A Unique Experience for Both

I was already five minutes late to the class as I ran up three flights of stairs, pushing past groups of men huddled in silent circles. The timetable for the courses offered failed to mention which room number any of the classes were in, so I was forced to run into every room and ask what course was being held. After four times of repeating my question, there was a 60% chance that they would be able to understand what I was saying through my accent. More often than not, I blindly sat down next to whoever was there and hoped it wasn’t a Telugu or Hindi course.

A man stood outside of the door to a lecture hall that seemed to be in the right location of my political science course. He was wiping the sweat from his forehead and armpits, but with every movement of his arm, more seemed to slide down.

“Western Political Thought?” I asked him as I pointed towards the classroom. He creased his eyebrows together and tilted his head, so I repeated the question two more times. He then nodded, making a grunting sound that seemed like it meant yes.

The blue paint on the classroom walls was chipping away, probably from the moisture which came through the open windows. There was no AC in any of the classrooms, only three fans pushing the warm air and flies around the room.

As I paused in the doorway trying to decide which seat to choose, I felt eyes scan up and down my body. Most of the seats in the classroom were filled by men. Seven or eight women all sat together in the first row. The room seemed to quiet as I maneuvered through the rows of seats and waited patiently for the men to wake up from their day-dreaming to take their feet off the chairs in front of them.

Immediately after finding a seat on the far left side, everyone else in the class abruptly stood up, their chairs screeching on the blue tile floor. They looked down at me struggling to rearrange my backpack so that I could stand up as well, the last one to rise. A man in a light-blue kurta and white linen pants walked down the center aisle between the desks of students, walking at a slow enough pace that you knew he enjoyed this moment. Motioning with his right hand, the class simultaneously sat down in their seats in silence.

The professor turned on the microphone that was on the podium and greeted the class. He gave an overview of what the course would look like, what students should expect, and who should be in this graduate level course.

“Before I go into too much detail of what the course will be like, I want to warn you about what many of you will face when studying this material,” he said. All of the students perched on the edge of their seats, ready for whatever hint of stress they may experience.

“You are all going to be extremely confused when reading the course material. As native Indians, you likely have no understanding or background to Western philosophies,” he said to the entire class. He then turned and faced me. “In India, we have the caste system. In America, they have Democratic thinking or individual liberty. We are all reading material written in something other than our mother tongue, so do not feel stupid when you don’t understand it.”

I looked around at the rest of the class and saw them nodding their heads at the professor’s words. A couple of students looked back at me. I could see the questions running through their minds, wondering why I was taking a course about the West’s philosophies.

The professor paused as he gauged the students’ reaction to his words. “Prepare to be confused, attracted, and perplexed in this class. This will be a new experience for most of you sitting here.”

I realized then that this would be just as much of a learning experience for the native students as it would for me. In all my classes at the University of Denver, I was taught by professors who were from the West and were expecting their students to have a baseline understanding of western politics. By taking this course in Hyderabad, I would be able to see an Indian understanding of Western philosophies and also experience the student’s opinion of it.

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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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Separate Entrances

The people’s voices around me were silenced for a moment as thunder rumbled in the distance. The sky was getting progressively darker and angrier since the group rode the electric bus to the entrance of the Taj Mahal. Wind billowed past me and made my brown Ali Baba pants expand even more. The animals around me felt the moisture in the air; birds flew to the west, monkeys hopped to the safety of the trees. It felt as though hands were touching my shoulders and hair, voices whispering in my ear. Expecting other people around me to be affected by the weather, I turned to scan their faces. The three other girls and two boys were entranced by the tour guides words, which he had already performed for the third time today.

Behind them stood three Indian women in saris that were purple, green, and yellow. They stood motionless watching my group for what seemed like hours, not even slightly embarrassed if one of us glanced over at them. Their eyes were narrowed as they eavesdropped on our conversation by standing only five feet away. It seemed to be a look of curiosity rather than anger, only hoping to see a foreigner in the flesh.

As I looked to the right of the women, I realized that none of the people around me were even looking at the Taj Mahal. They either stared at the screen in front of them as they took hundreds of pictures of their loved ones or were facing the opposite direction smiling at the camera.

“This is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my life,” one of the classmates Katie said to me. “I’ve never been happier than this moment, right now. Like, I just want to stay here forever.”

I nodded in agreement and smiled at her. Yet underneath the beauty of the Taj Mahal, I felt an energy creeping towards me, as if it lived in the palace and waited for one of its guests to recognize it. I shook it off as I remembered that this was a magical place that is often referred to as the “monument of love”.

The tour guide walked a couple of feet in front of the group and would glance back regularly to make sure we were close behind. He led us towards the base of the Taj Mahal where there were two different entrances with guards pointing people towards each one. The guide motioned for us to follow him towards the left through a small opening in the gate and marble wall. We snaked around the walkway and followed the rest of the tourists up towards the entrance, where we would be able to see the tombs of Shah Jahan and Mumtaj Mahal.

When we got to the top of the walkway, I heard repeated whistles coming from below me. The guards were yelling at the native Indians when they tried to come through the same way as the tourists did. With a sweep of their hand, the guards pushed the natives aside and told them to go to the right, where there was no walkway, but only a longer distance for them to walk. More stairs to climb, while I was able to walk up a flat surface. They were forced to leave their shoes unattended at the base, while I was able to slip a cover over my shoes.

At the entrance, the tourists and natives intersected in the middle, facing a collision of cultures and bodies, leaving everyone wide eyed. An elderly woman in a wheelchair was lifted up all fifteen steps by her family so that she would be able to see this magnificent creation. No one moved aside for her, though, while I, on the other hand, was funneled front row and given the best view of everyone else.

The inside was lit up only by the small slivers of light coming through the honeycomb holes in the marble. The wind followed me through as I walked, gently pushing me from behind to quicken my pace. The other members of my group were far behind me as I exited the building. The rain finally decided to make an appearance as it ran down the marble walls and puddled at the base. People stood on the back portion that looked out at the Holy River which spooned the Taj Mahal, watching each other in an eerie silence.

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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.