There are rules of course and then there are the unwritten rules.
Like the race to get to the bathroom in the morning. Buckets lined up methodically outside each bathroom door and each girl just called out to the next. This system worked a treat. No fights or arguments, just disciplined queuing up.
But for most other things, competition was fierce.
Screaming out to the boy-waiter to take our breakfast order was a contest we all enjoyed every morning. Then, of course there was fierce competition in the field of studying. After all isn’t that what we there for. It was the matter of who studied for how long. It was the number of hours you put in, immersed in the textbooks and notes. Learning by rote, mugging, memorizing, storing, saving, and revising pages upon pages.
There were all types of competitors:
1] The perennial book worm: who was found with books all year round, every single day. This was an intimidating competitor: Books all over the room, books on the bed, books when eating, thick fat voluminous impressive textbooks from which elaborate notes were made. It was this person we turned to in hours of need. Any textbook or notes under the sun were available in her room. It was like a library within the hostel.
2] The ‘intellectual’: a rare species who read sensibly straight from text books, understanding concepts, reading the books that most of us never knew even existed. Calm and composed she was who we looked up to.
3] The ‘last minute reader’: most of us fitted into this category. We woke up at the eleventh hour, collecting notes frantically, studying in groups, egging each other on, studying the most likely questions and answers [which was basically most of the syllabus anyway!], keeping up at night with endless cups of tea to keep those eyelids from closing and trying to catch up on all those hours that we had wasted during the year. Every year we would make a silent resolution to study all year round the next year, but that never happened. We did best under pressure and what pressure it was! We oiled our hair to keep calm, the lenses wearers were now only sticking to their spectacles to ‘look the studious part’ [as if that would help] and we paced the corridors, thick books in hand to keep body and mind awake. Some of us were ‘ larks’, getting up at the crack of dawn and mugging away and some us were the ‘owls’, staying up at night, our nocturnal skills at their sharpest. But towards the end, we ‘last minuters’ burnt the candle at both ends, becoming an owl and turning into a lark after a few hours sleep! At exam time, the corridors were where we ‘lived’ for half the time. Sitting on either side of the dimly lit corridor we studied and learned by rote. In full public view was how we liked to study so that our peers could appreciate how many hours we were putting in, our friends could nag us if we accidently tried to catch a little shut-eye and our competitors could see our determination and be overwhelmed by our efforts [as if that mattered]. Staircases, the hostel terrace were the study hotspots. The amount of milky, sugary, strong tea I’ve had in those years, the number of nights I’ve kept awake to wade through the never ending syllabus…………I don’t think I will ever do or can do again. These were our unexplainable ways, logic defying, no doubt, but we had to stick to tradition. This is how it was done in the hostel…………….