Life In My Ladies Hostel Is A World Of One’s Own… What Freedom Feels Like!

Every corner of the hostel premises feels free from unsolicited stares and touches. It feels comfortable and safe.

You go out on the streets and it is filled with men. Take a bus; most passengers are men. Attend a concert; men. Go to your favourite food joint; men. Even the women that you see around in the public sphere are there with men.

When you see the world with the female gaze, you understand that there is no world for women. It’s the men’s world and we just live in it.

Since childhood, we have been consciously told to behave in front of the men in our families. I remember being told by mom to not wear shorts when my uncles were coming. To speak less and smile more. To also be safe.

Every day was a reminder that patriarchy exists and the world is not a safe space for us. Thus, I always wanted a world of my own.

Would an all-girls’ college be the answer?

Studying in a co-ed school was a constant fight against judgements, slut-shaming and objectification. This one time in class nine someone told me that a group of boys in our class discussed how my body looks. Not ending there, they went on to compare all girls in class with each other in terms of how they looked; rated them. I remember being a good 8.

It was both outraging and validating at the same time. Bois Locker Rooms existed even before the internet and Instagram did. In conversations. In thoughts. Though as a teenager, I always looked for validation from boys, I also wished to live in a world with just women. It was a constant struggle between a girl conditioned to please others and a feminist paving her way out of patriarchy.

I believed a women’s world would be a more empathetic, kinder, smarter and safer place.

To make this dream come true; to make my own world full of women, I decided to go to an all-girls college for graduation. But life had its way. I did not get into a girls’ college. My marks were too low for the top all-women college for journalism at Delhi University.

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So there I was, again sitting in a classroom full of men. Don’t get me wrong, these men were good, at least better than the men I had met so far. But I felt that a community of just women would feel different. Because do I even know these men? In a literal sense, yes. But how do these men talk to each other when they are alone? What do they talk about? What do they talk about women? These questions always struck me.

As I built a love-hate relationship with men over these years, I entered the University of Hyderabad. It was a co-ed college again. But this time it was different. I would be living in a ladies’ hostel.

The ladies’ hostel was the world I had wished for

On my first day on campus, I was sitting all alone in my room trying to contemplate if that was really what I wanted. I did not know if I belonged to Hyderabad. “Dilli dil mein hai”, I told myself. Hyderabad was crowded. Travel was expensive. The University was too big for people to know each other. One has to walk a lot to go anywhere. Language barriers existed and I felt like an outsider.

On the first day, I did not leave my room. Ate and slept the whole day. On day two, the walls of my room seemed to have come a little closer and the air felt too stagnant and stale. I wanted to go out. Unassertively, I decided to have lunch in the hostel mess.

As I held the plate in hand, standing at the mess door, the view was impeccable. Hundreds of women across different cultural backgrounds were sitting in large groups. As they ate and chatted, unbothered by the presence of other human beings, I knew I belonged there. The dining hall was the world I always wished for. A world in which the air is filled with laughter and comfort, in which the land was as much mine as anybody else’s, where you could be seen and not stared. On my second day at the university, I found what I had been looking for all these years, I found a world of my own.

This is what freedom feels like

It has now been almost two months of living here. I go to college and come back to the hostel leaving all judgements and self-censors at its front gate. At night, I sit on the terrace looking at the sky, loiter around and then sit again. For the first time, I do not need any reason to go out. Every corner of the hostel premises feels free from unsolicited stares and touches. It feels comfortable and safe.

The closest I have been to this feeling in Delhi was during metro rides. I always boarded the women’s coach. Women would be reading, laughing, talking, and sleeping, unbothered by the presence of other women. Life at the ladies’ hostel for me is like travelling in that coach of the metro.

As I sit down to write this, I remember I have almost forgotten that someday this metro ride will end. I will be at the other side of the university gate where the men’s world will be waiting for me to pave the way for myself. But by that time, I think the feminist in me would have won the battle against the girl conditioned to be pleasing. I will be ready to face the world again. Because being around these strong, free women, I have learnt that Virginia Woolf was right when she said, “Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.”

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