11 years in hostel have passed and all this time I hadn’t really gave much thought on how estranged I am from anything that is happening outside. Strange isn’t it. It’s just me and these four walls. Days have disappeared like fart in the wind. Even if achieving a 20% cerebral capacity was possible, I could only remember a very little about my past. Part of me thinks that, I like it in here more than outside. Because in here, I am Chiru Baratheon, first of his name, king of the procrastinators, protector of my realm.
And in one of these days, I happened to watch an epic movie, an all-time classic “Shawshank Redemption”. Who wouldn’t have heard of that? In one of the most striking scenes in the film, Brooks, a 70-year old Inmate who has spent his last 50 years imprisoned, becomes “institutionalized”.
These walls are funny. First you hate ‘em. Then you get used to ‘em. ‘Nuff time passes, you get so you depend on ‘em. That’s institutionalized.
When Ellis Red, played by Morgan Freeman, tells Andy Dufresne the above dialogue, that scene certainly got me thinking. Am I institutionalized too?
Before that let me brief you on my history. In the year 2004, I joined Navodaya, a residential school where I studied till 2011. Seven unforgettable years in hostel. We were 20 in our wing (room). Inside the wing, there was a place to keep shoes and buckets which divided the room into two halves. Juniors in on half and seniors in the other. Others had to ask permission for entering our room. Believe me, it’s all true. I would never be lonely. The room was never silent. How could it be? Imagine 20 boys going Harsha Bhogle over girls, teachers, classrooms, again girls, cricket, films, their home, serials, again girls. I was never bored. If I felt kinda boring, I would call my regular juniors and tell them fake stories. They would never question me. After all, I was their senior. The room had all kinds of boys. The I-won’t-sleep-till-everyone-sleeps guy, the I-won’t-share-my-food guy, the my-parents-didn’t-come-this-week-so I will just weep guy. The list is so big that I can make another blog out of it. Back then, I hardly got any lonely time. Even if there was some, it was only after 11:30pm. I would grab my diary and bitch about my shitty life. At the beginning, I never thought I could make seven years without seeing my parents except for holidays. Time seemed to pass slowly. Very slow in fact. To add more to the agony, they showed us Taare Zameen Par. My best friend who was from my village, never stopped crying after watching that. It made my life even worse because I consoled him when I was the one who needed much help. All I ever thought about was days left till the Sunday. I always kept the count. Everyone did. But after I got used to hostel life, coming back from home wasn’t much harder. I had friends to share every little detail about my holidays. They weren’t short of fancy tales. Then this made me move on from home sickness. After that, the daily routine which was planned to perfectness. Waking up, going to PT, freshening up, having breakfast, morning assembly, class periods, biscuit break, classes again, lunch, afternoon nap, study time, snacks and tea time, sports, evening study, dinner, night study, sleep. Now where will you get time to think about parents? Ha-ha.
Leaving Navodaya was really painful. What’s more horrifying was leaving behind teachers, friends and such a lovely place. But then again, it’s a phase, every Navodayan has to go through. I am no different. In 2011, I joined engineering. Hostel again in a big room where 5 of us lived for a year. Then in second and third year 3 men room. And then finally, in single room.
Out of all these experiences, the one that made me a complete different man was single room. The first day was scary. I had set my alarm in 5 minute intervals from 7 to 8 am because there is no one to kick my ass and wake me up. Then I got used to waking myself up concept. My new neighbors had just moved in so they came to check how I had arranged things. After the initial phase, everyone stopped visiting except for notes and movies. Days seemed boring so I started going to other rooms to talk with people. As it became frequent, I could feel their discomfortness. So I stopped going too. It is so confined that there are times, when I have woke up and searched for my watch to check if I have travelled universes. But watch is not a totem rite? I began talking to myself and stand for minutes in front the mirror making weird faces. Grab my good old friend-diary and kept list of things to do. I wrote quotes on the wall and pasted some pictures. It wasn’t enough to keep my mind occupied so I grew a plant inside my room. Before I went further crazy, I put an end to all this and that’s when I started writing blogs.
With longer time periods, a sense of nihilism sets in with time and you become resigned to the confinement and life within these walls. This makes us more vulnerable to becoming dependent on the surrounding .Hours and hours of being alone has left me with heavy loads of thoughts. When you live single in a room, it’s not your body that has been imprisoned, it’s your mind my friend. Though there isn’t my mom’s shoulder to rest on when I am sick, the life inside these four walls has taught how to stand on my own.
I have loved this as much as I have hated being here. I cannot go back 11 years and tell 12 year old me, not to join the hostel. All I have left to do is love it and live with it. I’m not sending my kids to any hostel, that’s for sure.
So am I institutionalized? Yes, I am.