Thursday Nights: An Alter Ego
Imagine getting out of the mess on a Thursday night—groups of drunk friends sit around mess lawns playing charades, singing and dancing to all the tunes they know. Seeing this almost feels like a recap of the past four hours of your life. The drinking outside the theka. The dancing on top of the mess tables. But now, it is time to bid adieu to this Thursday night. So, as the music from THC still echoes in our ears, you maneuver through the corridors of AC02, decide to stop by a vending machine and get a packet of chips. You return to your room and pass out, only to wake up to the bright sun of a Friday afternoon.
Thursday nights are an Ashokan staple. It's that one night when we can let loose. Unless you have the much dreaded Friday classes, you will likely stay up until the wee hours of the morning chatting away with friends and being carefree college students. This is when the Ashoka campus recovers from its weekly gloom and becomes a place populated with loud, nonchalant undergraduates. But there is an alter ego to these controversial Thursday nights that goes pretty much unnoticed and underappreciated.
Along with being the busiest days for the wardens, Thursday nights are when the housekeeping staff deep cleans the corridors of AC02. Cleaning machines armed with soap, wipes, and sprays make their way through the rather busy campus. You might wonder why deep cleaning happens on a day when almost the entire campus is bustling and alive.
Well, when it comes to work hours, Ashoka is an anomaly. Everyone works 24/7. Sleep is elusive. There are very few breaks. As students, we know our tight schedules the best but it is not restricted to us alone, it applies to the support staff, eatery owners, and administration staff. Bhaiyas work away the night cleaning the campus. The didis report at the crack of dawn to clean our RH restrooms. Rasananda Bhaiya walks out of campus around 8 am. Mess bhaiyas wash and clean the plates throughout the night to prepare them for the next day.
Classes start at 8:30 in the morning and go on till 9 at night; there is constant commotion between academic blocks, and clubs and societies conduct afternoon events outside the mess. So, as a completely residential campus that houses all its undergraduate students and faculty, it is difficult to clean the campus during the weekdays.
It is on a Thursday night that things come full circle. The week has ended for most students. Many of us head back home for the weekend. The campus is relatively freer. Bhaiyas and didis can clean the campus till late Friday mornings with few interruptions. But this overlooked aspect of Ashokan life also intersects with another classic Ashokan trait—apathy.
Over the last year, empty food plates on the Rasananda tables and eerie silences during Q&A segments of literary and cultural events have become resounding manifestations of larger student apathy. I had to call and force my friends to attend the already dismal LitFest. Political Science book talks only record a handful of students. After several reminders from political parties and the Student Government itself, the Constitution Drafting Committee referendum passed with a mere 978 votes- just 50 votes above the needed threshold. The difficulty in gathering support for a referendum that decided the fate of the student government is just the beginning of the extent of Ashokan apathy.
Unfortunately, this apathy extends to the issues of the didis and bhaiyas too. Rarely do we bother about other human beings working in a shared environment. We do not acknowledge the fact that when we party, they clean. When we drink away our tensions, they pick up the bottles. When our heads reel with a hangover, they make our coffee. When we throw away our food, they dispose of it.
Ashoka is not a straightforward place for anyone. It poses different challenges for different people. We can only make it a home for all when we shed our apathy and empathetically listen to the people around us. We need to be grateful for their work. We can practice simple things like thanking the Fuel Zone bhaiya for our Monday morning coffee. We can walk on the pavement instead of the AC02 corridor when Didis are cleaning it.
It is very easy for Ashoka to become an exclusive and toxic place. Within the first semester, we form our group of friends and do not look beyond that. We eat together, study together, and sleep together- t is our tiny little bubble within the larger Ashoka bubble. And that is dangerous. We should acknowledge that there is a world outside this bubble where someone will not always be there to “clean” up after us. As long as there are people, we need to be considerate, kind, and generous towards them. One ‘thank you’ always goes a long way.
As I write this, I can’t help but realize that at Ashoka, we tend to generalize the working staff by calling them didi and bhaiya. Although it is a token of respect, it also creates a comfortable wall between us and them, one where we don’t have to learn about their lives and respect their stories. Instead, superficial nouns like didi and bhaiya suffice.
This practice also produces categories like us and them, which render us unable to reflect and genuinely care about the people around us. Everyone, especially the workers, becomes external to us. To care deeply and empathetically, we must do away with these categories of us and them. Humanize them. Respect them. Perhaps learning their names and addressing them with those can be a good start.