It started with the Kinnaird College admission test my future roommates and I took "for fun". Going abroad had proved to be an expensive idea, LUMS had disappointed and the Karachi University promised us a few bullet wounds and bomb threats along with our B.A. degrees, which disturbed our gentle souls. Noor traded in her thin pure Urdu accent for Punjabi songs, Maryam momentarily gave up hope of art school and I convinced myself that the famous English program must really be worth it. Thus started our adventure in the alternate universe of Kinnaird College for Women Punjab, which has given us enough stories to entertain our grandchildren with for most of their lives.
The first mistake was probably wearing a polo shirt and cargos to the admission test. The second was not wearing matching bangles with the shirt. The third was finding my pen had run out of ink and asking a student for a pencil, only to be snottily told "This isn't LUMS, where we just hand out free stationery."
Fast forward about six days and there I was, not in LUMS with free stationery (I had until the test been unaware of this virtue of the other institution), but in the dorm room that I would live in until the following April. "It's very big!" said Maryam. "The building is very nice," said my aunt. "Hai! Is this what they meant by 'cot'?" exclaimed poor honest Noor, pointing to the three chairpais arranged around the room. Yes, it was what they had meant. We also had a rickety table and a closet partitioned into three. Like real troopers, the three of us set about making our room feel like home.
With the beds made, floor swept and a gigantic mattress precariously balanced on Noor's tiny chairpai ("I don't like the idea of bedbugs crawling into this ropey stuff"), we were officially KC hostelites. It's sweet how innocent we were that day, unaware of the experiences we would share over the next few months-or minutes. The hostel meeting that night cleared up any hope that may have lingered in our fluffy little heads about our college experience. We were summoned to "the fountain", where our warden would be briefing us about hostel rules.
"Karachi say ayee hain!" was the first thing I heard, from the girl standing behind me. I wondered whether to politely introduce myself. The next sentence decided that for me. "Karachi girls are very mod-squad" was the whisper to my left. "Alam Channa was from Karachi. Was he mod-squad too?" someone's friend queried. I resisted the urge to ask her if Alam Channa was the only thing she associated with Karachi. Besides mod-squad behaviour, that is. I quickly learned there were in fact many other things associated with Karachi: "fast" girls, hot weather, Muhajirs who didn't understand Punjabi, being spoilt, A Levels. Somehow the fast girls, hot summers, parallel education system and Urdu speaking population in Lahore was above censure, or off the radar. Oh, well.
The warden's lecture was even more interesting than the conversation taking place behind me. We were briefed about "blue cards" which would determine which female visitors we have permission to receive, gate passes, which would only be issued on Wednesday and Thursday nights at 9pm, bedtime (which we were told was 10pm but we learned in about five minutes nobody cared about) and the dress code, which led me to make a panicky phone call home and shelf my jeans and kurtis away for a year. Meanwhile, Noor made long, weepy calls to her mother and Maryam despairingly dove under her blankets, where she remained for the rest of the year. It was a promising start to a ridiculous year.