Student of: Statistics (Honours) second year; a college in Calcutta
From: West Midnapore
Family background: Father is a farmer and completed school; mother is a housewife, she finished secondary school.
When I first came to Calcutta, the thing that terrified me most was crossing roads. So many vehicles. In my village, the bus station is eight kilometres away, so I never saw buses. While cycling to school, I only crossed the occasional toto or van. The nearest railway station is 35 kilometres away.
I live in a messbari in Belgharia. (Belgharia is technically not Calcutta; but it is part of the Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority.) Every day, I walk to the Belgharia railway station and take a local train to Sealdah. I walk to college from there, it takes me about 20 minutes. On days when I am pressed for time, I take a bus.
It has been some months but I still feel claustrophobic whenever I have to travel by metro. There are so many people in that small area. The rush, the crowd, the closed tunnel-like space... It is so different from the open fields and greenery of my village. It is scary and suffocating.
I wanted to study engineering. I had appeared for the West Bengal Joint Entrance Examinations and qualified. But I had not ticked the TFW box — the tuition fee waiver option — while filling up the exam application form. That meant I was required to pay the kind of fees my parents would not be able to afford.
Someone told me to get in touch with an NGO in my village. Esho Kichu Kori provides scholarships to students who have fared well in the higher secondary examinations. But the fee waiver was a factor even here. The annual course fee is a little over Rs 1 lakh. So I started weighing other career opportunities.
It is a growing trend in villages to head for Calcutta after Class XI. My high school teacher told me that the college closest to my village did not have a good faculty in the department of statistics. That is when I decided to come to Calcutta.
I chose to study statistics at a college in Bidhannagar in Salt Lake. I applied for the course online and took the test online. It was not very tough; the test centre was in my village. I had to come to Calcutta only after I got the letter of acceptance from the college.
That first time, my parents accompanied me. They took care of everything. I did not have to bother. I was overwhelmed by the vastness of the city and the options of public transport — so many buses, so many trains, so many routes. My parents dropped me off at their friend’s place and that very night took the train back to our village.
I stayed in that house for a week before I shifted to a hostel. Those seven days were all that I got to get familiar with the city. I have been in Calcutta for nine months now and all that I know of the city is the journey to college and back.
At Bidhannagar I lived in a free hostel run by a not-for-profit organisation. (Bidhannagar is a satellite town of Calcutta, located on the city’s eastern fringes.) I thought it would be a good and safe place to stay. There were boys from Howrah, South and North 24-Parganas; a majority of them studying engineering or BSc. I remember one student who was doing his master’s in computer science.
It was winter when I arrived at the hostel. The ragging started on Day 1. They call it “intro”. A student who was doing his master’s was the first to pick on me. I was called into a room where all the seniors were gathered. I stood in a queue waiting for my turn in a gamchha and nothing else right through the night. And the kind of language, the slang that they used... These seniors were also from the mofussils, they had the same kind of background as us freshers. I did not stay in the hostel beyond a week.
I used to be fine when I was in college. The day scholars and the seniors were curious about us and would ask questions about the village, our accents. There was no malice or mockery in their manner.
But I dreaded the nights. Once or twice I considered sleeping on the pavement, it would have been safer than the hostel. The seniors behaved as if they owned the hostel. If I needed to speak to someone, I was made to wait for hours. It could be something as simple as needing directions to a bookshop from another lodger. Until a senior had given his approval, no one would come to my assistance. These days I rely on Google Maps, but those initial days were different.
I spoke to the hostel management but they asked me to “adjust”. I got the message. I told my parents what I was going through and I said I wanted to leave this place. My parents supported my decision.
The messbari in Belgharia is not free. They charge Rs 1,100 per month for food and lodging. My father has been paying for my accommodation, but now I have also started giving tuitions to a primary school student. Between the two of us, we are managing fine. There are other students who put up here.
I came to know about this messbari from a schoolmate who is staying in another mess in Belgharia. He is a final-year student of BSc (Honours) in a college in north Calcutta. He did not make the mistake of looking for a hostel. He spoke to his seniors in school and found accommodation in a messbari from the start. It is from him that I learnt students from the muffasils prefer lodging where people from their own village are living; they avoid hostels and university accommodation. There is not so much of a caste discrimination as there is regional categorisation. People from Nadia want to stay with people from that area. Same for those from Midnapore, Bankura, Burdwan and Purulia.
I am now at peace. Statistics is a new subject but I can focus on my studies better. There are no seniors breathing down my neck. I have a new roommate. He is from Burdwan. He is also a student of science.