The Banyan Tree

I sat in the Hyderabad airport visitor area drinking a cup of coffee and reading Lolita. It was 7:25 am and I was waiting for my sister Mary to land after her 25 hours of flying. Her flight wasn’t supposed to land for another hour, so I lounged in my chair and watched people eagerly waiting for their loved ones. Men crowded the confined space as they sprawled their legs and arms out on the seats, staring with no bashfulness at me. I wrapped my scarf tighter around myself as I buried my eyes further into the novel.

After an hour had passed, I began getting frantic texts from my dad asking where Mary was, saying she had called from a payphone only minutes before. I craned my neck to look around me but was greeted only by curious brown or black eyes, not like my sister’s hazel and red. I realized then that this simple airport pickup I had expected may not be going as planned. I ran around the airport for the next hour, asking the guards if they had seen a tall girl with blonde hair, which they responded to with confused eyes and a shake of their head. No PA system limited any opportunity to call over the loudspeaker for her.

I was convinced that she had been abducted by someone. My dad and brother were calling me non-stop asking where she could’ve gone in such a short time frame. As I spoke to my dad, I got an incoming call from my roommate Kayla. With confusion, I answered the call.

“Hey, so, um… your sister is here right now. She came to my room and was asking where you were,” Kayla said to me with a hint of amusement in her tone.

After I talked to Mary and found out that she had left the airport thinking that I had abandoned her, I hopped in an uber and headed back to the University.

For the next week, I followed the itinerary which I had made for Mary’s trip. Go to Ahmedabad for the weekend with a couple of other students, visit some temples, go to markets. Each day was filled to the brim with things to do and see, even as the temperature rose to 95 degrees. We walked around in a confused daze, taking naps in the afternoon and waking up when the sun was beginning to descend.

But as we traveled through the streets, I felt as though I was seeing everything for the first time; the pani puri stands on the side of the road, families laughing outside of their houses, five people jam-packed on one motorbike. My senses were heightened as we drove through the streets in our auto-rickshaw. I felt as though I had to protect her from some negative opinion of India.

After two and a half months of living here, I thought I understood this country and that I could navigate everything and show my sister how much India had to offer. But when the time actually came, I felt lost every time I traveled with her and overwhelmed at the slightest inconvenience.

Mary took this well, as she often is more in touch with my emotions than I am. She was patient and reassuring when I was on the verge of tears for the first time in months. She welcomed the chaos of India with a smile and observing eyes.

As we drove to the airport on Thursday night, we talked about the time which had passed since I left in July. She told me about my nephew Carson who was getting baptized soon, my nieces who just went back to school, her new job. I smiled with happiness as the palm trees flew past outside the window in the darkness. It was different to hear her talk about what was happening back home in person rather than over facetime through times zones and a digital screen. She asked how I felt to be here for another three and a half months, and I responded honestly that I was apprehensive but ready for the challenge.

So many events have occurred during my time here that have made me so grateful for my own life and the opportunities I have had. The Supreme Court in India overturned section 377, which decriminalized gay sex. To be here in India when this was passed as well as having the chance to work with an NGO that is working first-hand to challenge the government’s opinion of the LGBTQ+ community is incredible.

I have also seen the death of one of my favorite artists Mac Miller. He recently died of a drug overdose after suffering from drug abuse and mental illness for years. I remember listening to “Frick Park Market” with Mary in our 2000 silver mustang as we drove to school, each of us switching rapping the lyrics and filling in the blanks when the other had to breathe. My heart aches for yet another artist who falls to the pressures of the music industry and society. Even though the world feels a little bit more silent without his voice, I’m grateful for the work he was able to create in the short amount of time he had here.

As I felt homesick and lonely with my sister’s absence last night, I borrowed my friend Meg’s watercolors and went to the roof to paint as the sun descended. Only days ago, Mary and I sat in the same spot together, recreating our infamous rooftop in Virginia where we would spend hours talking. Without thinking, my brush began forming the outline of a Banyan tree, the native tree to India which symbolizes eternal life, and I realized that each emotion I experience is beautiful and should be welcomed with open arms.


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.

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Wake Up to the Noise Around You

It was 7 pm and we had all just finished playing a game of “nerts” for the tenth time that night. Everyone sat at the eight-seater table in the common room, dealing out six decks of cards while someone’s Spotify playlist played in the background. Lucia was my partner and we had just won for the second time in a row, which we celebrated by giving each other a high-five with our damp palms. The room was steamy as we had to keep the doors leading to the terrace closed to make sure no mosquitoes got in.

“I think I’m gonna sit this one out, guys,” I said to the group as I leaned back in the red chair.

The others nodded their heads at me. They were already shuffling their cards in preparation for another game. Sweat dripped down their faces and onto their collarbones as The Black Eyed Peas played. I looked at each of them and was overcome with a feeling of appreciation. This group of sixteen people had all chosen for whatever reason to study at the University of Hyderabad. Even though we came from different backgrounds, we sat together laughing hysterically as if we had known each other for years.

I walked around the table and out to the terrace so that I could watch what was happening on the street. The terrace faced a street that ran perpendicular to the main road of the University. There was always movement and sounds coming from below: motorcycles revving past, laughter dancing through the air, drums being hit. I could easily spend hours sitting on the cement railing listening to the sounds of the night.

I could hear chanting and drums coming from a distance. People from the street served as my alarm as they looked in the distance where I couldn’t see anything. A pack of five dogs ran away from the noise, all of them checking behind their shoulder to see if anyone was following.

A group of fifteen men came into my line of sight. They were holding a white banner with red Hindi words painted on it, which they raised with each chant they bellowed. One of the men was drumming along to the beat as his face brightened from the glow of the drum. I couldn’t understand any of the phrases but I felt their anger radiate up to me with each fist they pushed into the sky. They continued yelling for 20 minutes, with each person in the group taking turns saying a phrase. Some of them got more into it than the others as they danced along to the music.

They moved farther down the street and out of my vision towards the main road. I could still hear them yelling but then the noise suddenly stopped. The men started running past my hostel back towards where they come from, leaving the only sound coming from their sandals hitting the pavement. They each sprinted through people and motorcycles with people watching from around them. Everyone slowly began following them as they crept towards the men’s hostels down the road. It was as if everything had paused for a second, even the trees stopped their dancing to see what was happening.

One of my friends Crystal and I were already planning on hanging out with another student, so we walked down the flight of stairs and exited the gates that guarded our hostel. Our friend sat outside waiting for us.

“Do you know what’s going on? People have been running back and forth for half an hour now,” I said to him.

“You haven’t heard?” he said. “A student committed suicide. He hanged himself from the fan in his room. The police just found him 20 minutes ago.”

People ran past us as we stopped in the middle of the street, the fluorescent lights buzzing above us. I couldn’t find the words to speak, but our friend understood me as he simply nodded his head in an unspoken understanding, watching chaos unravel around us.

Thoughts raced through my head as I stood immobilized. What’s shocking to me is that this has been the third suicide at the University of Hyderabad in the past year, the second in the past 25 days when a girl jumped from a high-rise building. What’s even more shocking is that I’ve become numb to this.

When does this start becoming a problem that people want to take seriously? After the 6th suicide in a month? When you don’t feel any emotional response to someone taking their own life? This isn’t just something that is affecting the West. This is a global issue that I can’t understand how or why it has gotten to the point where we are at.

If this message affects anyone reading it, go tell someone that you appreciate them, that you are grateful they are here on earth.

 


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.

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