Hostel Life in India: Less Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, More Prison Break


Hostel Life in India: Less Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, More Prison Break

Illustration: Arati Gujar

College and freedom. You’d think these two words go together like a beautiful symphony, but that’s only until you begin to attend college. Having recently graduated, I have some inconvenient truths I think every aspiring college-goer should know. People call college “the best three years of your life” – I call it false advertising.

Depending on how strict and sanskari our parents are, we’ve all experienced varying degrees of freedom while growing up. Moving away from home for some “serious” studying in a residential campus is viewed as the first real opportunity to taste true freedom. Our films make us believe that university is like a rave party that goes on for months, where insignificant things such as three tests, six presentations, and 16 assignments due over the next three days barely register as important. They make it look so easy. But if life would be like the movies, we’d skate to our classrooms, play basketball in college, and wear clothes designed by Manish Malhotra. College, at least in India, is nothing like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai.

And freedom? Indians have experienced it only once, in 1947, or while watching Lagaan. Too bad for you if you weren’t alive for the former or didn’t watch the latter. College hostel wardens are worse than Capt Russell – they’ll charge teen guna lagaan, penalise you for breaking the rules, and still give you hell if you’ve returned two minutes later than the deadline. So if you’ve spent years living with a curfew imposed by your parents and are an optimist, you might be able to find some joy in being permitted to stay out until 10 pm.

This might still be a dream for some who think they can do as they please until 10 pm without receiving a call from mama asking, “Ghar kab aaoge?” And often in the throes of that heady rush of freedom, they forget their hostel warden won’t let them in even if she gets a whiff of alcohol. I’ve spent days locked outside the hostel and making regrettable 3 am decisions regarding bhurji pav outside a train station. It seems exciting the first few times, but a hundred mosquito bites and a bad stomach are enough to make you mend your ways.

But lust isn’t the only deadly sin our institutions crusade against. Gluttony is also forbidden.

Coming back before 10 pm means spending a lot of time in your rooms. But boys are not allowed to enter the girls hostels because wardens believe ek ladka aur ek ladki kabhi dost nahin ho sakte – a single adult woman plus a single adult man equals at least one unplanned baby.

But lust isn’t the only deadly sin our institutions crusade against. Gluttony is also forbidden. For instance, the university I completed my education at was a strict, Jain campus, which meant that all non-vegetarian food, including eggs, was prohibited from campus. You’d think doing drugs would get you in trouble, but try sneaking in a chicken roll with onions.

My friend was caught eating a frankie and all hell broke loose. Her parents were called in because clearly at 17, she was not old enough to decide whether or not to indulge in eating some chicken in the comfort of her room. It did not end here. This was followed with a long hearing with the disciplinary committee to decide her punishment. She was grounded for three weeks and was asked to serve detention – cleaning the hostel garden – because slyly eating chicken needs some serious introspection.

Hostel is nothing like a masti ki paathshala. However, it has to be said that in learning ways around all of these rules, you learn the art of innovation. Windows were our gateway to freedom – we used them often to smuggle in everything from alcohol to boyfriends. We also became expert judges of how much contraband would fit into each of our bras – a quarter of Old Monk and a pack of Gold Flake.

So while you prepare for “the best few years of your lives”, forget everything you saw in the movies. You’ll find it’s less of a Karan Johar movie, and more like the five-season run of Prison Break.