This is a saga of the culture shock that outstation students face when they arrive in Delhi. With interviews of outstation students, this article talks about the difficulties of adjusting to a new setting with new forms of leisure, language and people.
“So how does it feel leaving home?” I ask as I begin my interview.
Aman** came to Delhi in 2016 from a small town in Jharkhand. With a rucksack on his shoulders and ideas of what Delhi is like from the Bollywood movies he had watched, this seemed like a dream (or a nightmare?) come true. Thousands like Aman come here to get admission in some of the most coveted colleges of the famous Delhi University, every July. A city with 1.9 crore people, Delhi can hardly take out time, to welcome its new comers.
With students from Dhanbad in Jharkhand to Bandra in Mumbai, Delhi University has often been called a hub for multiculturalism. In this article I shall explore whether DU is in fact a mosaic, that respects different cultures- or a melting pot, where people must assimilate with Delhi’s way of life, leaving their own cultures behind.
Outstation students are typically handed with a monthly allowance, which just about, covers the cost of basic food and shelter, with a little extra for the daily chai and samosa at the canteen. If they don’t get the hostel, they find a PG, are familiarized with some local landmarks and lectured about not hanging out with the ‘bad crowd’. This marks the beginning of a new phase in life – young adulthood.
As an outstation student, specifically from a smaller city, town or village, shifting to somewhere as cosmopolitan as Delhi can be challenging. New routes, how to deal with the ‘male gaze’, when to save and when to splurge aren’t the only things you must learn about. With new norms of social interaction, a different language and novel leisure activities, you also must learn how to fit in.
A student of Hansraj college recalls how he felt extremely disoriented when he first arrived here. He was really scared of using escalators in malls at first, and would use the fire exit instead. Sometimes new things are sources of fear, and some times fascination. “I remember calling up my mom and telling her how overjoyed I was, when I first ordered from Swiggy”, he says.
The popular notion is that your undergraduate years can either make or break you. This is mostly because of the people and activities you are exposed to in college, they define your personality, your core values and your identity.
Talking about the former- Looking for a new set of friends becomes increasingly difficult in a new culture. On a Friday night, you want to watch ‘Hum Aapke Hai Kaun’, but your roommate prefers ‘My best friend’s Wedding’. Your go-to jam is ‘Sakhiya’ but they, on the other hand are huge ‘Beliebers’ (would you grow up already?! – you find yourself thinking). Forging new connections, without similar frames of reference is tough. Maania** from Kerala who’s studying in Gargi, tells me that she’s in second year now but still hasn’t found a friend circle in college.
She says language can be a huge barrier, expressing how weird she feels when her class mates blabber about their favourite shows, hostel gossip, latest trends in Hindi, making her feel like an “outsider”. Usually friend circles are also formed on the basis of the state you belong to. There is a certain sort of affinity for familiar people in an unknown setting. With no- one else from Kerala in her class, Maania feels left out.
Often people who come from small towns are unable to express themselves confidently in English. Preet** from Hanumangarh, Rajasthan expresses how difficult it was for her to be in the Debate society at first, where people seemed to have such a good command over the language. Another outstation student, who is also in debate society, tells me how she would spend hours trying to improve her communicative English, just to be part of the in-group of the debate circuit.
The other aspect where differences arise is leisure. The city makes available malls, pubs, night clubs and the “café culture”. However, this is a significantly new phenomenon for many outstation students. A respondent talks about how the first-ever party he attended was his ‘fresher’s’ and how he put on deodorant for the first time in his life for it. Someone else talks about how her friends back home would prefer to hang out at each other’s houses instead of going to restaurants or cafes. The costs of food items in the city is also very high as compared to their hometowns.
Stereotypes, is another battle an outstation student must fight. This applies to cosmopolitan cities as well. “You are a South Bombay girl, so you mustn’t be travelling in autos na?”, “Oh you’re from Haryana, everybody is so violent there, so you must be too” are some of the few regional stereotypes that plague us. Bhargav** from Kurukshetra who took admission in DU recently recalls being asked where he was from by a students’ political party leader. As soon as he answered “Haryana”, the student leader got all excited and started pushing him to join his party. “You’re from Haryana? you should totally join our party then.” Alia** a student from Patna, studying at LSR, on the other hand, talks about how she sees the silver lining in stereotypes. She says she is happy that she gets to change peoples’ perception about Biharis here in Delhi.
With the thorns, come the roses. Bhargav, talks about how he has much more space to express his opinions in Delhi, unlike his hometown. With the city life comes a sort of anonymity, you can go to protests, voice your opinion without fearing censure. Many people have chosen to live in bigger cities for this very reason, unlike small towns where everyone knows your business and community ties are so pervasive, here your privacy is respected (at least if not totally, then a little more than it would be in a small cohesive place).
Many say they like the sex positivity in Delhi, and how people are willing to talk about it, instead of treating it like a taboo, which happens back at home. Similarly, some others express how it’s so much easier ‘coming out’ in Delhi as compared to their hometowns. By the virtue of being in the political and cultural hub of India, you are exposed to so many opportunities. Weekly Talks at the IHC, the library at IIC and the cultural fests at Pragati Maidan are a few out of the many available.
However, this ‘wokeness’ can very well result in a culture shock for some. Opinions which seemed normal in your hometown, suddenly are glaringly out of sync in “progressive” Delhi.
A first-year student from Punjab, studying in Delhi University talks about how she was shamed by her classmates for saying “I prefer arranged marriages over love marriages” aloud. Someone else recalls how she supported a rightist party, but after coming to Delhi she was unable to voice her support for them fearing that it would lead to isolation in the liberal echo chamber that is, her college. Friendships are also defined by the level of woke you are. “Only if you hold this type of view, can you sit with us in class” is the unsaid motto of many circles colleges.
It’s strange how these differently coloured pieces of yarn that are woven together to form a vibrantly diverse DU, turn out into a bland single coloured fabric in the end. When did we lose out on our empathy, or the willingness to respect diverse opinions and different people?
“Is there something, in this city, that reminds you of home?” I ask my last question. A few of them talk about a friend from their hometown who came to Delhi with them, some talk about their bedside partners in their hostel, one talks about a Bihari sweet (Thekhua) which she buys from a local sweet shop.
But most of them just shake their heads and say “Well, There’s nothing like home”
Still, how can one live for so long in a place and not grow to like it? And after all Delhi has charmed so many over the ages. In all its nine avatars, it has claimed the hearts of kings, invaders and many more. After a homesick first year, most outstation students try to strike a balance, between staying true to their original identity and accommodating ‘Dilli ki Hava’. They try to find pieces of home in their new setting, as they gradually let go of their old self.
And yet the last thing that they want to hear from their family and friends, when they go back home is-
Even though this can sound alienating at first, but every outstation student returning home, knows somewhere deep down that this might actually be true…
**Names have been changed to respect the privacy of the interviewees.
Featured Image Credits: Education Pinteola