College life, for all of us, is our first step towards independence, our first flow into adulthood. Growing up on quintessential Karan Johar movies, my perception of college life was pretty much about handsome boys, large campuses, and mushy romance. All my dreams post school dashed when I had to seek admission in a girls college. Though my college was the best in India for my subject, it was a girls college. All of a sudden, my whole life’s quest of having a KJo defined college life seemed like a movie. Unfortunately, KJo movies aren’t exactly reality. That is the whole point of his movies.
The first few weeks in college were horrifying. There was not a single man in sight. All I saw were women, women and more women. A young teenage (woman) does need to talk to men occasionally, and given the location of my college campus, there was no college with men in sight. Did I regret my decision looking at photos of friends studying in co-educational colleges? Yes. I particularly resented the women in engineering colleges, who were so minute in number that they got all the attention from the men around them. I always believed studying with women all around me would mean endless cat-fights, bickering, unnecessary drama, tears, and everything pink and girly. Within months, my facebook profile (much to the happiness of my parents) was filled with girls. The only guys I met at random fests wanted to befriend me because I was in a women’s college and could introduce them to more “hot” chicks and maybe get them entry into my college for some nayan-sukh prapti (provision of entertainment for their eyes- a literal translation).
A lot of my friends who had studied at girls schools were also going through a similar dilemma. For a lot of my acquaintances, college life didn’t really seem like college anymore- it seemed like an extension of school. For outsiders, I was a feminist and a lesbian. For myself, I was just a loser who couldn’t get admission into an equally good co-educational institution.
But, a few months down the line, I started noticing a change in myself. I noticed a different kind of confidence in myself. All of a sudden, I was doing everything on my own. From handling projectors to organising events- all of my fellow female friends and me were doing everything on our own. Before, at home, I used to pass over all ‘hard’ responsibilities like bank work to my dad. My dad was always the ‘go-to’ guy for everything that wasn’t related to house-work. My dad bought the groceries, my dad counted the bill, my dad did the math, my dad withdrew money from the bank.
At 17, I started doing everything by myself. Initially, life was tough- but then I realised I didn’t need my father anymore to guide me to do things I could very well do by myself. Unknown to me, I was transforming into an independent woman. A woman who could do everything on her own, who could handle every responsibility. Even the elections in my college were different – no campaign attacked a woman’s sexuality. Suddenly, sexuality became something I was comfortable with. I knew I could walk in my college corridors in my pyjamas, and nobody would care. Whether my hair style was a bun or a bob- no one bothered. All everyone bothered about was the intense debate and discussion in classroom – the ability to speak up for oneself. I knew I didn’t have to look good for someone, I could simply look and feel good for myself.
I didn’t need to do ‘manly’ things to get accepted within a particular society- my college was the utopia I always longed for- it was a society of equals. By the second year, I couldn’t imagine myself to be anywhere else. I know a lot of people might perceive me to be a hard-core feminist who believes society is better off without men, but I believe the society my college gave me was necessary for me to gain my comfort level with myself as a woman.
In my second year, I got elected into my department Union, and in the first talk that our Union organized, the speaker was a Gay rights activist. He narrated incidents of how men in a co-educational college he taught at used to make a ‘chick-list’ at the beginning of the year, to rate the face quotient of all the fresher girls. I could never imagine being subjected to that in my girls college. Two or three months later I went to attend a fest at a prestigious engineering college, and I bumped into two dudes there who explained to me that the girls in their institute were non-males and only became decent to look at by the fourth year of college. For me, this was a wake-up call. After spending years in a co-educational school, trying to look good, achieve a certain standard of perfection- I realised that I had always been stuck in a vortex of patriarchy. It took me three years in a girls college to understand that women were perfect the way they were and were empowered irrespective of clothes, social status or appearance. Before, I was naive and always aspired to be someone I never was. There were a lot of my classmates who were already empowered before college, but for a person like me, from a background where women didn’t do certain things… this was a wake-up call.
My respect for women and their choices has increased manifold now. I believe in a woman’s right to exercise her decision, without judging her. My ability to reason has increased, my ability to question has increased. I became the person I am today because I went to a girls college that believed in empowering women in every way possible. My college taught me to love men, but without forgetting my identity and letting go of it. My college taught me to accept myself and be proud of my sexuality. My college taught me that there are no rules that I need to follow- morals are of my own making, not society’s. I made friends, became more than friends with others, shared my life with them, my emotions, my every movement. I loved my friends without reason, and made friends and lovers for life. The world couldn’t understand my love for my fellow college mates- no one will ever do. For them we are just a bunch of women bonding over our oestrogen-ness. But a girl’s institution is more than that. You need to be there to feel what I felt in those three years of college. Even Karan Johar’s movies can’t beat the romance I had with my college. I feel privileged sometimes, that I could live in such a space. The world is cruel, and harsh. But I know that one day, I can make the society into the kind of free world my college is. Every woman, like me can receive the privilege of being free, in every way possible. Yes, my college made me a feminist, but without my college, I wouldn’t even be half the human I am today.