Raksha had never stayed away from home before college. While simply graduating from school presented the daunting task to her of having to fit in a new environment and start from scratch building relationships, she now also had to figure out the phenomenon of living away from the familiarity of the place she’d called home her entire life, and having to share her room with two utter strangers, ones who came from an entirely different background and culture. Her coping mechanism was to just not dwell on the fact that her reality was changing, and rather keep herself occupied with whatever little thing she could to divert herself.
Her first taste of hostel life came from the mess. She’d heard of it all her life, and the stories were never pleasing to listen to. The narrator was always earnestly downgrading the institution, and talking about how wonderfully and consistently bland the food would turn out, surprising them with the low standards that it kept setting for itself. “You’ll value my food once you start having mess food”, her mom would tell her every time she puffed out her cheeks in exasperation at the sight of the broccoli on her plate. And although she vehemently refused to admit the same, the damage was done long ago. Rooted deep in her brain were nightmares of the mess food she’d never tasted, and of how she’d eventually have to run home crying apologetically to her mother for all the times she’d underappreciated her cooking.
With nervous anticipation, she stepped into the enormous mess hall and cast her eyes around, her apprehension growing every second as she took in the steel tables and stools, the rusty fans which looked like they would come apart any second now, and the single empty bottle of hand-wash that stood at the edge of the washbasin. But the thing that took her aback the most was the sheer number of people vying for food at that moment. With the alternate mess option under renovation, the number of people eating at this place had essentially doubled, and it dawned upon her that she’d entered right at Rush Hour. She swept her eyes from left to right as she tried to figure out where to start. Where were the plates? Where did the seemingly endless line begin and just where did it end?
As she began to make sense of her surroundings, she realised that there was increased activity in one of the regions of the huge rectangular space shared by what seemed to be more than a hundred people. As she observed, all she saw was a few flashes of light bouncing off of something metallic before it disappeared, all in split seconds. Blink and you’d miss it. A few minutes of close range observation revealed to her that this was where the plates were being given out, and that you’d need to have the eyes of an owl and the dexterity of a wild cat to even think about landing your hands on one of those. Needless to say, she was hung up a long time before she managed to get herself one. Then began the long wait in line, for a few grains of rice and whatever the liquid was in the container next to it. When she finally saw food on her plate she thought to herself, “this must be what my ancestors felt like, hunting and gathering to put food on their leaves.” It didn’t matter to her whether the food tasted good or bad, she’d earned it and she was eating it regardless of its Michelin-worthiness. She did not know how long she would hold on before the crack sounded, but at the moment she felt like she was none other than Katniss Everdeen, with her mind set on surviving the Hunger Games. And with that, she took her first step towards her transition into a fully evolved hostel resident, burning down alongside this the qualms she had regarding college-life. If she could survive the mess, she could survive just about anything.