Humans of Insti: The Iron Lady of Sharavathi


They are the inconspicuous cogs that keep the IIT-M machine well-oiled and running. Without them, insti would be a much poorer place. Yet, too often, we don’t notice them, or acknowledge their role in insti life. Given their unique vantage point, they have stories to tell — stories that give us a different perspective. We believe those are stories worth hearing and worth telling. Because, after all, stories are what make us human.

(You can find all the articles in this series here.)




She is the first person you see through the sunlit glass panes of the Sharavathi hostel. “Sit, sit,” Aadiseshamma insists and I settle into the plastic chair next to her, as she conducts an animated conversation with some hostel workers. She proudly tells them that I’m conducting an interview with her and shoos them away before turning to me …

Do you know that another girl wrote a story on me once and got first prize in a competition? Anyway, let’s start the interview. My name is Aadiseshamma. I’ve been a lady guard in Sharavathi hostel for ten years now. Since I’m the most senior lady guard here, I’ve trained almost all of the other lady guards. That is why I’ve been awarded the ‘Best Lady Guard’ award three times.

In my tenure here there have been incidents, some tamaasha, some quite serious. A ‘freshie’ was bitten by a squirrel once and we decided to take her to the hospital. But she was so worried for the squirrel that she wanted to take the squirrel to the hospital too! Now, she is a fifth year. Oh, here she is: Hi! How was your stay? How are your grandparents, ma? Sign in the register please. But there have been incidents of critically ill people too and I have to make sure they receive attention immediately, since it is our duty to take care of the students when they are here, and we are held responsible. Once we found a girl collapsed drunk in the cycle stand, in the middle of the night! We helped her out, but she received a good scolding from me afterwards. But apart from that, the girls are very good and smart.

In the beginning, when I first joined this job, there were boys — wherever I saw, there were boys! Boys in the reception, standing outside the hostel, during hostel night. Hostel night used to happen till 2 a.m. Then I started asking them why they are standing here to stop them from coming and send them away. They are scared of me now, they start going away when they see me coming from a distance! Now, Sharavathi is a boy-free area.

About myself? I’m from Andhra, but I know six languages (yes, really!). You would’ve seen me talking to students in Tamil, Telugu, English, Malayalam, Kannada. I like making them feel comfortable by talking to them in their own language. You see, I’ve had a very difficult life. Family problems have harangued me, I’ve only survived because I confronted these problems courageously. My husband died just five years after our marriage from fever. He had no bad habits, he was a good man. My grandson also died when he was in seventh grade, from heart disease. I still miss him, he was a such a handsome boy. My son’s wife took his children and left him suddenly. That day he immolated himself, the foolish boy! I came to know only two days later from a small vendor. When I knew, I ran through the street screaming and crying like a madwoman. I sat next to him and cried like I’d never cried before. Now, his burns have been cured and he is fairly healthy.

I hold a diploma for teaching the deaf and blind and I have worked in this field before. I could apply for a government job — I’m working for a contractor now. There have been openings in Bombay and I attended an interview in south Tamil Nadu for a teaching job and got an offer. But my son and other family members begged me not to leave Chennai, because they are dependent on me for their welfare. The irony is that I helped educate my sister and she works in a government job as a nurse, but I don’t! I wish I was in a government job.

The hostel inspector arrives to interrupt our laidback tête-á-tête, and we bid each other hasty goodbyes. I realize that Aadiseshamma, like the hundred-headed snake on which Vishnu reclines, is the pillar on which Sharavathi rests.

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