[By Manika Dhama; she is a Delhi-based media professional.]
I'm lucky to be a Delhi girl. Many women colleges here are considered the best in the country. However, recently there were rumors of converting them to co-ed institutions. While it surely excited men, most feared a decline in the "standards". The co-ed advocates counter-argued that the same sex colleges discourage "healthy interaction" between men and women. It could be true but whether that affected my mental or physical health remains debatable.
You see I'm a product of one of these colleges.
Oh, You Are From Miranda House!
Few years back, when I secured admission in Miranda House, a women college, my parents were more than thrilled. (They don't trust the boys.) The first few days there were spent getting used to seeing too many women all around. The only men were those who dozed behind files in the college office, besides the road-side Romeos outside the entrance.
Some people also tend to confuse women colleges as battle grounds of firebrand feminism where one is instilled with hatred towards anything male. I hate to disappoint but there were no such lessons in Miranda. The college library never displayed titles like Men are from Mars, women are not, so kill them all.
Another battle I had to fight was against being stereotyped. Every college in Delhi is weighed down by its "reputation". You are in this college therefore you are like that. You are in Lady Shri Ram College (LSR) so you are haughty and would not condescend to interact with others. You are in Mata Sundari College so you are clearly the biggest loser on the planet. I was in Miranda House so obviously I would divorce my future-husband within weeks of marriage.
Not surprisingly, trying to escape the stereotypes became a defining part of our college life. But there were long-term consequences, too.
There are many men (and their mommies) afraid of forging matrimonial alliances with women from so-and-so colleges. Such girls are considered "fast"! (Perhaps the men are slow and cannot keep up.) I have heard tales of parents who feared that their darling daughter, by getting enrolled in some uppity girls' college, would become "unmarriageable" because she would not be able to "adjust" in her married home. One could understand their plight. After all, there are fewer things scarier than an opinionated girl.
A friend once wished for mixed-sex education so that we could see how men would react to certain lectures. The teacher did not find it exciting. Was it a loss? Perhaps yes. Our classroom discussions often ended up being quite linear because there wasn't a male outlook to add. Whether one would have benefited from these perspectives is not for me to say. But it would most certainly have been different from the experience one had.
But did we miss the boys? Let's confess: the college sans men was no torture and since one could not handpick the boys' one wanted as classmates, it was better to not have them around at all.
Besides, we had a rollicking time. During those three years, our "all women" experience was fun-filled. We were carefree, but also sensible. We never bunked classes. We never ate in the college canteen (the food was bad). But we overused our family cars. We showered more attention on "dramatics" than in academic studies. On more than one occasion we were thrown out of a restaurant for being "too loud".
Okay, we did bemoan the absence of men but didn't miss them very much. True, they hovered in our conversations but they never took center stage of our lives. Perhaps it was good since making fun of them was a lot easier in their absence.
And then, one morning, suddenly we discovered that the college days were over!
In the end (in many ways, the beginning), the college shaped me as an individual but its stereotypes did not define me. Miranda House memories will be cherished for ever.