If anyone was ever asked to example-ify the antonym for ‘hunky-dory’, they should catch hold of my pensieve (only Potter fans will get this one :P) and fish out the summer of 2005. As if it wasn’t enough that I was flunking every engineering entrance exam that existed within the Indian borders, had just broken up with my first this-could-last-forever boyfriend and was devouring a year’s supply of a Third World Country’s rations for a single meal; some Bloke Up There with a weird sense of humour decided that I should be sent to Chennai to study architecture. And just so that I can justify it to every Tom, Dick and Subramani when raised eyebrows questioned my decision to trek across the country for a college education, He ensured that I scored a super All India Rank for an exam I studied only half a day for. Meh.

Thankfully, the time lag between ‘You’re going to Chennai!!!’ and ‘Bye Ma, I’ll miss you *sobs openly at airport*’ was too short for the implication of having to live the prime of my youth (heh..) in an alien city, to really hit home. Between extreme retail therapy, earnest goodbyes and promises to keep in touch forever, I barely found the time to panic or feel sad. There was also this excitement of being able to have dosai and medhu vadai for breakfast, lunch and dinner and it seemed to justify leaving home. Completely.

The first few days in Chennai were a series of ‘Whoa!’ moments. It started the minute Baba and I exited the airport and were bombarded by taxi-drivers/ auto-wallahs who all looked like they’d jumped out of a Zabaan Sambhaal Ke episode. It continued on the ride to the guest house where we were to stay. Nobody spoke Hindi, including the RJs on Radio Mirchi. So! Many! Billboards! And WHERE were the malls?! *gasp! horror!*

Having checked-in, I settled down to relax with the one activity known to mankind that is a foolproof way to kill time – channel surf. Sun TV. Jaya TV. SS Music. Vijay TV. Raj TV. Where was Sony?! Zee, Star, Zoom? And where, oh where, were [V] and MTV? The first commercial I had the patience to watch in its entirety was for a brand of ghee. It involved a very, very healthy Jyothika exercising and I feared for the treadmill. Joy.

Baba and I went for admission the next day, to my soon-to-be college. The campus was deserted. The lawns did not have random boys and girls sitting together and laughing, flirting, studying. Isn’t that what college was supposed to be like? I’d seen Kuch Kuch Hota Hai 6 times, for chrissake! Funnily, none of the girls wore jeans, everyone’s hair was tied and they all walked in same-sex groups. Not a problem, I thought, I’ll be the cool girl from Delhi. Yay! This looked promising. It was only later, much later, when I walked into the girls’ hostel that I realized something was wrong. The warden looked at me up and down, in a way not even a Delhi auto-wallah had dared to and took in my indecency – I was in capris and a sleeveless kurta.

W: You don’t know the dress code?

Me: Huh?

W: Why are you not in the dress code?

Me: What dress code?!

W: They didn’t tell you?

Me: The AIEEE brochure does not talk about any dress code *smug, self-important, all-knowing tone*

W: Salwaar-Kameez, no sleeveless, no tight fitting, kurta till the knees, pin the dupatta in a ‘V’ across the chest, no open hair.

THAT was the first time, I think, I wanted to run away. It was a feeling that was to stay on for the next five years. The warden refused to allot me a room till I bought and showed her atleast 3 sets of salwar-kameez. I wondered how my wardrobe had any connection with me getting a room in the hostel. Little did I know then, that your business is always their business. That evening, I went down for attendance. Apparently, all girls had to be within the hostel premises by 6 in the evening, the warden then took attendance and the front gate to every wing was then locked. Yes, very jail-like. I had the audacity to wear Bermudas and was blessed with a look from the warden, 5 full seconds of hateful scorn when I said ‘present!’ while she raped my name. She pulled me aside soon after and said ‘such presence is not allowed here’, while I gaped. I was wearing knee-length shorts in a room full of girls!

And that was just the first day.