Sunday, August 16, 2009
Love and longing in Kochi
Nearly all the inmates of a working women’s hostel are in a love relationship but that does not prevent them from having cat fights with each other
Photo: This is a representative picture
By Shevlin Sebastian
In ‘Sreekala’ working women’s hostel at Kochi the girls are all talking about the case of Mini, 24, who worked in a bank as a cashier. Over a period of time, she and her immediate senior, Roy, developed a friendship. “She was pretty and good-natured,” says her roommate Neeta, 25.
Every night, Roy and Mini would talk on the phone for hours together. She would lie on the bed, cover herself with a sheet, and speak softly.
“There were times when I would get up at 5 a.m. to have a bath and hear her whispering,” says Neeta.
To ensure that her parents at Kozhikode did not suspect anything, Mini would use a BSNL SIM card to talk to them every day at 9.30 p.m. Then she would take out the card and replace it with an Airtel card.
While all this was going on, Mini’s parents began to look for a suitable boy for marriage. When Roy came to know about this, he told Mini he wanted to marry her. When she informed her parents about Roy’s proposal they said no. Mini, who once confided in Neeta that she regarded Roy only as a friend, calmly told him it would not work out.
Soon, Mini’s marriage was fixed with Suresh, an IT engineer based in Bangalore. Somehow, Roy managed to locate the phone number of Suresh’s parents who lived in Kottayam. He told them he was in love with Mini. The shocked parents asked Mini about it, but she denied the relationship. However, the damage was done.
A few days later, the marriage was called off. Recently, her parents suddenly came to the hostel and took Mini home. That was the last her hostel mates heard from her.
In Sreekala there are 20 girls ranging in age from 20 to 35. Most of them work in the IT industry, in banks, in the travel and tourism industry and as teachers. They live four to a room, but the girls in two rooms have to share a single bathroom.
In the mornings, there is a fixed schedule of half an hour each for every inmate to use the bathroom. “Fights break out when some girls don’t adhere to the time,” says Neeta.
The hostel provides breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the monthly fees are Rs 2500.
The deadline to reach the hostel every day is 7.30 p.m. but those who work in private sector banks or the IT industry and have long working hours get special permission from the warden to return by 9 p.m.
For Neeta and Zahira, both of whom work in the travel industry, the biggest problem is the widespread use of mobile phones when the boarders return to the hostel.
“Till 1 or 2 a.m., most of the girls are talking to their boyfriends,” says Zahira. “Earlier, I had a difficult time to go to sleep but now I have got used to the noise.”
Nearly all the inmates have boyfriends. And the good news is that love transcends caste and religious barriers.
“A Muslim girl might fall in love with a Hindu boy or vice versa,” says Zahira. “Suddenly a girl who prays regularly at a temple will start going to a church because of a love affair.”
Zahira says the relationship goes smoothly till the couple decides to get married. Then the families oppose the relationship tooth and nail, especially if it is an inter-caste marriage.
“Old prejudices die hard,” she says. “Sometimes, I can hear a girl crying right through the night.” Occasionally, a couple takes the brave step to have a registered marriage, but the boarders have no idea whether the union is successful or not.
Meanwhile, the girls face other problems. One night, at 8 p.m., Prema, 25, a teacher, was standing in the balcony when she saw a young man climb clamber up a water pipe to peep into the first floor bathroom window. She screamed. The warden rushed out and nabbed the man.
He turned out to be the son of a doctor who stayed down the road. “So the warden let him off with a warning,” says Prema.
Neeta, who has stayed three years in the hostel, the longest among all the girls, says she has had twelve different roommates. “Girls come and go,” she says. “Usually they depart because of marriage. Once they leave, they rarely stay in touch. I feel sad about this.”
(Names have been changed)