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.

taj mahal2

taj mahal3

 


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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For My Mom

“Do you want to just park the car and walk in with me? I could use some help getting my boarding pass,” I asked my mom.

I saw her eyes reflected in the rearview mirror as she looked ahead at the traffic. There were red rims circling her eyes, yet I hadn’t seen her shed one tear. She shook her head no at me while staring ahead.

“It will probably just be faster if I drop you off and let Dad and Mary help you,” she said. “I don’t want to pay those damn charges just for a couple of minutes.”

I nodded in response to this and recognized her reluctance to express emotion. Our family rarely expressed emotion or love through affection, much less touch. We were raised British in that way; always keeping one degree of separation between another person.

She maneuvered through the drop-off area at the airport, pulling up at the United airline section. People’s eyes were alert as they scanned their surroundings to make sure they didn’t hit another car. My mother’s hand laid on the horn so that she was ready to warn anyone of invading her personal space.

She put the car in park as she finally found an open space. As the doors unlocked, I walked out to an eruption of noise around me. Horns were honking and people were crying as they said goodbye to their loved ones. I had been protected from this in the comfort of the car. The trunk opened and I went to grab my 75-liter backpack, but my mom stopped me, putting her soft hand on my arm. “Wait to grab that, Annie, so that I can say goodbye to you now.”

I looked into her blue eyes and for the first time understood the fear that she must be feeling. She was sending her 20-year-old daughter off to India for 5 months. She had done this herself when she left her home in England at 18 to pursue her nursing degree. She had said goodbye to her own mother with no idea of when they would see each other next. The years between her and I transcended time as we stood outside of Dulles airport, holding each other tightly.

As she hugged me goodbye, her hands gripped my back in a way that I had never felt before. She whispered in my ear a goodbye, causing me to feel the tears radiating from her and making my own arise. We separated simultaneously, realizing the moment was bound to end or pause, for the time being.

After flying from IAD to Toronto, I boarded the flight to Delhi. I was surprisingly calm as I showed them my visa and boarded the stuffy plane. I instantly fell asleep as soon as I got to my seat and slept until 6 am (ET). When I woke up, I decided to re-watch Greta Gerwig’s film Lady Bird. This turned out to be a horrible but beautiful idea, as I was sobbing by the end of the movie, reminiscing on when my sister Mary and I saw it in the third row of a San Diego movie theatre.

I also realized that the story of my mother and I mirrored Gerwig’s plot in the film. The protagonist, Lady Bird, and her mother are two women with strong, independent personalities, which causes most of their disputes. They constantly bicker and scream at each other, yet will be arguing about the same exact thing the entire time and not even realize it. By the end of the film (apologies for the spoiler alert), Lady Bird calls her mother crying after her first night in college and asks her if she ever felt this underlying sadness when driving around their hometown. It then cuts to both Lady Bird and her mother driving separately, and the audience is able to see how similar these two women are.

I apologize for that long synopsis of Lady Bird (which everyone should have seen by now), but I think it illustrates how real this relationship is with young women and their mothers. I have taken for granted my mother’s support and love, but as soon as I leave her, I realize that she has constantly been there for me, even when I thought dying my hair blue was a good idea.

The first night in India has been filled with loneliness, confusion, and fear, but just knowing that my mother did the same thing when she was my age makes everything easier. So thank you, Mom, for being the best role model I could have ever asked for. I love and miss you.


Anne Berset 

INDIA – IFSA: MENDOZA UNIVERSITIES PROGRAM, 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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