Privately-run hostels for single female professionals are flourishing in Tiruchi though the interpretation of ‘space’ varies from one establishment to another

“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction,” said Virginia Woolf. Today, it is not just aspiring novelists, but female professionals from other walks of life as well who need to fulfil Woolf’s recommendation to earn their livelihood and achieve some sort of self-validation.

Hostels for working women in Tiruchi promise that precious bit of personal space, though the interpretation of ‘space’ varies from one establishment to another. It could be a room with a toilet, a room with three beds or even a hall with 10 beds. It could claim to offer the latest, or simply limp along with regulations more appropriate for an earlier era of schoolchildren.

Most hostel owners are wary of talking to the media, as are the residents, both apparently driven by a fear of unwarranted attention.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that privately-run living quarters for single female professionals in the banking, teaching, medical care, and media sectors are flourishing in Tiruchi. Many of these hostels also cater to college students, as an alternative to in-campus boarding facilities.

Security issue

“I found out about my hostel from colleagues,” says Sumitra*, who was deputed to work in the Tiruchi branch of her bank in 2009, and has stayed on in the same Christian mission-run establishment since then. “I visited many other places, but I found that the security here is very tight. Residents must let the wardens know of their movements well in advance, and doors close at 9.30 p.m., so working women have plenty of time to wind up all their office tasks,” she says.

The hostel insists on valid identity proofs for both students and working women, “to prevent the misuse of facilities,” according to Sumitra. “Residents above the age of 21 years are allowed to enrol by themselves once they have shown their proof-of-employment certificates and other documents. But younger women have to bring a guardian or parent along at the time of joining,” she says.

She shares her room with two other women roughly the same age as herself, and says that while she occasionally misses privacy, she loves the friendship that is fostered between the hostel’s 150 residents during group celebrations of national and religious festivals.

“Actually I miss my hostel more when I return home for the holidays, and can’t wait to get back to the routine,” she says.

Hotel-style hostels

Some of the more recent entrants in the hostel business have tried to create for a hotel-like atmosphere by going online and offering facilities like 24-hour security, maintenance services and mineral water in every room, besides ensuite toilets and built-in furniture.

Many companies also prefer to use these facilities as staff accommodation for single female workers.

Fees can range from Rs. 1500 to Rs. 6000, depending on the hostel’s vintage and services such as Internet broadband connectivity and laundry. “Staying in a hostel relieves me of the responsibility of running a household,” says Roshni*, a media professional. “Once my duty gets over, I don’t have the time or the inclination to do house-work. I need a place to relax, so a hostel is ideal for me,” she adds.

Roshni shifted from another outer city hostel to her current one as her job requires her to keep flexible working hours.

“You need to be really an adjustable sort of person to live in a hostel,” she says. “If you’ve been living alone for a long time, it’s a real challenge to suddenly start living with two other people everyday.” But there are some advantages to having roomies who are of the same age and gender, according to Roshni, because it is easier to discuss things with them and “they don’t pester you about your food habits and timings.”

Long service

The Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) has been functioning in Tiruchi since 1932. It runs a hostel for working women and girl students from weaker sections of society at Reynolds Road, in the Cantonment area of the city.

“At present we have around 150 women in the hostel,” says Mrs. Devika Jason, the president of the 10-member board of directors of YWCA. “We try and keep our residents as comfortable and safe as possible,” she says. “There are two water connections and four bore-wells to ensure continuous water supply for both cooking and laundry. We use a steam cooking system that allows our catering staff to serve large orders of hot meals (vegetarian and non-vegetarian) quickly and on time.”

Wi-fi is not available on the campus, but with residents are allowed to make their own arrangements for Internet. “These days even the government school students own a laptop, so we let people stay in touch with their relatives through mobile phones and data cards,” says Mrs. Devika.

Special get-togethers are held on Hostel Day, Christmas, Pongal, Diwali and Id-al-Fitr (Ramzan) for the residents. “Many of them enjoy staying on rather than going home for the holidays,” adds Mrs. Devika, who has been working here for the past 25 years.

*Names have been changed upon request