Third year had just begun with the luxury of single rooms and me & Malladi had gladly taken a common verandah equipped pair of rooms. We figured that this was the best way to avoid drawing attention to the obscure topics that we so enthusiastically discussed much to the chagrin of our other pals. But fate had different plans in mind and a persistently dripping roof forced me to abandon that comfy little room that I had in the corner of the hostel's C-Block, the equivalent of Tibet in our hostel's not-so-peaceful environs.
The MMCA found me a room on the top floor of B-Block, a block that was blessed with the zest that the C-Block sorely lacked and cursed with the mayhem that was inevitable when the year's most unstable elements got together in the same set of 3 floors. So off I went, bedding and all, to my new abode of room 333. I was calculating the number of unannounced parties that I'd miss out on by not being Malladi's verandah partner any longer, and ruing my decision.
When I shifted to my new room, I wasn't in the pink of health with the fickle weather causing some kind of congestion in my chest and thereby inviting my old friend asthma. My pals often wonder how I manage to stay calm in certain situations where everyone else is tearing up their hair. Truth is, it's only because I know very well how it feels when even something so natural and subconscious as taking a breath becomes an activity you need to out all your focus on. An asthma attack is the worst you can possibly feel and in comparison, every other woe in the world is just child's play.
The room was vacated just a week ago by Rishabh Kalra who probably couldn't bear the thought of being 2 staircases apart from his bosom buddies and thereby landed in the kitty of rain affected people like me. The windows were all covered by black paper, whether the handiwork of Kalra or someone before him I don't know. But it was dark and gloomy when I first entered the room, not the most welcoming room in the hostel. I am a creature of the light but I was too ill then to think about taking the dark paper off. I dropped into bed and slept right through the afternoon and the evening.
Both the doors were latched and the light from the windows papered out so I couldn't really tell the time when I woke up. It must've been after midnight, and I decided to get myself a drink of water. But I found that I couldn't move. I have the habit of sleeping on my stomach and hard as I tried I could not budge. What was even more terrifying was the reason that I couldn't move! It was like someone or something was pressing down hard on my shoulders and was just outside the range of my eyes as I strained my neck in vain to turn around and discover the source of this force. My mouth went dry and couldn't produce anything more than a very feeble hoarse sound. I struggled for a few minutes more but all in vain. The next thing I knew it was morning again and it was a normal college day ahead. I figured it was just a bad dream and let it go by.
But on my second night in the room, the same thing happened again! The same crushing force pinned me to the bed at an odd hour of the night as I fought with all my strength to obtain the same unsuccessful result. I broke into a cold sweat and yet again it was morning when I woke up. I couldn't for the life of me figure out how I managed to go to sleep again every time. Maybe only a person like me was capable of going back to sleep even after such an incident occurred.
The hostel is so obviously not the place to discuss such paranoid stories. A couple of years ago, we had one of our year-mates undergo psychiatric treatment for such experiences and I wasn't quite ready to join his gang yet. I put these experiences down to my asthma and tried to forget about it. But a host of chilling thoughts crossed my mind. In which room did the guy who fell/jumped to his death from the hostel roof 12 years ago live? Was there some story that was not known to me?
And for the first 4-5 nights in a row, this apparition continued to recur to me with the same intensity. I tried to sleep on my back but somewhere in the night I'd turn onto my stomach and then the unknown entity would reappear making its presence felt. I was really scared by now and didn't really know who to confide to. So I decided to try something on my own. I gave up trying to turn around and find out who or what it was. The next night I felt the same force, I eased my shoulders and didn't do anything at all. The source of the force also eased up and then it was gone much quicker than before. For the first time since I had moved into the room I was able to turn myself around and saw what I expected to see. Nothing! The next couple of nights I did the same thing and the visits grew shorter. Within another 3-4 days, the presence was only fleeting and thereafter it was gone. Whatever it was, it had a feeling that I was there to overpower it and once it became aware that that was no such intention on my part, it left me in peace.
Room no.333 in Hostel No.5 was my personal fiefdom. I had personalized it to the greatest extent possible over the course of the 2 years that I stayed there. We had everything in there : great 'addas', serious discussions, emergency study meetings and all the ingredients that go into making a hostel room a 'hostel room'. And the real reason why it felt like my very own universe was that I had to share it with a rather creepy roommate for 2 weeks before it left me for good for reasons best known to itself.