2003 was the scariest year of my life. I left maa ka anchal (mom’s errr skirt) and went into the big bad world. No I was not going to school but was going to the hostel to do my second Masters. Yeah, I was that old and had never left home and was shitting my pants at the prospect of going and living in a hostel in Haryana – the land of Jats and bodybuilders and goons (that is what Haryana meant to me then). Although Kurukshetra is just a three hour drive from Delhi, Momma was drowning in tension as if I was going on a space mission to detonate a nuclear bomb on a meteor hurling towards Earth. I reassured her that I will come every week with a bag full of dirty clothes.
I took Pops with me to Kurukshetra because I was scared that the moment I will enter the hostel, I will be surrounded by 10 burly goons who will beat me to pulp on the pretext of ragging. Nothing of the sort happened and everything went pretty smooth. Pops even cleaned my room with me. Soon, it was time for him to say goodbye and leave me alone. My fears returned and all the horrible ragging stories danced around me like African tribal men. As Pops bid me farewell, I decided to skip the dinner in the hostel mess, switched off the light of my room, covered myself with a bed sheet, stopped breathing and pretended to be dead.
An hour later something happened that stopped my heart.
“No. 7!!!” Someone screamed from outside. It took me some time to realize that 7 was my room number and the voice was not coming from the door but from the garden outside my balcony. I ignored it and dropped dead again.
The boy kept screaming the number of my room again and again giving me massive consecutive heart attacks. I had visions of me stripped naked and asked to dance to ‘Babuji zara dheere chalo’ in the middle of a crowd of hostellers in the ground as they whistled and clapped and japed.
I finally had to get up before the whole hostel would have been on my doorstep. I unlatched my balcony door and peeked outside and to my relief found the garden empty. I was still scared and cautiously stepped outside.
“No. 7!!!” the voice thundered again somewhere above my head. I looked up and saw a boy wrapped in his towel staring at me.
“My underwear,” he said.
“What?!?” I gasped. This was the last word I would have imagined a stranger boy speaking to me.
“My underwear is in your balcony. It flew off. Can you throw it up?”
I looked around and found a blue colored Frenchie lying like Kareena Kapoor in Ran One’s arms on my balcony railing. The wave of relief that bathed me (because I was going to live some more) was intoxicating. I had never picked up another boy’s underwear before in my life and this was certainly not an encouraging experience on the first day of my hostel life. I picked it up like a lizard and threw it up. The boy caught it, thanked me and went inside.
As I settled in my bed again and pretended to be dead once more, someone knocked at the door. The way I reacted, it looked like a scene straight out of a horror movie. With one hand on my heart, I opened up my door and saw a puny guy beaming at me. He said hello and told me that he was my classmate. Then he barged in and as we sat on the bed, he placed his head in my lap and began chatting as if he was my wife. It was surreal that minutes ago, a guy had asked me to toss his underwear and now this head of a complete stranger was bobbling and babbling in my lap. I was speechless. What had I landed myself into?
My classmate’s name was Raj and we went to the mess together. No one jumped at me. The food was pathetic. Over the course of the next 1.5 years, I made great friends for life and spent the most beautiful time of my education in Kurukshetra. When I came back to Delhi in a hired car, the driver thought that I have left my girlfriend behind the way I alternately wept and sulked the whole way. I could not smile for two months after reaching home and behaved like Nirupa Roy and that worried momma like crazy. He son was not the same guy who walked out of the house 18 months ago.
Hostel turned me into a fiercely independent guy and I developed a rhythm to do things my own way. I also started eating anything mom made instead of throwing tantrums (as I used to do earlier) because I now knew how bad food tastes. When I look back, those two incidents on the first day played a massive role in helping me to take it easy and let go of my frivolous attempts to be an introvert. Hostel completely transformed me and I thank God for that.
Although I was ragged later, it was very mild as we were post-graduate students. And horror of horrors, a senior (male) took fancy to my meek baritone and asked me to read newspaper to him as if he was my granddad. Ahem! Weird, I know.
Crazy days they were.
*Pops = Daddy, Father, Pitaji, Papa (In case you were wondering)