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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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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