So these were the engineering days. I lived in a hostel with a wonderful roommate and a bunch of cool girls next-door. It took me a few weeks to understand the know how’s of a “hostelite”, but once I got the hang of it, there was no looking back, and they are the most memorable years of my life.
The hostel comprised of girls, matron and akkas’ (how you address elder sister in kannada). Many of them were probably younger than the girls, yet we called them akka. They probably came from families which needed them to come out and live in the hostel, cooking food, cleaning the mess, helping the matron in administering her histrionics etc. To earn some extra money, they washed our clothes, a certain amount for each piece of cloth. We heaped the bucket with dirty clothes, topped it with a sachet of Surf Excel, sold at an essentials store within the hostel and gave it to one of the akka’s. They washed the clothes, dried them and left them folded in the bucket, ready to be picked up and worn by us.
It was a stark difference between the privileged us who were on our way to earning an engineering degree Vs a few girls, who earned their living by cooking, cleaning and washing.
“Indu P, Indu P, Indu P . . visitor”
There was this elderly lady, whom we should have technically called aunty, but to keep it uniform called her akka. She was in charge of the microphone and the telephone! There was a room with a telephone to which we could receive calls. So, when any of us got a call, she switched on the PA system and went “Indu P, Indu P, Indu P . . phone”.. if there was a visitor the watchman called her and she made the announcement replacing “phone” with “visitor”. Post this announcement you could hear a loud “COMING” in response. If the akka didn’t hear this, she would hang up or return the visitor. A thundering phat phat phat of hawaii chappal (a cheap sandal) on the cement floor followed, reverberating around the quadrangle. I know there were girls who secretly kept track of who got visitors, just for the fun of it, rolling their eyes to their closest friends..
For outgoing calls there was a PCO booth within the hostel premises. The person who operated the booth was blind, but very capable. His equipment had Braille engraving that helped him operate the booth. After 9 pm STD rates were lower and there was this queue of girls outside the booth waiting their turn. This was the time when mobile phones didn’t exist. Calls to parents, calls to boyfriends, knocking on the door when one person took a loooooong time, kuchikooing, log entry of phone calls, advance booking were some of the daily noises around here.
“Sunday paratha and ice cream”
Sunday was “I-wash-my-hair-today” day. After gobbling down the every Sunday morning aloo paratha which was a heap of boiled potatoes, barely covered in dough, dusted with a thick layer of flour, served with the same pickle every weekend, the girls took a loooooong bath, washing their loooooong hair. At lunch time they came swaying their long tresses for the Sunday special lunch. The ice-cream served post lunch was something we looked forward to. We could have bought better ice-cream outside the mess, but eating that ice-cream on the steps of the entrance to the hostel, chit chatting for hours, was a treat. A few hours into gossiping and we could see the boys starting to line up outside the hostel. This was a super time pass. The guy comes, gives the name to the watchman, the watchman gives the guy a dirty look, announcement over the PA system, the loud running footsteps, which slows down right around the corner where the steps end and the hostel entrance walkway is visible to the outside world, matron giving dirty looks to the girl, nevertheless, the dressed up girl walks out blushing, the “vela” (local word for jobless) girls on the steps give out a sly smile..
There was a rec-room with a 20 inch CRT TV that was our only source of television, those four years. Monday night 9pm, you didn’t have to look further, majority of the girls glued to their seats or inch of space available in the rec room watching a soap called Saans, which was about a married man, his wife and the other woman. If you whispered while the show was on, the seniors would give you nasty looks.
The seats were reserved for and by the final year girls while the freshers edged on their friend to catch a glimpse of what was going on.
The akkas’ ran a night canteen during internals and semester exams. They served biscuits, bread sandwich, egg sandwich, coffee etc from 11pm to 1am (I think) since the mess closed after dinner and this fueled the thinking minds before the exam! So after about an hour’s study after dinner, and another hour of chit chatting, the girls raided the night canteen. The yummiest and most expensive (I guess it was Rs 5) was Maggi noodles. It was served in a small silver plate, filled to the rim. We usually shared this and it was a sure delicacy. So was the bread sandwich which was this enormous piece of bread buttered and toasted. Yumm!!
The best years, treasured memories, abundant happiness, carefree life..