Masala-Chai, Anyone?

 

When I first arrived in India in July, my director invited us all for tea time after lunch. The tea is called masala-chai and is loaded with spices (much like every Indian dish). Milk and sugar are a must; my director laughed as I described my love for black coffee. We sat at a small table, sipping tea and eating cookies, talking about how my experience has been thus far.

This made me nostalgic of my childhood. My mom had immigrated from England to the United States when she was eighteen. She brought her cultures and ideologies with her, which I continue learning about through the food she eats, the beliefs she has, and the language she uses. I remember the beloved tea set she gave my sister and I. It was white with light pink flowers painted on it. The cups were minuscule, barely the height of my pinky finger, yet it felt as though they were made just for me. After school, I fondly remember my mom driving my sister and I home as her eyes would lock with mine in the rearview mirror, as she said, “You girls ready for tea time once we get back? I made cinnamon bread.” As soon as we would walk through the front door, Mary and I would throw off our shoes and hurl our backpacks on the couch, sliding across the hardwood floor to beat the other to the warm bread. We would compose ourselves as my mother set up the dishes and tea pot, which would be filled with traditional British black tea, milk, and sugar. My mother passed down this tradition to my nieces as well. Whenever they made the journey with my sister from Miami or California – wherever they were stationed at the time – Sophia and Alessandra would run through the doors just like my sister and I did years ago. My mom would already have the tea pot ready for them, where they would sit for hours at the table discussing ‘important matters’.

These memories flood back to me each time I have tea-time with my classmates in Hyderabad. Now tea-time really is for discussing important matters, where conversation always drifts towards politics or religion, with the tea easing our minds into a light-hearted debate. We sit outside of the canteen with stray dogs begging at my feet, drinking the tea which the Auntie’s had brewed.

As more of these meetings take place, I began putting two and two together. Where did my mother’s idea of tea-time come from? Who started the tradition first, Indians or the British? I realized then that this relationship had developed from the British colonists, who only stopped having power in India in 1946. Colonialism is still apparent today, even though years have passed since the end of the British rule. Indian Independence day in August was one of the largest celebrations I have seen during the my time here and it goes to show people’s feelings towards the British colonists.

After realizing this, I began questioning where these traditions originated. As my mother is British, I always assumed that the idea of tea-time, along with many of her other traditions, came from her country. But how do I know that these traditions are really British, and not Indian, which they could have discovered after having colonized India for so many years?

One of my fellow students learned in their sociology course how the first census in India started in 1865 by the British. This was not to advance the Indian civilization; rather, the British were using India as their guinea-pig so that they could understand what type of government is successful for their own country.

It’s often easy to overlook colonialism in the U.S., saying that it happened many years ago or that the Native Americans still have freedom. Yet our own president is actively taking away Native Americans freedom, first with the Dakota Access Pipeline, and then with the new law in North Dakota which requires voters to list a specific street address rather than using a P.O. box. By taking away their homes and their liberty, we edge closer to the further dehumanization of all human beings. The midterm elections welcomed a bright light in a dark time, as two Native American women were elected to Congress.

Colonialism continues to affect modern society, as the idea that one person has the entitlement to take land away from others parallels the dehumanization which occurs throughout much of the world. Hatred and violence has consumed our society, creating a divide which instigates the feeling of superiority in people. It’s important to be aware of the history of the country you are in, especially as much of that history is written by the people who support the oppression of others.


Anne Berset 

INDIA – UNIVERSITY OF HYDERABAD, 2018 FALL

Anne Berset is double majoring in Creative Writing and Psychology as well as a minor in Philosophy. She is studying at the University of Hyderabad in India for the Fall term, where she will be taking philosophy and political science courses. She hopes to gain a new perspective on culture, politics, and religion while abroad. Anne loves to watch films, go on hikes, and spend time with animals.

Link to Posts

 

 


 

Advertisements

The Female Experience

“Who are you looking for?” the woman in a red kurta asked Crystal and I.

“Shrinkhla. She told us to meet here now,” Crystal responded.

We stood in the center of the grounds for the school as young girls ran past us, stopping for only seconds to gaze up at us in curiosity. Shrinkhla, a friend of our director of the international program, had asked if there was anyone who could volunteer at the school. It was last minute, only the day before that she had asked, but Crystal and I had promised that we would be there. All we knew was that we should arrive by 10:15 and that we would lead a discussion on women empowerment.

Crystal wore navy khakis and a striped polo, and I had on a borrowed green kurta. Shrinkhla found us waiting to the side. She wore a hunter green and black saree, her black hair in a short bob. Her voice was quiet, yet her eyes darted from side to side, as she kept track of all the students and faculty. She told us how she ran the Udayan Shalini Fellowship every month, where she would bring all the students in on Sunday and schedule talks for them to attend. Crystal and I would be one of those talks to a class of thirty sixteen year-old girls.

Shrinkhla opened up a classroom door, where we were greeted by the girls saying Hello Ms Shrinkhla and giving a clap of their hands. The girls sat cross-legged on the floor of a dimly lit classroom, all of them keenly looking up at Crystal and I with smiles that encompassed their faces.

“Hi, girls,” Shrinkhla said. “I hope you’ve had good classes today. Now we have some special visitors for you. Be good for them, okay?” Shrinkhla turned to Crystal and I, saying “I’ll be back in an hour, see you then.”

With little instruction of what we should do, Crystal and I looked at each other, and then to the girls quietly sitting on the ground. I could feel their energy bouncing off the walls as they waited for us to speak. Whispers and giggles echoed in the small classroom. Crystal pulled a chair from the desk and I sat on the pull-out chair at the front of the room.

“So, guys, my name is Crystal and this is Annie. We’re going to hang out with you guys for the next hour. Is that cool?” Crystal asked the girls. “But before we start, lets stretch real quick, ok? You guys must have been sitting for the entire day.”

The girls shyly stood up, looking at their friends next to them and stifling a snicker. I was able to look at all of them as they moved around the room, doing stretches which Crystal and I led. Some of the girls wore kurtas, some wore jeans, some wore burkas. I could immediately tell who were the most eager students, as they concentrated on each syllable Crystal pronounced. We started the discussion off slowly, with questions about their classes, which subjects were their favorite, if they liked homework. The girls got noticeably more comfortable with us as the time passed by.

“OK, guys, I have a question for you,” I said to the girls. “Have any of you ever felt discriminated against in school or at home?”

The girls paused and looked at each other with hesitant glances, some asking the other to repeat what I had said. One girl in the second row raised her hand, and after having been called on, she stood up.

“I want to tell you a story that happened to me, if that’s OK,” she said to Crystal and I. “I have a brother who is the same age as I am. When we were in school together, he always got better grades than me even though I worked harder. I asked my teacher why I wasn’t getting good marks, and she…” the girl’s voice broke as she released a sob. Her classmates quickly rushed to her aid, holding her hand to prompt her on.

“The teacher, she said that she marked me down because I was a girl, and that I was never going to do better than the boys. I didn’t understand how that could happen, when I worked so hard, every day, to get good marks on my tests. When I told my mom about it, she was really nice and she made me feel better. But she said that I would always have to work harder since I am a girl.”

Tears filled my eyes as she finished her story, and glancing over at Crystal and the other girls in the room, I saw empathy in everyone’s faces. It felt as though we had been transported to a separate island, all alone, the only thing that mattered were her words. I felt myself entering into a childlike mind, and even though I could sympathize with this girl, I knew I would never be able to feel the pain she experienced.

The session continued on in a similar manner for the remaining hour. More girls, overcome with emotion, opened up about their own experiences with discrimination. We transitioned into asking the girls if any of them had a female role-model in their lives. So many of the girls stood up, proudly describing their mothers, friends, sisters, or teachers, who had inspired them to work harder or be more happy. They asked me to answer the same question. I immediately knew who it would be.

“I think my mom is my role-model. She taught me that you are never too old to go back to school, that age doesn’t have any influence over when you can learn new things. She’s strong, she’s independent, and she knows what she wants,” I said with confidence, imagining my mother staying up till midnight to complete her masters after working a full day as a school nurse.

The girls snapped their fingers, something that Crystal and I had taught them. Their smiles brightened the gray sky, each face so unique and full of potential. I disguised my tears of happiness as if it had come from a joke Crystal had said.

Each one of them reminded me of my niece, Sophia. Each time that she told me how the boys didn’t like her or the other girls didn’t hang out with her. Nothing I could ever say would make her feel more included by them. Not how she was so beautiful that the other girls got jealous; not how she was so smart that the boys were intimidated; not how she had every single quality that her classmates could ever desire, that jealousy consumed their ten year-old minds. Spending time with my niece or the girls in the classroom reminded me of how intense and painful the female experience can be.


Anne Berset 

INDIA – UNIVERSITY OF HYERDERABAD, 2018 FALL

Anne Berset is double majoring in Creative Writing and Psychology as well as a minor in Philosophy. She is studying at the University of Hyderabad in India for the Fall term, where she will be taking philosophy and political science courses. She hopes to gain a new perspective on culture, politics, and religion while abroad. Anne loves to watch films, go on hikes, and spend time with animals.

Link to Posts