Say aye if “hostel bhej denge” was the worst punishment you thought could happen to you as a kid. Cut to the present day, millennials are happily choosing the hostel life as their permanent residence. Not any hostel though, the backpacker hostel is the new adda/home to not only travellers but locals too.
I spoke to Nasir Imam, who has lived in Mumbai for 8 years now but decided to give up the comforts of his own flat, only to find the best kind of sleep on the lower bunk bed of a dorm, shared by 9 other people.
It’s been 4 months this local has been living in HappiNest hostel, Andheri. I found that strangely interesting and asked him a few questions about his own backpacking stories and how he found a home among fellow travellers in his own city.
After having a home in Mumbai for 8 years, how did you decide to move into a backpacker hostel?
I’m a Mumbaikar by choice but a backpacker at heart. My travel companion and I took breaks from the city life and travelled through Goa, Gokarna, Hampi ,Sikkim, Darjeeling, Coorg, Kasol, Jaipur, Pushkar, Manali and many places. Then suddenly we had to part ways because, well life happened…
The loss of this buddy left me in a state of despair. Like a life partner, finding a travel partner who you get along with so well, is rare. Traveling after that did not feel the same. I spent months struggling to come to terms with it. I saw a therapist too, then one day it dawned on me! Finding a connection like that would be difficult in a city. So, I went to the one place where I’d find travelers who’d understand me. And that place was a backpackers’ hostel.
How did you find “the hostel” that you’d call home?
My friends usually club hop in the city, but I got into hostel hopping. I bid my home in Mumbai farewell and spent the next few days at hostels like Horn Ok Please (HOP), then moved to Zostel Mumbai, then to Social Spaces and Mantra but didn’t live at either of them for more than 3 to 7 days. They were amazing places but I was looking for something more!
I met some inspiring people like Mona Patrao, a very popular Environmental activist who gave me a unique perspective in life. I took what I got and continued my search until I arrived at HappiNest hostel.
How did you feel when you first entered HappiNest hostel?
As I entered HappiNest, I heard a voice that said, “Hey man, get in”. I looked at Afifa, the tattoo-clad manager who greeted me with a chirpy smile. I already began getting a positive vibe from this place. For me, it’s the connections that matter. And, that’s what I found here.
From the owners to the travelers, everyone connected with me on a higher level. We didn’t want anything from each other, it was all about good company and enjoying every moment together. Soon these strangers became yaars and this hostel became ghar.
Tell us about your initial few days at the hostel, the good, the bad and the ugly.
The good part was finding the right people and space, which was what I was looking for in the first place. There’s no good or bad, but the tough part was finally shifting from a flat to a single bed, full time. A hostel is a shared space, you can’t cook your own meals like you could at a rented flat. Then, there’s also the fact that I had to modify my sleeping habits to accommodate the snorers in the room and people moving in and out at odd times.
Sharing is caring in a hostel, but what happens when you don’t want to share your food?
There’s no solution to it. Period. If you bring food in a hostel, there’s no way it won’t be shared. If I had a penny for every time my milk was “shared” without my permission, I’d have enough money to buy a cow for myself. Whether you name your food or hide it in a hostel, someone will eventually find it and eat it.
Your tips on surviving a snorer in the room?
Earbuds are your best friends in a hostel. Ambient music helps too. You either get used to the sound of waves or the sound of snores, it’s your choice. The last option is to get lost in your own thoughts and get in so deep that the snores don’t bother you anymore.
Let’s talk toilet troubles. Sharing 2 bathrooms with 10 people must be challenging?
The bathroom is like an episode of Game of Thrones, everyone wants a seat at the throne. If you’ve earned bad karma for the day, you’ll end up clashing your time with 4 other people who just “need to go”. The trick is to carry all your things, make your way to the washroom and not leave it before you’re completely done with it. If you leave it for even a second to bring your towel, that’s it!
When did the hostel really begin feeling like home?
I remember it clearly, it was my 5th day and I was going to make some chai for myself. But instead of making ek cup, I asked people around if they’d like some too. Everyone said yes, and as they say “a lot can happen over chai”. From that day, I became the go-to chai expert and mingled with everyone over a cup of tea.
People are constantly moving in and out, how do you cope with the constant change?
After getting to know people so well, it was tough seeing them leave but you get used to it over time. I am a backpacker too, so I understand the concept that one day everyone leaves. The important thing is that you learn something from every yaar you make along the way.
Don’t you miss your privacy?
Of course I do! I like my “me-time” and I have a special spot in the hostel where I go for some privacy. The terrace has another small terrace on top. I take my yoga mat and head there for a few hours. Every backpacker carries a yoga mat so they can set base wherever they are. You don’t need a chair or a bed, a yoga mat is enough.
Nasir before the hostel life VS Nasir after hostel life?
I used to head out in search of new stories and positivity. I never thought I’d find travelers unless I go out. But then I realised, travelers can be found anywhere. They don’t have to look like a typical backpacker who walks around with a backpack and map. A normal looking person standing next to you at a signal can be a great traveler too. Like Mona Patrao, who taught me things like how you can learn to love nature and give back at the same time. She was a real traveler to me. She looked simple but the work she does is inspiring.
Nasir loves his life in the hostel but nothing is permanent for this backpacker. Some days he spends his time sipping on chai and listening to old Hindi songs with his new yaars in the hostel and other days he sets out on new adventures.
Traveling and hostel life can give you different perspectives, but in the end, it’s you who knows what you’re really in search of and how to get it. It could be on the top of the Himalayas or at a backpacker hostel in your own city.