I was visiting H5 after over 35 years. My wife was accompanying me and I was keen to show her my room and relive memories of some of the best times I have had in my life.
My first impression as I walked in was that the hostel looked a much smaller place than when I lived there. Happens all the time! Places that looked larger than life when we were young appear to shrink with age. Walking the corridors and going up to ‘my’ room, I had the strange experience as if the hostel had frozen in time since I departed. Nothing much had changed except time had taken its toll.
It was late evening and we spoke to a couple of students who were hanging around in the wing and I was astonished at how much the ethos of the denizens had changed. The wing (12 or 16 rooms) was a group that banded together and evoked fierce loyalty. We freely walked in and out of each other’s rooms and knew each other as brothers. We knew where they were from, their family members, what their parents did, etc. We especially knew their likes and pet peeves which we used to pull their legs in impromptu ‘cack sessions’ in the rooms. It seemed to me that there wasn’t such level of bonding amongst wingmates these days. The folks we spoke to just knew that a particular room occupant was from Bihar and was in a particular year.
Wings and the space in between was a perennial hive of activity. Every evening after tiffin, the Volleyball, Football and Basketball courts were filled, while several hangers-on stood around awaiting their chance to play. That inevitably created the opportunity for someone from an upper floor to empty a bucket of water on their heads. A round of gaalis would follow, with folks demonstrating the expanse of their vocabulary and imagination. All in good spirit of course, before the decibels of the throat were drowned by those of the stomach at 7.30 pm. Everyone would promptly troop to the mess in good cheer. These days it seems that the internet and online gaming has taken its toll and the courts between the wings bore signs of not having been used in ages. Through the year, the campus witnessed intense competition between hostels in various sports. This was mirrored within each hostel in the form of inter-wing competitions that were fought with similar levels of intensity.
It struck me how the open plan of the hostels was designed to encourage us to interact. When I mentioned the decline in level of engagement to today’s students, they only asked that I visit the newer hostels which were built in a closed plan (probably to save space) and see the difference. It appears that residents hardly know each other – much like occupants of neighbouring apartments (flats) in a condo (housing society) in any modern city. That would be a sad outcome in the pursuit of conserving space and increasing the occupied density. This is something I hope the architects of new hostels take time to think deeply about.