I gulped dinner and hurried to my room. I did not want to miss even a moment of a quick calm nap that I could steal from a sleepless night to follow.
I dusted my bed as if it would make any difference.
An engineering student’s hostel room is a matchless place.
Mysterious ambiance, filthy bed – missing bed sheet, broken window glasses, tables that would see-saw with scratchy sound, moral-immoral-inspirational-offensive-‘As if I give a damn’ attitudes written all over the walls, dusty mirror that would hardly reflect anything, years old calendars hanging for the sake of hot chicks posing on them, grime covered empty hair oil bottles, cutouts from newspaper with James Bond poses and bare bodied Arnolds and Sylvester Stallions; are few of the attributes of making of an engineering guy’s typical hostel room.
This room, my room, was no different.
Tiles on the floor must have forgotten their original color themselves; their new color was the ‘dust’ color. The blue door had two shades; lighter shade in the roughly oval area at the periphery of the handle which was used to open the door with a push and the darker shade on the rest of the door which was hardly touched – let alone cleaned – in ages. ‘My World, My Rules!’ was the verdict inscribed in huge bold letters using a charcoal right on the wall opposite to the entrance; visible even to the blind. Two metal beds lay not too far from each other; each with contrasting cleanliness. Surfaces of the walls and the cupboard were exhausted by stickers and posters; Angelina Jolie, Katrina Kaif and Megan Fox dominated most of the space. There was a weird ingredient about the vibes of the room – it was murky, deserted and a little beyond words. Eerie ghostly silence enveloped the room even amongst usual rowdiness of the hostel.
Hardly anything out of the mentioned was my contribution. Two weeks were too less time to achieve this degree of messiness. It was him, all him; my roommate-not-by-choice. It was all his legacy and maintenance. He was known to be the way his room felt like; messy, scary and repelling.
‘You will face a steep heap of unforeseen challenges during your hostel life. You will learn lessons of life there. You will be surprised when you discover your inner strengths. You will grow to be a better, stronger and independent individual when you come out of your hostel era.’
My dad’s words kept ricocheting in my mind’s backdrop as I pressed paddle to speed up my preparation to go to sleep. I arranged pillow and blanket.
‘Engineering is an experience, a roller coaster ride in itself. Hostel adds priceless worth to it. It will make you look at life in a different way, in a better way. I have been through it and I cherish it as the best time of my life. I am sure you will agree to me four years later. Enjoy yourself. Good Luck Son!’
Dad had said with a thump on my chest as parting counsel to me; two weeks back. He had handed over his golden-experienced advice to me while pushing me in to the war zone to fight my battle, all alone.
I had never been away from home all my life. The conceptions – and misconceptions – about hostel life, seniors, ragging and struggle embossed on my mind were adding to my anxiety.
Honestly, I was scared.
Amid constant threat of being ragged, I had not come across any challenge in first fortnight, but one; the one that I had not encountered in any movie, book or news; the one that probably was one of the–unforeseen-challenge that dad had cited; the one that had swept my sleep away, literally. I had not slept well for fifteen nights straight. It had started getting on my nerves. Thanks to ‘him’ – Raka!
Raka! ‘Raka’ was the name that would scare everyone in the hostel. He was in the third year; for last three years. Two years each in the first two years of engineering were to add up to the feathers in his hat as well.
‘I am not failing. I am just strengthening my base. Raka never fails!’ He would say.
Somehow, in the lucky draw conducted on the first day for room allotment, I had managed to earn Raka as my room partner. I was ‘the unlucky one’, as per the other guys staying in hostel.
Raka was a heftily built strong guy. His body language was intense and quiet. He would not go and attend college. All his initial batch mates had passed long back. No one had seen him smile over the years. His chaotically grown hair, dense beard and mustache added up to his creepy image. He was hardly seen accompanied by anyone. He would even dine alone in a corner of the mess and keep things to himself. His calmness had a weird sense of repulsion about itself. His body language and behavior had forced hostel mates to consider him inconsiderate and heartless without a doubt. Though he hardly had a history or reputation of misbehaving with anyone, no one ever felt motivated enough to go up to him to bid a ‘hello’.
I had entered my room on the first day with all these facts as a user manual from fellow senior hostel mates. But somehow, over my two weeks at hostel and as a mind-my-own-business roommate, I had silently and gradually got to find Raka harmless.
He would be in his own world even in our room, as if I didn’t exist for him. So, in a way, that gave me liberty to be in my own world too, which I enjoyed. In fact that was the only encouraging motive about being in that room; it was almost like being alone in the room; no chats, no words, no music, no-nothing. Blessing in disguise, it was.
Still, given a choice, I would have shifted my room without a second thought. I had not slept even for an hour straight since my arrival in this room. Raka was the culprit, or maybe not. It was his snores.
His piercing snores had waked me up from first day’s tired sleep and had left me awake ever since. Every night it had become a ritual for me to wait for him to start snoring. I had no option but to go through it. I had no courage either to tell him what my problem was, nor did he care. I had to suffer, I had accepted. Every night, in bed, I would wait for the time bomb to explode.
In my first own battle, I had tried to figure out a solution about four days back; it was under testing. The only option, I thought, I had was to sleep well before him. My aim was to reach the stage of deepest of sleeps from where his deafening snores can’t drag me back. I had to do it today.
I lay back and just as I closed my eyes, I heard someone walking towards my room in the lobby.
God, tell me it’s not him, please.
Even before my wish was conveyed completely, Raka opened the door with a thud. I kept my eyes closed, pretending to be sleeping, and expecting him to consider it. As usual, he didn’t give a damn.
I still had a ray of hope. He would normally sleep after taking few minutes of quiet walk in the room. I had as much time to achieve the degree of unassailability in my sleep that would take me beyond trance.
I had the race against time. I had to run away to the safe zone of deep sleep before the time bomb explodes. I was under tremendous pressure to deliver. A batsman facing the final ball in a world cup final with a boundary required to win would feel similar pressure, I guessed.
The more I focused on sleeping quickly, the more thoughts flurried to my mind obstructing me like itch in the back while I tried to hit bull’s eye; which in turn made me try and focus even more. It was an endless loop.
Before I could believe I was asleep, a loud snore dragged me back from the verge of achieving the near-impossible. Kharrrrr….Kharrrrr….! That was it.
I was disappointed to the core of my heart. I opened my eyes and looked at the monster – The Snorester, as I had named him in my head- sleeping with his mouth half open and arms, legs wide open. Honestly, I couldn’t resist but abuse him, in my mind. Had I courage to abuse him on face, I would have preferred simply communicating my problem.
I woke up and sat in bed with palms on head. I knew I had to spend the rest of the night wakeful, as per the tradition. I was getting the taste of why they called me unlucky on the rooms draw day.
My home, my bedroom, my bed, my blanket, my sleep; I started missing all. My irritation had reached pinnacle of resistance. My annoyance was converting into anger. Unknowingly, out of frustration, I thumped my hand loudly on bed.
Snoring paused and so did my heart. I looked up. He woke up. With wide open eyes, he looked at me with an unsolved stare. Shivers ran through my spine.
He stood up, walked to my bed. Very slowly he put his hand on my shoulder.
‘I’m sorry.’ I said. I avoided eye contact with him. I was hoping he would let me go.
‘No.’ He said.
I looked up to him, into eyes this time. His eyes were deep and intense.
‘I’m sorry sir.’ I said again, a little sincerer.
‘No. I am sorry.’ He stunned me.
‘What? I means sorry for? Why? I mean?’
‘I know kid. I know what you are going through. I know you aren’t able to sleep because of me; I mean my snores.’ He shrugged.
‘No, it’s not that. It is just I am not feeling sleepy.’
I don’t know why I said that. Why in the God’s name I could not simply agree to what he said? I still had no courage to even nod when he was agreeing to the story of my fortnight.
‘Come on. I know. Don’t fool me.’ He said in weighty voice.
‘Yeah, you know it precisely.’ I wanted to say. ‘No, no. I am not, Sir.’ came out instead.
This was the longest conversation we had in fifteen days. This could easily be the longest conversation he had with anyone in months, or even years.
‘I’m going out to sleep on terrace. You sleep here. You have to attend college too. I anyway don’t go to college. I can sleep in afternoon. You need to study well.’ He flattered me.
‘Sir?’ I had no words to respond to his considerate gesture.
‘No ‘sir’. Call me Raka. Sleep well. Good night.’ He tapped my back. He picked up his pillow, torn blanket and left.
The time bomb had defused itself. Even before I could realize what was really happening, the door opened again and he surfaced back and hit the final nail in the coffin of my disbelief.
‘Shocked? Don’t be. I don’t want you to be the reason for your failure. I don’t want to see you failing in spite of trying your best. I don’t want you to spend a decade in college. I don’t want your family to abandon you because of your failure. I don’t want to see another Raka.’ He summarized his story in no time and continued.
‘I want you to top the class and build a reputation for this room, our room. I couldn’t do it, you can and you will. You need to study well and for that you need good doze dude. I’m all in for your support for studies, or even otherwise; anytime. And yes, no one can rag Raka’s buddy; tell everyone who thinks otherwise.’ He showed a thumb up, winked and left.
I was left speechless. It took me a couple of minutes to draw myself back together. I could not believe how badly people had judged him. I could not believe how highly inaccurately even I had judged him.
I had only seen the dull side of the coin. I had forgotten that every coin has two sides. The coin had flipped itself to show the shiny side.
The guy had a heart. He was the man of goodness. He had sacrificed his comfy sleep for the sake of my rest. The guy, who was scary to others, had termed me as his buddy. I felt the authority to survive, and even dominate.
I sighed to absorb the tornado.
In the dusty mirror opposite my bed, I could vaguely see a smile on my face but I could feel it precisely in my heart.
Another flood of thoughts burst as I laid back to sleep again.
It was going to be yet another sleepless night, in a different way, in a better way.
Probably, this was one of the lessons that dad was talking about. This was how I was going to become a better person; by looking at others’ perspectives and respecting them as-is. They must have their own reasons for being the way they are.
If a situation is not as per my fondness, that may not be all; there must be something beyond what meets the eye. A better perspective is all it takes to find what lays beneath the odious.
Lesson One was learnt – If you can’t see the shine, flip the coin.