University, admissions from across the state and beyond. Renowned for its disciplinarian, culture-tipped, educational achievements and a clean , healthy campus rid of mobile phones and playboy troubles of the city, it was a haven for safety seeking parents who would want their daughters to atleast secure a degree. It was the penultimate solution for not-so-well off families who would dream of a good degree, exposure and a job. This campus was packed with oppurtunities and jobs, I’d never deny that.
Mum thought this was a gift, a luxury. She studied in the school campus of this same university and was a bit sentiment driven. When I stepped in I could only see crowds of people rushing over. I couldn’t find sentiment , not in a gray campus. No sentiment, not at all, the only emotion that I harbored was “ SELF PITY”, what the hell would I tell my school friends about where I had ended up?. No, this wasn’t the college life I imagined. I cursed Coimbatore for not having a Journalism UG course. I cursed my friend Indu for telling me she would come here but went off to Amrita Vishwavidyapeetham instead. Of all the people , I cursed my mother more. Fortunately I wasn’t the only one, almost every girl here was cursing her parents (on the inside and openly). I got onto stage to hand over the hostel bill to the warden when a girl came introduced herself to me, (apparently she didn’t like it here too), said she was from some hip-convent school in Tirupur. (she must have assumed I am from a convent from my dressing). She told me that there was no plug point in the hostel and no mobile phones were allowed. I turned and looked shocked at my mother, Mum said sarcastically “What? You didn’t know?”.
Forget mobile phones, how will I help my aching heart without music? Where the hell was I supposed to charge my MP3 player?. The girl exclaimed at me, “Maths? You are taking maths? You like it? Isn’t it hard?”. That is what every girl from a rich family that I met on the campus asked me for the next one year throughout because they had all taken easier courses, (textile designing, interior design, food science and nutrition, psychology) girly courses I would call them. It isn’t like, if you wear cotton salwars and hold your conditioned hair in a banana catch clip, you have to do an easier course. While they pitied me for taking a hard course, I pitied them for going to become Husband- dependant some years later, plenty of money but none of that money would be truly yours. Independence is what makes a girl cool and hot. They think its shiny footwear. I can’t help them. Infact in this campus I couldn’t even help myself.
INTO THE HOSTEL, A ROUGH 20 DAYS LATER:
First day to hostel, was supposed to be there by 5 p.m , I was late. I had called up a girl from BBA tourism that I met on the admission day and she was already in campus. Mum and sister accompanied me. They left me at the gate and I met up with the warden who told me, “Bsc maths? R.NO 64. and hurry up to the auditorium for prayer”. I forgot even to tell mum and sister goodbye. Some hostel worker helped me with my luggage( I had to pay her later) unfortunately it was the highest last floor, R.NO.64 but I liked the room. The temple sort of white washed peace, in a gray stone masonry building. I ran down and found my way to the auditorium. I was late and was sitting with the seniors.
The warden began taking attendance, she called up one room number after the other. Later she gave us rules that seemed soft and fine at first, well you couldn’t question because every sentence we were told was punctuated with, “This is for your own good, you are gifted to be in this campus, the world beyond is horrible, you are safe here, you don’t know what happens in the city”. If this place was abominable, the things you heard from the city were like tales from a half burnt hell returned woman who waved out to you, “Don’t come out, don’t ever come out”.
When R.NO 64 was called, four smiling girls stood up, turned and looked at me from the front row, I smiled at them, they back at me. I joined them after prayer (We were supposed to leave in a line). I met them at the washroom. It was a pretty clean place and every body seemed to scared to talk to anybody else other than their roommates. “Hi, said a friendly voice, I am Dhanalakshmi, R.No.64. From her dressing and accent I could say she was from Ooty, and yes she was (She was from Gudalur but anyway that is part of the district). I got introduced to the others, friendly smiling ones, felt warm inside. A serious studious Anushiya from Salem( whose occasional hearty smile faded away that studious impression), funny boyish(mannish actually) Monisha from Thuneri, Ooty (was I glad!!!) and a sad, teary eyed girl who would later leave the hostel because of us (her actually). “Lets go for dinner,” they said and we left down the stairs just like everybody else, swarming in the darkness like a little wayward but organized swarm of bees to the dining hall. They had a separate hall for the freshers. All halls had the Japanese type low lying tables, where you had to sit cross legged on the floor (It wasn’t so bad, I expected steel chairs and tables but this was more comfortable). The food was good , sometimes disastrous because of some kitchen carelessness but otherwise, good. There was a creature, a crazy friend named Monica whom I met later, who never ate even a spoonful from the dining hall, she lived on packed snacks for two semesters that I knew.
What irritated me the most was keeping on being pecked by senior leaders, I didn’t like it but couldn’t show it out. I couldn’t even show that I hated being here, because if I admitted I don’t like the place, people would assume I had a boyfriend. You can have a bomb at Avinashilingam university hostel, not a boyfriend. You will get your life blown up. Wait till I tell you.
ORIENTATION DAY- ORIENTED CROSS LEGGED INSIDE FENCES:
The next day I woke up from my four-poster bed with prickly eyes and a nauseating sensation, it was 4.30a.m, we had to be at the auditorium for prayer at 5. Brushed and hatefully joined everybody to attendance and then prayer.(Should have bathed I thought). Hindus, Muslims and Christians had separate prayer halls. Here prayer was not about connecting with God, I don’t remember anybody telling me that, prayer was to maintain discipline, so you could become a responsible house-wife later on (Who are you to tell me what to become? I wanted to ask, but how could I ask the warden, tell me? You have no idea, I swear, I have nothing against them but I am angry because they almost got me killed). I didn’t like the fascist approach and later calling it achievement. There was nothing evil as of. But many parts of the disciplinarian hostel system was like “Hanging a prisoner without trial”. So DISCIPLINE WAS SUPPOSED TO COME OUT OF FEAR? NOT VOLUNTARILY? HOW WILL THESE GIRLS RUN A FAMILY IF THEY CAN’T APPRECIATE DISCIPLINE?.
They hadn’t given us prayer books. So we had to wait, sit and listen to the monotonous drone of the prayer songs ( I liked one Carnatic singer though, a truly talented singer. She was a Malayalee from one of the Gulf countries, a favorite of all, including the staff). You can’t fall asleep or even tip your head because the warden was watching everybody from the stage like a monarch watching his court. Day break was going to come but we all usually came back and slept till it was breakfast, we did that ritual faithfully from day one, until I left. It was the first day , they called it “orientation”, seniors took students (Department wise) around the campus and explained to us the rules and regulations and the penalties of being caught with a mobile phone. I kept glancing at the pretty canteen, the food court beyond shaded with trees and the fresh juice stall just opposite it (it was my heaven, I still wish I could go back). Placards and chart boards were placed all around the campus with wordings like “ Sisters, waltz into the ragging free campus”, “100%- ragging free campus”. Okay, very nice I thought, until… wait till I tell you(If everybody was equally bullied by the system, ragging wouldn’t be a big deal now would it?). The auditorium was overflowing with freshers’ parents, apparently mum was inside. But I couldn’t meet her ,not easily. A humble girl, very politely (vaanga, ponga in Tamil) apparently not from the city came and asked me were her department people were standing, I pointed the way. Later they asked us to get inside a fenced area which I later realized to be the Basketball court. When all of us first years were inside the open but fenced space, they locked the gate and asked us to sit. I was shocked from tip to toe. “College students or sheeps and pigs?” I thought. “Had I been in some other college!” I yelled to myself inside.
My head ache shot up a little more than it had already been. I began getting disgusted. Suddenly somebody I recognized called out to me, it was the father of my old school mate whom I hadn’t met in 2 years(his daughter was here too). He said “Hello child, your mum is waiting for you there”, when I looked mum was standing tired, flushed and holding on to the fence like how visitors to jail do. “Mum”, I said. She asked how I was and if I ate, how my room was etc. I couldn’t begin telling her how much I hated the place already. She said she was staying in her friend’s house and that my little sister had severe wheezing because she was crying badly that I was gone ( Now that is surprising I thought she never did that before). They said they were leaving today. I said okay fine bye.
There began the maddening yet life-teaching journey inside that campus, I knew I’d be stuck there. I at least wanted to learn to pretend I am okay, to adjust…. I just couldn’t figure out how. Everything here seemed wrong and pitted up against my long-held principles. I had read and admired only revolutionary stuff, but here? .Tomorrow morning again I had to bathe in cold water before I used my perfumed anti-perspirant.In the hills all my life I had bathed in steaming water, not bad leave it, come on, I thought. Little worries like sweat and heat and noise of footwear began clouding with bigger ones about my future in my head. “Shrutthi… you are so dead” I thought. And perhaps my prediction was right…The place had already began killing me, will it succeed? . (To be continued.)