Photo Courtesy: Many of the photographs used in this article are from the photo archive of Project Evergreen.
It has been 30 years since we graduated, and yet the thought of my wing brings an instant lifting of the spirit and a bubble of laughter in my throat.
That this has lasted several decades has much to do with the strength of our shared memories and a sense of kinship that transcends time and distance.
I remember entering the small, moss-stained undergraduate women’s hostel (the old H10/LH) and being immediately attacked by a ferocious swarm of mosquitoes in the dilapidated visitor’s room. I didn’t know it then but H10’s location was highly strategic – close to the main gates, YP, and to some of the departments certainly, but also close to the professors’ quarters and far away from the nine undergraduate men’s hostels. This meant that we could get a quick snack at RK/SP if funds permitted, and the ChemE/Meta/chemistry junta could theoretically wake up at 8.20am for an 8.30am class. Unfortunately this also meant that we bumped into said profs unduly frequently and that we were a substantial distance away from the only food available at 2am (Rainbow/H8). Also, doubtless as intended by the unknown builder, our location put a crimp in inter-hostel social activities both at the group and individual level, with some notable exceptions.
I recall meeting the fourteen other women who comprised the class of ’92. Possibly because we were such a small group, we couldn’t be described as homogenous – each of our 18-year old selves stands out distinctly in my memory. We had of course, the ‘Bombayites’ and ‘non-Bombayites’, a large contingent from technical/scientific family backgrounds (TIFR/BARC/Bhilai), introverts and extroverts, music-lovers and foodies, fitness enthusiasts and couch potatoes, cleanliness fiends and slobs, early risers and night-owls…we spent the next few months getting to know each other and developing immunity to the mosquitoes and hostel food.
Photo courtesy: Author
We took long walks to Vihar lake in evening, parked in each other’s rooms ostensibly to study but really to talk and laugh about everything under the sun, loudly criticized each other’s taste in room décor and music and clothes (and then borrowed those same clothes), grumbled about the mess food, and generally tried to adjust to the goldfish bowl of being part of the tiny female contingent in our year. I remember Monday lunches being the highlight of the week – the ‘Bombayites’ went home and brought back home-cooked delights – besan laddoos, alu parathas, dahi rice…The wonderful thing was that there was always someone to talk with, walk with, laugh with, grumble with, sing songs loudly off-key with, cry with, have long and quite random discussions with, do crosswords with… There were birthday bumps and bumps for the sake of it, dressing up for dandiyas and ValFis, enthusiastic participation in the PAFs, blunders through the dark campus for the THs, frantic last minute cram sessions before endsems …we went to cheer our wingmates singing at “Surbahar’, took part in Mood-I and Inter-IIT, had ‘schol’ treats, tried to drum up enthusiasm for various hostel activities (I still remember my friends working to help me revive the hostel magazine).
Some things were definitely special to H10 – the watchman at the entrance who would only call a hostelite if the visitor knew the room number (and then he boomed the room number at the top of his voice so that everyone knew who was being visited), the curfew at 11pm when all male visitors had to depart the hostel, the lack of economies of scale that required our mess secretaries and maintenance coordinators to perform small miracles to improve the mess food or to effect repairs. I remember the pay phone at the entrance that stopped working frequently – any girl wishing to call her family had to go to MB or YP. I distinctly recall the frog that adhered obstinately to the wall of the 3rd floor bathroom and stared at anyone taking a bath (the use of hot water dropped dramatically during its residence), and the gigantic flying cockroach that emptied out our wing in seconds.
I was delighted to see the new and improved H10 and to know that the number of women has increased substantially even if the percentage remains low. Washing machines, laptops, computer rooms – these were unthinkable in the late eighties in H10. It makes me feel a bit like a dinosaur, albeit a benevolent one. But I confess to nostalgia for the little, decrepit building that we spent 4 years in – or at least for the good times, the silly jokes, the tears and the memories. Those years laid the foundation for a lifetime of friendship and yes, sisterhood. To this day, when I speak to any of my wingmates, however infrequently, we pick up where we left off thirty years ago despite varied career paths, marriages, kids and disparate interests. All it takes is a few minutes, a couple of anecdotes, a characteristic laugh or phrase – and I’m back in H10, in room 319.