Ever since I was sixteen, I’ve been living in various dorms, or hostels, as we call them in India. The first dorm I lived in was part of a school and was exclusively for students in Grades 11 and 12. The dorms were two tiny houses, one for girls, one for boys. There were about twelve to fourteen students in each house, almost evenly divided between grades.
After graduating from high school, I moved to the Ashoka dorms, which were the complete opposite: seven to ten-floor buildings with fifty students on each floor. There are more girls on my floor alone than there were in the top two grades of my school (it’s a small one). The girls have two buildings to live in, while the boys have one.
I’ve had two completely different experiences in the last five years, and it has been fascinating to note exactly where and how they differ, aside from the obvious structural and population details.
For one thing, the small number of girls in my school dorm and the fact that we changed rooms often made it easy to figure out what people were like. That’s fine when you need help, or when you pick up quirky habits from someone in the room next to yours, but not so much if you left congealed Maggi in the sink and forgot to clean it up.
In the college hostel, it’s harder to know the habits of your floormates, because you may not see them that often, and there are so many of them: depending on which dorm you live in, you can have nearly seventy others living on your floor. The fact that there’s no lights-out also adds to the anonymity; if someone messes up, you’re less likely to know who it is, because people might not have seen them or there were too many people there at that time to figure out the culprit. It’s even harder in areas common to the entire dorm. Then again, that works in favor for some people who’d rather do their work without people always watching them and not be pounced on for leaving a plate outside its place for only five minutes, get off my back please, dear seniors.
Relationships with the warden are also different in each dorm. In school, the warden lived with us, so she made sure we woke up and left the dorm in time for breakfast, even on Sundays. She watched over our schedule and we saw her most moments of our waking hours. At least once every two weeks, she’d call all twelve or thirteen of us to the common room for a meeting, and we could knock on her door to talk any time we liked. When new students moved into the dorm, she would personally talk to them and their parents and ask seniors to help the new kids out. She knew everything that went on in the house, and nothing escaped her eyes since we spent most of our free time in the dorms. It’s a far cry from my current dorm, where most things go under the radar; sometimes even our neighbours don’t know about the drama taking place in the room, let alone the Resident Assistant (RA) or the warden.
Of course, while my last dorm was quite cheerful and fun-loving, it was sometimes a nightmare for me, the lone introvert in the entire house. If I wanted to do something by myself, or not take part in a group activity just once, it was nearly impossible without being judged…on the rare occasion I could do it at all. If I wanted to close the room for five minutes to pray, I had two people bursting in and asking me what was wrong. Like seriously, just because someone wants to be alone doesn’t mean she’s miserable. My introversion kinda soured relationships with my housemates during our time together.
On the other hand, my new dorms are perfect to spend time by myself. I can go a whole weekend without seeing anyone else except my roommate if I time my trips outside the room right; sometimes this happens on weekdays too. When the RA holds floor events, there’s no way anyone can practically drag you out of the room because everyone else is there and you’re the only one not having fun and being a part of the group (all of these are untrue: first of all, half the floor can’t make it). It sometimes feels lonely, but I’m thankful for the space.
Then again, despite the differences, I was quite well-prepared for college dorms thanks to the two years I spent in a school one. Because I had taken my first steps in a small dorm, the larger one wasn’t so hard to adjust to, as well as the feeling of being away from home. Still, there are some days when I wonder which one is better, or rather, which one I was more comfortable in.
Edited by: Priyanka Shankar