By Aggam Wallia (UG22)
The past few weeks I have been able to transform my daily routine to a great extent. From eating and sleeping on time (read: before midnight) to exercising and pursuing hobbies, I am personally surprised by how smoothly I’ve taken on these habits. I couldn’t help but think to myself, “Gosh! This is so much better than my routine in college!”. The comparison prompted me to think about why exactly I resent my college routine and what’s missing from it.
Of course, my experience at home reeks of privilege. Most people at Ashoka may not have the luxury of creating such a schedule for themselves. It could be due to space constraints, lack of privacy, financial troubles, etc. However, this piece is not about generalizing my personal experience, rather to make a general observation on an important part of campus culture— the daily routine of its students. In doing so, I do not intend to disregard the many ways our campus is a safe haven for some of us; if I unknowingly do, I apologize beforehand.
To quote a few sentences I found online while reading up on college routines.
“As a fresher you are constantly reminded that this is supposed to be the ‘time of your life’. When it feels like the worst time of your life you feel both a sense of guilt and a pressure to keep these negative thoughts to yourself.” (link)
The data showed a strong correlation between a school’s 2016 ranking in US News and World Report and student bedtimes. The more elite the college, the later the average bedtime. (link)
Throughout those particular years of development (adolescence), “the brain’s region-specific neurocircuitry remains … vulnerable to impulsive sex, food, and sleep habits,” according to researchers…. “Almost every student I spoke with for this story could name without a moment’s hesitation where that place was, where everybody just sort of winds up at the end of the night.” (link)
Despite being quotes from US-centric articles, I believe that the essence of these sentences isn’t particularly alien to an Ashokan context. As a fresher, one was often told about the unrivalled uniqueness of the college experience of which having an erratic schedule is an important part. Free from the confines of your home and parents, the impromptu nature of college life offered exciting possibilities. But when the volatility of the routine begins to wear you down due to sleepless nights and skipped breakfasts, you feel disappointed that it’s not turning out how you expected it to be.
Besides maintaining a social life, which has many important elements like partying, late night events, and more, we also have to cater to the demanding nature of Ashokan academics. While the quoted article doesn’t explicitly state why elite colleges in the US have later bedtimes, one probable reason could be higher academic workload. By Indian standards, Ashoka can be called an ‘elite’ university. Academics undoubtedly play an important role in our daily routines. Sometimes, even when we manage to finish our work by midnight, seeing others up in the library studying furiously makes us doubtful about what we accomplished. As strange as it sounds, studying late into the night is at times synonymous with studying harder.
Late nights can start a blazing fire in our stomachs, which can only be tempered by a visit to either THC or the dhaba. Post-midnight, both these places are buzzing with hungry, tired people. If some planning is done in advance, a solution to that ravaging hunger can be found in the drawers under our beds, stocked with all kinds of snacks. For many, satisfying these midnight food cravings can be enough to take care of breakfast which will be missed the following day. When it’s not enough, snacks from eateries around the mess do the job. When you head to the mess after the 11:50 lecture for lunch and see there’s gatta curry, you either skip the meal, munch on chips or go straight to the dhaba.
What’s the big deal, right? Why am I being so self-righteous and condescending about this? We are, after all, young people trying to figure things out. The point is not to pass a value-judgement on the topic, but rather to sincerely ask how it affects our lives. As far as self-righteousness is concerned, I would like to assure everybody that this isn’t targeted against anybody or their way of life. I, like everybody else, do almost all of the things I have written about.
What I’m interested in figuring out is that is this normalization of skipping meals and staying up late at night in our daily routines a healthy thing? Of course, responses to this would vary from person to person. However, this normalization has become a dominant part of campus culture. No matter what one’s individual desires concerning their daily routine are, they’re in many ways constrained by this culture. We don’t live isolated lives on campus, after all.
It is unfortunate that for a campus that aims to prioritize mental health in public conversations, an unstable daily routine is the norm. There are many reasons for this normalization. The most obvious one is to do with the expectations we have from a typical college life, as I have already mentioned. It doesn’t help that Ashokan students have a reputation for partying hard. Almost all of us have heard this atleast once- “Oh you’re from Ashoka? I heard the crowd parties like crazy.” This aids in creating a standard for a typical Ashokan experience. What worsens this is a phenomenon all of us are familiar with, thus it needs no explanation— FOMO, abbv. for “fear of missing out.”
Another very important reason for this normalisation is the size of the campus. All spaces on campus are active at all hours of the day. There’s barely any space other than one’s own tiny room where things are calm or slow, where one can pause for sometime, to rejuvenate or to just reflect. Once you leave your room, you see a flurry of activities happening everywhere you pass. Each place on campus has a very specific purpose— there’s no place where you can just go to without an agenda. This makes the spirit of our campus very restless, which reflects in the kinds of lives we live.
It is therefore imperative that we engage with the following question— does this culture of restlessness and confusion exacerbate the deteriorating mental health of those struggling to find some semblance of routine in their lives? While there is yet to be a study conducted on Ashoka students, there’s enough research on how consistent eating habits, getting sufficient sleep, etc. contribute positively towards our mental health. We need to understand that our mental well being is closely tied in with our physical well being. We cannot expect one to be in good condition while we completely neglect the other.
Therefore, we should encourage people who make efforts to take care of their physical selves. It’s important to be both vocal about one’s needs and to roughly gauge how a close acquaintance is keeping up. If your friend had an exhausting day and wants to go to bed early, avoid keeping them up for conversations. Let them rest and recover. If you see your friend constantly buying chips from the tuck shop, suggest them an apple or a banana. We all like to believe that we don’t force anything upon anyone and have the best interests of our friends in our minds, but it might help to be a little more aware of how peer pressure works in order to realise that belief.
Let’s work towards creating a campus culture that does not impose on people and gives them a chance to create an experience that works the best for them.