On certain mornings when I head out for a walk along the beach, I often run into Karuna, who joined an engineering college in Kattankulathur a month ago. A slim girl, she has a tough task hauling a heavy bag while balancing a drafter and a lunch bag. In addition to the many pressing concerns freshers face - projects, relations with seniors, dress codes – Karuna and many like her are also trying to get used to the ritual of commuting long distances to college.
A couple of months ago, while she was celebrating her 90 per cent in class XII , her mother had told me she was looking forward to just one thing – a good college in or around the city that has a good transport facility. “She should be able to commute from home. Hostel food might spoil her health and there is no need because there are many colleges very close to the city,” she reasoned.
Many parents would perfectly understand this sentiment. However, what they ignore is the torrid experience that daily commuting has become with growing traffic, diversified routes, the long duration of trips, polluted air and the sheer monotony of spending over three hours every day in a college bus. Some sleep through it, others try to catch up on reading or listen to music, but for most, the only option is to wait for the journey to end.
Many private engineering colleges have lavish campuses and claim they are “most commutable to students.” The chairman of a college I spoke to recently was more than happy to talk about his transport facilities. “We started with three buses in 1991. Today we have 38, covering almost every area in Chennai. The aim is to make the life of every student comfortable.”
But does just merely increasing the number of buses ensure comfort? Take the case of K. Raviraj. This third-year engineering student leaves his Ambattur home at 4.30 a.m. to catch a bus to Avadi, after which he waits for the college bus to Sriperumbudur. He reaches college around 8 a.m. and at 6 p.m., begins his return journey, having already undergone extra classes in communication. He reaches home around 9 p.m. just in time to practise engineering graphics. Assignments and a mountain of mathematical problems take up the rest of the night, leaving merely a couple of hours for restless sleep. “I am used to commuting now. But I miss being part of cultural fests, technical fests or any extra-curricular activity in the college. I cannot stay back because it gets very late, and there are only a few buses that stay back for such activities,” he says.
It would seem that commuting to college has added yet another layer of woe to the overburdened student’s life and has taken out the charm of hostel life. Hostels may not be a paradise and during my own time in one, I often longed for family and homemade food. But studying in a ‘commutable college’ means bus routes bind lives, restricting college life to labs and lectures alone.
During late evenings, when I see drooping heads on the windows of college buses wading their way through traffic on OMR, I often wonder, Shouldn’t these students be discussing the latest technology breakthrough or analysing why a certain project won’t work? Or simply out on the playground, instead of waiting for the long journey to end.