Every year, scores of nervous freshmen throng to the rows of “Safe, Reliable, With Full Wifi And Air Conditioned Room, For Details Contact Sharma Ji” paying guest accommodations in the ancient houses near the college with huge rooms that seem to have been partitioned mercilessly into two, often three divisions. A few of these box-like rooms possess a window, others half a cupboard, and some, a slab of wood that can pass off as a table.
Each hapless freshman armed with suitcases and duffel bags and random plastic packets and laundry hampers soon realize that getting into LSR is merely the beginning of the battle. The real victory lies in being able to find a good paying guest accommodation.
I was one of them this year. When I realized that I had, somehow made it into a college, I expected to be excited at the prospect of a new beginning, new friends, individual and holistic development. But I was petrified – of a hundred small things like whether the food would be edible, whether my roommate would be cooperative, whether the cupboard would be big enough.
Of course, these were all attempts by my brain to obfuscate what I really was petrified about – my life as I knew it was going to be upended.
I am a Type A personality, who likes to be in control of everything around me, particularly my environment. I began experiencing a feeling that may be experienced by baby birds who leave their nest for the first time.
To counteract this sense of vague apprehension, I poured myself into the world of consumerism, buying all sorts of things – some useful like pillows and bedsheets and others wholly ridiculous, like Darth Vader earphone separators. And thus one day I drove to my PG, one of the nameless numbers in National Park, trying to be positive, telling myself that this whole experience was going to be like one giant sleepover.
I had it under control, I told myself. I had lists – “Desk Organizers”, “Cleaning Items”, “Curtains” and whatnot. I was armed with everything from dishwashing soaps to pen stands, and there was no situation I hadn’t predicted and provided for.
Whenever a character I don’t particularly like in a horror movie is about to walk into the jowls of the demon or the clutches of the evil spirit, I feel a curious sense of delight by being able to forsee their unfortunate end. I wonder if Fate, or Destiny or Blind Madam Time felt the same about me, clapping their hands in glee, saying “Ha ha. You have no idea what you’re in for.” Because, after just one day I realized that life in a PG is not something you can ever predict or label.
One hour blew away any sense of confidence I had that I knew what I was doing. Life in a PG is meeting your roommate and confiding tearfully to your friends that you’ll never find things in common. Life in a PG is laughing uproariously with her about barely escaping getting drafted into a secret Buddhist cult the very next day.
Life in a PG is walking home after class, making all sorts of study schedules, only to come back and find out that your room has been converted into a disco of sorts.
Life in a PG teaches you that while you can be the sort of person who appreciates the Beatles, you can also have fun while your roommates force you to listen to “Kudi kenhdi baby pehle jaguar le lo, phir chahe jinni marzi pyaar le lo.”
Living in a PG is waking up one day and realizing that your phone is buzzing like a hoard of angry bumble bees because you have been added to five WhatsApp groups – The Roommates Group, The Floor Group, The Whole PG Group, The First Year Group, The Food and Cleanliness Group.
Two weeks in, and living in a PG has taught me so many things about the world and about myself that I often wonder if I am still the same person.
I’ve learnt how to wash dishes, negotiate with maids and sleep with the lights on. I’ve developed an intuition about when inventive dishes like cabbage and papaya (together) will be served. I’ve gone from “What? There’s dust on the kitchen shelves?” to being able to seeing pizza boxes and crumbs on my bed, and calmly adjusting myself around them and promptly falling asleep.
Life in a PG, much like life itself, can sometimes feel like an extended sleepover and sometimes like the first day of kindergarten all over again. I thought my tiny space would make me feel confined, but within two weeks I’ve explored the city, with its traffic jams and malls and tiny shops, that smells like fried onions and rose water.
I’ve experienced that wild liberation of travelling alone in an unknown city with no idea where you’re going, with only a GPS and an unreliable mobile internet plan for help. And I’ve explored myself, realizing I’m capable of much more than I gave myself credit for.
Life will always careen wildly out of control, I might find myself in an environment I can’t imagine thriving in, and the noise the A.C makes might rival the sound of the cannons on the Eve of Waterloo, but there will always be girls who give me surprise birthday parties and take my Fresher’s Party outfit more seriously than I do.
No matter how much things fall apart, there will always be that sense of standing in the terrace, looking out into the trees of National Park, with the college just beyond, on a cloudy overcast day. And no matter what, some things won’t change – like my mother, whose first query after reading this piece was, “Should we ask them to service the A.C?”