Time Capsule | Ft. An Ache for My Room
A Time Capsule about my all the ways living in a hostel room changed me.
It’s been a while.
For a really long time now, I’ve been thinking about my hostel room - MCS 416. It was a constant presence in my life for over 3 years and now it is absent.
I’ve been meaning to write the essay and make this episode for months. It’s finally done. I hope you like it. I would personally suggest listening to the episode but if you can’t, you can always read it here.
Let me know what you think ! I would love to know what were your stories from your favourite room.
Thanks for reading and listening to Curiousect!
I’m recording this, again, from my tiny room at the corner of a balcony in my home.
As you may know, I’ve started working as an associate at a law firm. If I’m not sleeping or eating food, you’ll always find me here.
This tiny room has been a spectator to a lot of endings recently. The end of my final year in law school, the end of my time as a member of a beloved committee and the end of a sheltered life as a student. The room has also seen the start of a new chapter in my life. I got enrolled as an advocate, opened a new bank account and effectively started adulting in this room.
Every morning, I come and sit in this tiny room, which is located in the apartment where I’ve lived for most of my life. I think I’m supposed to be at home? Yet, every morning I’m reminded of where I am not.
I’m intensely aware of the fact that I am not present in MCS 416, my hostel room. I am not there any more and I will never be there anymore, will I?
When I first saw my room, it seemed like an abandoned place. It was dirty, you could collect dust on your palms and there was nothing to indicate that it had ever been occupied. The room was filled with emptiness. I truly did not know what I was getting into.
Before I finished the admission process for my college, my family and I had to spend a couple of days getting the place in order. We cleaned up the room, I got a comfortable mattress, arranged my clothes in the cupboard, made space for my books and of course, let’s not forget the two rows in my cupboard that were solely dedicated for home food. I didn’t have any posters. No other decorations or frames or photos. It was a plain little room.
By the time we were done, the room had transformed from a desolate place to something more. I didn’t know what at the time. I only thought of it as accommodation, a physical place to sleep in.
Soon my family left and I was all alone.
No one had moved in yet. The semester hadn’t started. The entire floor was empty and dark. Only the lights of my room were turned on. The first night I spent in the room, I was terrified. I was nervous and confused about the future and felt lonely.
In the middle of the night, I could hear a metallic tapping noise outside my room. Someone was knocking on my door. Initially, I thought it was some senior and I decided to ignore them. They would leave when they figured I was deep asleep but it continued.
I wanted to fall asleep that night but I couldn’t. I was afraid. I closed my eyes in an attempt to sleep. I was thinking about my home, about the future, about the noise outside and about the dark and lonely room I had come to.
The first night I spent in my room, I was confused, scared, nervous, surrounded by a situation where I felt I was in a horror movie, all alone with no one to ask for help and no other support.
The next morning, I got out of my bed to see my lock dangling from the door handle, making the same sound. The mystery of what ruined my sleep had been solved ! I started laughing at myself and the absurdity of the situation I had gotten into far away from home.
At the beginning of this year, it became clear that our college wouldn’t be reopening and we would be finishing our college life online. So my friends and I decided to visit the campus together to pack things up and empty our rooms. We were doing it in the middle of our final semester, and we knew once college ended it would be almost impossible to sync our schedules the same way.
On February 25, we landed in Jodhpur. The days before that we were having fun in Goa, but the moment we landed in Jodhpur and got on our cabs, all of us were silent. We were soaking in the familiar roads. I was waiting eagerly for the campus to show up. We reached and I was struck again by what all of this meant.
We headed to our rooms. I know that’s the thing all of us were looking forward to: to enter that familiar place where one spends most of their time on campus.
My friends, Sandesh and Aastik live on the same floor as me in MCS. We walked up the stairs, all the way to the MCS Top Floor. I was there when Sandesh had o pened the lock to his room. I could also hear Aastik on the other end of the corridor opening the door and entering his room.
I was standing outside the door of MCS 416.
On the door, Aastik had long back spray painted the words - The Most Homely Room in MCS. Memories are slowly rushing back. I saw my lock. Instinctively, I reached out to my pocket to take out the key like I always did, but I came empty handed.
I didn’t have the key.
I was right there. In front of the locked door to my room. I was in front of the room I had lived in for the last few years but I couldn’t enter.
Before the trip started, I had turned my house upside down, and took the help of my family to search for the key to my lock. I was so sure I had gotten it back home when I left campus, just before the lockdown. But after weeks of searching, nothing came up.
I had travelled all the way to my college in the middle of a global crisis, and I did not have the keys to open my door. I was incredibly frustrated and angry at myself, for not keeping the keys properly. I have never misplaced my keys. I had never broken open this lock. I didn’t want to either, but that’s what it had come down to.
I just had to wait a little bit longer than others. I was telling myself to be patient. At least my friends are able to enter their rooms so I can hangout there and be glad for them. I was trying to console myself, as I was staring at the door. I had at least made it till college after all this while I thought, I can wait another day before I open the door.
I was suppressing all possible emotions at the time. I was trying to be composed.
I don’t know how long it was, but then Aastik came out of his room and shouted - “Nirmal, I found your keys !” He came over and put the keys in my hand, and I had already started tearing up.
It all came back. The last day in 2020, as I was leaving, I had given my room keys to Aastik. He was staying for a few more days before things settled down. I told him he can use my room to sleep since his cooler wasn’t working, and he can take the food in my room or use the WiFi. It was the most mundane thing to do. I had done this a hundred times before and that’s why I had forgotten about all this. It was a reminder about all the things I did in MCS.
So, there I was. With the keys to MCS 416, and as I tried to open the door I was trembling. My eyes had teared up, my hands were shaking and my vision was blurry but finally, I got the lock to open. I entered a familiar sight and I was overcome with emotions and memories. I couldn’t hold them back anymore.
It is not a big room: a single bed, a small balcony where you can put your cooler, a steel cupboard with my clothes, lots of food, and a study table. The floor had a common bathroom that everyone could use and a washing machine for our clothes. That was the arrangement.
All my life before college, I had only lived in shared spaces. I have never had a room of my own. I used to live in a joint family and shared a room with my brother. I never understood or could even imagine what it meant to have your own space and make decisions regarding that space all by yourself. I didn’t know how to deal with the sudden absence and emptiness that came with moving away from a shared space, to one that’s your own.
Initially, I wasn’t quite sure about how to live in MCS 416. I treated it like one would treat a hotel room. I didn’t think of it as anything beyond a necessity to be able to attend college. At first, I kept my room secluded from others. As days passed by in college, things started to get better.
I was making small adjustments and changes.
I had made some friends and met a bunch of unique people on my floor and so many kind souls who made living easy. We would often spend time in my room because my cooler worked really well. We would play games in my room. The room became a place to make maggi and have snacks because I always had food. One thing led to another and I got a lot more comfortable in sharing this space with people. I didn’t know what it meant to have your own space. But, with the help of others I understood and learnt more about myself, and eventually how to find joy in this room.
There is a certain ease of being in a hostel room, of being in an environment where a lot of things are flexible. I could walk a few steps, meet a friend and do absolutely nothing together. I could knock on someone’s door and more often than not, it would be possible to have fun, random and deep conversations. It was smooth and as I look back now, unreal how things just clicked.
When you wanted your own space, and didn’t want to be distrubed. No one would disturb you. When you need help, you only need to walk a bit and you will always find help. Sometimes, your own room would become a place where people came to just relax and wind down. It was a space where you could trust someone with your vulnerability.
Of course, things were difficult,. there were fights, loud noises, issues with the washing machine and other random problems. It’s not easy living together on a floor but these issues always had a way of figuring themselves out.
The arrangement was interconnected when you wanted it to be or private if you decided you wanted time by yourself. Life in the hostel was mundane, idle, exciting and free flowing.
Eventually, I started viewing the room not just as some physical space to reside in, but the room had become my space. It was a place where I belonged.
This room has borne witness to every aspect of my life for a few years. Those walls were a repository of my limited existence in college. The space was my private abode and it was also my shared reality with everyone around me. I relaxed, reflected and lived in peace here. Everything that I did, and didn’t do, every emotion I felt and never felt, everything I learnt and didn’t learn, every memory that I had and couldn’t have, No matter how I was living, the room has been present throughout.
Now, it isn’t.
We knew it would take us a while to finish packing and emptying the rooms. I mean, after opening the door to my room, I just sat there for hours. Doing nothing. Only being washed by my memories and emotions which I didn’t know I had at the time.
A lot of anger and frustration at myself and the pandemic. A yearning and longing for all the time that was lost. The sadness for what was to come. Gratitude that I made it here. Let’s not forget the sinking feeling of procrastination to avoid doing the work.
Emptying your room is an exhausting process. It is emotionally draining and heavy on the mind.
Every room is unique and an expression of yourself. Perhaps it’s the way books are organised - alphabetically, subject wise or pure chaos. It is the music you play in the room and the art that you put on your wall. The footwear you leave outside the door. The method of collecting your clothes for laundry - you could use a laundry bag or dump the clothes on an empty chair letting them pile up. It could be toiletries that you keep inside that mug which you borrowed and forgot to return.
It is the kind of lights you use during the night. The different magnets and cards that your friends got from competitions or travels they have been to. The kind and amount of food that you keep.
The room is a home to all the stories you lived through and the memories you made. Every element of the room is yours. It is yours for 5 years. For 10 semesters. For an approximate of 1300 days.
And now, I had to get rid of all of that in a couple of days. I was erasing traces of myself, bit by bit, well aware that I would never live here again. Someone else will occupy this space of mine, I was envious of the future occupant. It was a rough 2 days, and all I could think about was the limited time I spent in the room.
I didn’t get all my time here. I haven't crossed a thousand days. I wanted more time, I was being greedy and that’s why I was kind of slow with my packing. I was trying to recall as much as I could as I was slowly disposing of things I didn’t need and storing away the things I would take back home.
I kept my books, the legal books I didn’t touch and the new ones I had ordered in the beginning of 2020 which I wanted to read. I kept all the different NLUJ Event T Shirts. I safely stored all the notes, cards and souvenirs I had received over the years. I went through and filed away all the letters I had written to myself at the end of every semester. I wanted to take back the different participation certificates and the event ID cards. I ensured I was taking back the only poster frame I had ever put up on my wall the semester before.
Lots of things had to be given away or had to go to the trash can. Random notes I had lying around, some of them with plans on what to do in my final year. Stationary which I didn’t need. Gave away my reliable chair. Sold my cycle, which was being used as a shared asset by many of my friends. Perhaps, the most painful of everything was getting rid of the food. Just a day before I left campus in 2020, I had received a box from home. It contained the board game - Risk, which was part of my plan to start a board game club in college. The box also had a lot of homemade food for the remainder of my 8th sem. My friends and I were looking forward to eating all this over the semester.
We never did.
I threw away all the food I had in the trash. Homemade stuff. Packaged chocolates and chewing gum. Chips and biscuits. Quite a few maggi packets. There was no saving them. They had crossed the expiry date, their time was up. Just like ours.
All my friends had eventually packed things up. It took us a while, but we were finally done. The room was empty now, just like I had found it in the beginning. It was desolate, and the atmosphere was melancholic.
On the final day, before we were leaving Jodhpur for good as students, my friends and I decided to visit each of our hostel rooms one last time. We made our way through every room, one by one.
There was the room which would always have fun music playing, which made you want to dance, the organised room, the room of a former neighbour, we walked past the corridors of the floor where we always shared our rolls and dinner when we ordered them. We had to go to the room which became a pitstop while crossing to the mess arc, the room where I have spent as much time discussing and talking as I have in my own, the room which I would knock on at different points of the day as an alarm and so many others.
All of us had different experiences and stories attached with each room. So much happened in these spaces and now everything was empty with no more future memories to be made, with us in them.
We reached mine, the most homely room. All of us sat down and were talking amongst ourselves, and sharing stories. For a short while, I had forgotten about the fact that we were about to graduate soon, that we are living in the middle of a crisis, that I had come here to end things and say goodbye. It felt like I had transported back to the good old normal days, where people would come to my room and hang out like this. At that moment, I was living in the past.
Until my friend Aastik asked me, - “Nirmal, kuch khaane ko hai?”
Everything went silent. It was only a few seconds, but it felt like I hadn’t responded for an eternity.
For the first time in 5 years, ever since I started living in my room, I didn’t have anything to share at all to someone who asked me this question. Absolutely nothing. No extra bucket, no extra blanket or pillow. No speakers. No WiFi password. No stationary to give and of course, no food.
I looked at my friend, I stood there with a lump in my throat. I was trying to force a smile while I said, “I’m really sorry. Today, I don’t have anything to share with any of you.”
I was trying to hold back and keep the emotion to myself, but I couldn’t and I burst into tears.
The realisation hit me then of the different paths all of us are soon going to be taking, and the lives we’ll lead. Things were coming to an end. A tragic end. This was an ending we didn’t deserve.
It wasn’t about sharing food anymore. It would be harder and harder to share my time together as well, to be able to share, create and be part of memories and moments. When I said, I don’t have anything to share with any of you, it seemed to be an end to something special that I was always a part of.
While we were in college, the purpose seemed interconnected and simple. It was to get through law school to the best of your abilities, spend as much time, and make as many memories as you can, together with people you care about.
That’s why there is such ease in living there. Space was personal, and common. Memories were unique and universal. Time was your own and shared. Experiences were your own and you always had people around you to rely on and make them better. It took me a while, but eventually I knew what I wanted to do out of my time in college. I belonged here. I knew my purpose here.
Then the pandemic happened and that purpose shattered.
All of us left college thinking it was a short break, only to return and say goodbye. The manner in which it ended and the way it ended, it destabilized me. I never got to see my purpose coming to its satisfactory end, the way I had imagined.
How do you make sense of an ending you didn’t deserve?
I’m here now, at my older home. I get through each day in this isolated corner of my tiny room. Some days, I get caught off guard as I become aware of where I am not. The solitude that I’m normally comfortable with, becomes waves of loneliness and the space around me feels hollow. It seems like I’m stranded all alone, onan island that’s slowly sinking with no one nearby. .
In my initial days of living in MCS 416, at the start of a new journey, I was scared. I was so confused and lost. I was all alone at the time and I wasn’t at ease with the emptiness around me, I was always on the edge.
My life now is also new.
If there’s one thing that living in MCS 416 all this while has taught me is that I can slowly and eventually build a relationship with this emptiness. It takes practice to be at ease with yourself and to be able to gaze comfortably beyond the edge.
I’ll never live in that specific room ever again. The ache for a time unlived continues, but MCS 416 isn’t just a physical space anymore. It is now part of my living experience. The memories I made, the thoughts I had, the stories I was a part of, and the many relationships I built, all of them still remain with me in some form or the other. Knowing that I lived there fills me with gratitude, gives me courage and hope that I can live beyond this void.
The lock to my room always opened to a day of memories. The pandemic slammed it shut and I was forced to accept that it’ll never open again. At least that’s what I thought for the longest time, but the room also showed me that there are countless possibilities out there for me. I don’t want to be in the alternative of constant despair and misery about the time unlived. I have to be patient and hopeful that even if one door is permanently closed, there are many doors out there, waiting to be opened to a day filled with shared time and memories.
Thank you so much for listening and reading this essay of mine ! Do share it with your friends and people you think would like this !