Immunisation-hostel style

What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger…….hmmmm, I guess immunisation works on that principle. Micro/nano small frequent doses of nasty stuff makes a super human out of the wimpiest among us. Well, super-tolerant humans in any case.

Hostel life is one such immunity building exercise. Looking back, I am amazed at our survival skills…..

Yucky things first. Toilets. I know, EEEEEWWWWW but seriously I still have nightmares and one ghastly item haunts to this day-the ubiquitous empty plastic jar ( dabba) of alginate ( dental impression material) with it’s top hacked off- that was the supposed water tumbler.Oh! Oh! Ouch



Hostel- Examination fever

Mugging, cramming, handwritten notes, photocopied aka ‘xeroxed’ notes, borrowed notes, maaroed (stolen) notes, notes that were passed down for generations until they acquired the iconic status of a textbook, lugging thick heavy textbooks from the library, staying  up late at night, getting up early in the morning, sweet, milky sugary hot chai to keep the eyes awake and the brain on red alert, not sleeping some nights in a row, the fierce guarding of notes, going round the hostel rooms to see who was sleeping and who was awake, who was reading which textbooks and notes, tripping over muggers i.e. crammers in the hostel corridors and steps……………oh the flickering tube-lights and air of nervous electricity as we prepared for exams!

‘Rattoing’- nothing wrong with that as some facts just have to be learnt by rote……stuffing facts into an already overflowing brain. ‘What are the contents of the foramen magnum?’ The spinal cord of course. Yes, but what else? Well, who remembers now? Short term memory is great- it allow you to retain as much as you fill in and then post-exam, the  memory pot leaks copiously and a few days later- Whoosh! it is as empty as the foramen magnum in a dry skull!

Making mnemonics to remember everything. The weirder the ‘aide memoire’ the better. ‘What are the side effects of corticosteroids?’ Uh, pain? Well, painful to remember especially when the brain already had a million other ‘side effects’, ‘contraindications’, ‘pharmacological uses’ floating about.

Panic attacks, tears, dark circles, acidity, regurgitation, overeating, under-eating, last minute dash to eat Chyawanprash for better memory, oiled hair, maxis (not to be confused with glam maxi dresses) aka gowns all day long, self-inflicted torture, self-inflicted confinement to hostel room/corridor…….oh the discipline, the punishing regime which got harsher as the exam date approached.

It has been 3 decades…….yesterday’s misery is today’s ‘those good old days’.






019-cartoon-foods-free-vector-imagesLiving in a hostel was all about being on a budget. Of spending within limits, of finding the cheap shops, eating joints and bargain shopping. Our favourite eating places were the restaurants around the hostel. Eat-all-you-can ones were high on the list. These are some of our much-loved hangouts, in no particular order:

  • SHIVALA : That I actually remembered this name is testimony to the fact that this Udipi restaurant was very popular amongst us. It had all our favourite South Indian delights plus fruit juices of all kinds including Ganga- Yamuna [orange and mosambi combination]. We never wasted anything and had absolutely no qualms about sharing from one plate, tearing and sharing a common dosa, sipping from a communal glass and finishing off each other’s leftovers!
  • WAIKIKI: When we craved Chinese food [which was often], this was where we headed. In the rainy season, watching the rain and sipping hot sweet corn chicken soup with plenty of soy sauce was simply divine. One day, the guy charged us extra because we had helped ourselves to too much soy sauce. They also had Parsi specialities of all kinds. How can I forget the Frankies- to die for especially the mutton one.
  • KAMATS: This was just next-door and our veggie friends went there while we went to Waikiki. A hot favourite was their tomato omlette- a besan pancake with tomatoes! Oh and their cold coffee with ice cream and their thali. The list goes on……….
  • MONGINIS : to grab a quick slice of cake or a humungous black forest pastry, this was our dessert place. So also was the ‘halwai’ in Bora bazaar…. cannot remember the name.
  • BHAT THALI: this was the eat-all you–can, unlimited thali place. For the princely sum of Rs 30, you could eat all you could stuff and scoff, without bursting. Rajasthani/ Gujarati food- a full thali experience, with waiters who came in rotation murmuring ‘ Rotla’, ‘Rotla’, Rotla’ or something similar. We starved ourselves before coming here, not just to keep the stomach empty, but also to save up for the Rs 30. Yet we always felt we could not do full justice to the price we paid for it. Rs 30 was a big deal back then.
  • CANON PAV BHAJI: As we ‘xeroxed’ our copious notes, a favourite pastime was devouring the  spicy pav bhaji, eating it standing at the counters by the roadside, watching Mumbaikars passing by.
  • TOASTED SANDWICHES: OOOOOh! How good can a sandwich be? Well, you have to eat this one to know. Fresh bread slathered with butter, green chutney, tomatoes, boiled potatoes all toasted and then generously lavished with a special white butter of some sort and more of the green chutney…..all from a roadside vendor with a makeshift setup, opposite VT.Blissful! and definitely competing with the Canon Pav bhaji.
  • ST GEORGE”S MESS: This was for food better than our hostel canteen. The dal fry and special dal fry [with a huge dollop of butter floating on top] with hot chapatis within the ambience of the hospital [past stretchers, police ‘mamas’ in the Emergency department] was a special outing.If I remember correctly they even had 2 gulab jamuns with their special thali!
  • AAREY MILK COLONY COUNTER: This was the place to have ice cold flavoured milk from little glass bottles. A must for last minute top up of nutrients just before exam time, it was a pleasure standing at the wooden kiosk and slurping away watching the activities around the VT area.
  • VT CANTEEN: A late discovery. It was the place where tea was served in a silver tea set  with a touch of the British Raj days.

There were some places that we always wished to go to. Alas, one place has remained an unfulfilled dream. Bade Miya kebabs: how we longed to go there. But often told that it wasn’t a place for unescorted females like us, this remained out of bounds. Some places were out of question as they were out of our budget. But when we started internship and got our first pay, it was time to pay a visit to Gaylord’s –the place to be. Feeling rich with Rs 1200 in the pocket, we decided to treat ourselves to dessert at Gaylord’s, near Marine Drive. We sat outdoors as apparently there was an extra charge to sit indoors. One friend ordered an ice-cream costing all of Rs 40 which was the most expensive on the menu and when it came it was a tiny bowl of the sweet stuff which she ate relishing every mouthful. Of course there were plenty of other little foodie delights – eating toasted bhutta [corn on the cob] and chana jor garam at Marine drive, masala peanuts from the newspaper cone, chaat at Chowpaty, missal from the college canteen, tea from a glass tumbler in the canteen…………Of course we ogled at the nocturnal stalls that cropped up in the lane leading from VT. The pavbhaji vendor hacking away at his bhaji and reducing it to a pulp, the egg bhurji wala slashing away with his metal spatula and making that clanging sound on his tawa inviting us to sample his wares. These were definitely out of range even for our seasoned immune systems. Eating on a budget had a charm of its own. It was being together with the group of friends, talking and sharing over food that we loved. It doesn’t matter if it wasn’t exactly gourmet food, but for me it will always be one of my favourite things and a cherished memory.


imagesLife is about moments and memories. Celebrations in a hostel are the most unique and unforgettable of life’s moments. I have skipped straight to these because these were some of the most exhilarating experiences in life and nothing can recreate them.

Birthdays in the hostel were events in more ways than one. Especially in the early years. If Enid Blyton captured the essence of boarding school through St Claire’s and Malory Towers, hostel life was all about living those kinds of dreams.


A birthday was always celebrated at midnight. Bleary-eyed friends trudged up to your room and woke you up just before the clock struck 12 and Voila! There was a cake complete with bright, iced flowers in multicolour, candles to blow out and strains of ‘Happy Birthday to you’ reverberating through the corridors. Birthday bumps were followed by the most boisterous and enthusiastic singing, with overturned buckets doubling up as drums. The rest of the hostel slept soundly like nothing was going on!

Holi in the hostel was like no other. Coloured water entered the rooms and filled the corridors. Buckets of water were splashed all over the walls and there was total mayhem.

Dahi- handi and Ganpati processions were celebrated outdoors by boys and men dancing and having a good time. But for the girls it meant being indoors and watching enviously through the windows. Dancing to the loud, upbeat music on the streets was definitely a male bastion. But the music was such that the girls always wished they could dance to it. It was invigorating and energetic with a beat that invited you to get up and do a jig. Finally one year, it got a bit much for some girls in the hostel, who could not contain their longing to let their hair down. So when the music played, these spirited girls just gave vent to their heart’s desire. In the landing between two flights of stairs, they danced as the deafening music outside got louder and more frenetic. We cheered, clapped, whistled [another male territory] and laughed hysterically as we gathered around them and egged them on. Tying dupattas on their heads as bandanas they looked like boys themselves and never have I seen such passionate ‘tapori’ dancing or such dance steps!

There was no dearth of entertainment in the hostel. There was only one television set in one room in the entire hostel. The common room had one but one had to make special efforts to go down to see it. No mobiles of course. Some radios. But what we lacked in electronic devices we made up for in more ways than one. Talking over a cup of chai was one. We could talk endlessly, gossip tirelessly, share jokes mindlessly and laugh uninhibitedly. Sitting on our cozy beds in our comfy gowns there was nothing as pleasurable at the end of a tiring day at college. There was a kind of sisterhood that slowly developed between us that just cannot happen when one does not live in a hostel. There was a comfort level that you usually felt only with family members and that steadily increased as the years rolled by. A lifetime bond formed uniting to memories of shared experiences……………………….