I hid my copy of The Satanic Verses in my desk drawer where Arshad wouldn't see it. It was the second semester of my freshman year, and I didn't want my roommate to know that I had a copy of Salman Rushdie's book because Arshad was a Muslim. The middle of the second semester is the time when so many freshman roommates break up. Everything about your first semester at school seems new and exciting, but when second-semester midterms roll around, any suppressed strains in roommate relationships ooze to the surface. Perhaps the story of how Arshad and I managed to survive a year living together in a 13x9 Hill House room will give others the incentive to stick it out, too. I didn't want Arshad to know I had a copy of The Satanic Verses because I didn't want to offend him. But at the same time, I was motivated to buy the book solely because I knew that if Arshad found out I owned a copy, he would be really mad. Arshad and I had dozens of intense, but respectful debates about the issues on which we disagreed -- that is, all the issues. In one of these discussions, Arshad threw his hands in e air and told me that Rushdie deserved Ayatollah Khomeini's death threat for writing the book. He said Rushdie should have know the consequences of publishing a book that was clearly blasphemy to Muslims. Frankly, I never read the book. And my former roommate only found out that I had kept a copy in my desk drawer just this last semester -- two years after I bought the book and a year-and-a-half after we packed up our things and left HIll House to go our separate ways. Incidentally, Arshad recently told me that he doesn't agree with the death threat against Rushdie anymore. In his own words, he's "mellowed out and grown up." The Rushdie incident is just one illustration of the strange love.hate relationship Arshad and I shared freshman year. But the biggest conflicts between us were over seemingly insignificant daily activities. Arshad had brought a TV with him all the way from Florida so that he wouldn't have to miss a single episode of The Wonder Years of The Cosby Show. I hated television. The one thing I did like to watch was Dan Rather, while he liked to watch Peter Jennings. I tried to go to sleep around midnight or 1 a.m. every night. But Arshad liked to leave his desk light on and study until the wee hours of the morning. Our Hill House room was constantly overheated. For the first semester, I kept opening the window to let in a little air, but he kept closing it. Then something strange happened after winter break, when he started opening the window and I started closing it because I thought the room was getting too cold. So how did we do it? How did we manage to live together for a year without killing each other? Well to begin with, we had the same bonding experiences that all freshmen roommates have. Take the first week of freshman year when we went carousing on the town. Both of us were well under age, but Arshad had the guts to go in and buy a six-pack of beer from a local landmark greasy spoon, while I stood outside on the street scared silly. And then there were all our debates. And although we were both stubborn as donkeys (or should that be elephants?), we ended up making a lot of compromise. I'd let him play Madonna music on my stereo for a while, if he'd promise to let me play Joe Jackson later. He started studying in the lounge late at night. I tried to control my urge to throttle him when I came into the room to take a nap only to find him lying on his bed, remote control in hand, watching Three's Company. But still there was constant conflict. At about the middle of the second semester -- around the time that I bought my copy of The Satanic Verses -- things really started to deteriorate. Arshad had managed to get ahold of a video cassette recorder. "Oh no!" I thought. "That can only mean more TV watching!" We had a big fight about the VCR and in the end decided to go and talk to our Graduate Fellow about our problems. The GF was ready to switch rooms, but neither of us was willing to leave the room. In the end, we were forced to learn tolerance. "We were so much the same," ARshad told me the other day. "You take all our differences that we had on paper and then you look at the way we responded to each other --Ewe hated each other the same way, we got on each other's nerves the same way, but neither of us was ever willing to give it up." Although I disagreed with him on almost every issue, I always respected Arshad a great deal for the strength of his beliefs. And although we often could not stand to be in the same room together, I always felt that my roommate was a kind and thoughtful person. Whether it was due to God in the heavens of to the god in Residential LIving, we were forced to spend a year living together. And I think we both learned a great deal about what "sensitivity" really means from our little experience in coexistence. I'm glad that we didn't give up. If you find yourself in a similar situation, I hope you won't give it up either. Steven Ochs is a former Editorial Page Editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian. This is reprinted from one of his 1991 columns.Comments powered by Disqus
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