A Day at St. Xavier’s

By: Mitchell Petit-Frere

How fitting it was that the morning we visited St. Xaveir’s College I wound up learning a valuable lesson.

It all started with a bus ride that took us up north to the town of Mapusa, where St. Xavier’s is located. Two minutes into the ride, I received a tap on my shoulder. It was a middle-aged woman informing me that I was sitting in a “ladies seat.” My face immediately flushed red, and I scurried out into the aisle so the woman could sit. As I adjusted my grip on the pole hanging overhead I peered down at my old seat’s new occupant. She was looking out of the window; and on that window was a worn out sign. It read “Ladies Seating.”

Moral of the story: always check for signs.

***

The bus ride into Mapusa took about 30 minutes, and once we arrived, we each travelled up to the college on a vespa. Our modes of transportation that morning were befitting because a large number of St. Xavier’s students get to and from school via motorbikes or bus.

As we made our way onto campus, I was surprised by the sense of familiarity that came over me. Even though we were in a country nearly 8,000 miles away from home — one that surprised us time and time again during our stay — there was a palpable feeling to St. Xavier’s that was reminiscent of walking through campus at St. John’s.

Nevertheless, as we were shown the campus by our student guides, there were obvious differences from the campus we call home in Queens compared to the one we were traversing. The most obvious being the quality of facilities. At one point I headed to the bathroom and right as I finished washing my hands, I realized that I couldn’t turn the water off. No mater how many times or how forcefully I twisted the handle, the water kept running. Eventually, the water started to flood over onto the floor. Just as I was about to guiltily leave, having no idea what to do, a student walked in. I said something along the lines of “I think it’s broken.” All he did was smile, and then proceeded to gently tug on the handle. The water instantly stopped.

I’ll never forget what he said next: “Stuff like that happens here a lot.”

However, regardless of faulty sink faucets and computer and science labs that aren’t quite as high tech as the ones we’re used to in the States, I soon realized that the passion for education at St Xavier’s far exceeded what I was used to at home.

Take for instance when we met the college’s principal, Dr. (Fr.) Walter B. de Sa, in his office. The first thing I noticed after I stepping foot into the space were the dozens upon dozens of trophies adorning the walls. Interestingly enough, the awards didn’t represent athletic accomplishments — as so many trophy displays do on American college campuses. They were representations of academic accomplishment.

We were privileged enough to see the academic prowess of the students first hand when we made our way to the Psychology department to meet up with a group of graduate students. They spent about an hour showing us various clinical tests usually administered to patients. The tests were a lot like brain teasers and it was hilarious watching the Goan students break into bouts of laughter as we weaved our way through each challenge.

But other than the simple joy of sharing each other’s company, it was obvious that the St. Xavier’s students were proud. Proud to be hosting us; proud that a group of students from America were so enamored with the happenings of a University in India’s smallest state.

And looking back, that visit to St. Xavier’s serves as one of my proudest moments from India. I was proud that the administration and students of the college awarded us the chance to visit, and see, first hand, how much education transcends geographic location.

The Harem Shade in the Red Fort of Agra

The ghost, it is supposed, come forth to the upper air.  Every door post is pitched to light the way for the earthly souls.  Near the gardens of the Taj Mahal stands the important 16th-century Mughal monument where the shadows of the wondering shades still linger.  The shadow bore witness to families, sacrifice, love, and its own departure.  Amidst all this, the arts within these walls were never forgotten.  The musical revels echo through the garden if you hold still long enough to hear. Nor the petting choir of song and dance in honor of their Sultan.

The chambers of the harem house the shade of the wonderer but never the change, the change of seasons that brought its state victory or defeat.  The blossoming of the marigolds hear the voice of the fragrant spring and whisper them along to all who will hear; when yellow clusters are flung on the lap of the earth; and the sweet smell of wine and lust become braided in the hair and the choirs chanting hymns to their king; the heart of the earthly become overflowed with merriment.

Always there for the abundant jollity the shade is never invited to share in the universal revel behind the sandstone walls.  The palace is alive with the bustle and fun of the harem as the conjuring’s and scent of wine fill up the hours.  The wondering shade looks to join the procession by the torch light, but never can.  In the darkness it remained, and now the concubines, royals, musicians and teachers now join the shade as the earthly souls once again wonder the halls and gardens while they can never join but only watch from the shadows.

 

Words by Keishla Gonzalez-Quiles

Photography by Oscar Diaz

Royalty and Poverty in The Golden Triangle

In New Delhi, Capital of India, we drove past impressive parliamentary buildings and the statues of many famed & decorated politicians from throughout India’s history.

We looked on with awe as we kept driving past green public areas; some parks, others mere strips of land dividing the road, but this instead illustrated generations of poverty that forced Indian families to live out in the open under the blue tarps of their humble shelter.

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In Agra, home of the Taj Mahal, we walked around the gardens surrounding one of the seven wonders of the world. A breathtaking testimony of love and power from a ruling kingdom destined to leave a mark on Earth.

We saw men pushing their wooden carts full of goods; sometimes produce or flowers, but at times heavier piles of wood or metal, through traffic in the winding roads of the city.

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In Jaipur, the Pink City, we marveled from our rooftop at the palace submerged in the lake as the sunrise rays peaked through the mountains. Inside Emer Fort, glass mirrors decorated the walls and ceilings of the rooms atop a mountain accessed by elephant.

After visiting the City Palace, we learned of a young prince adopted into the royal Maharaj family since there were women only left as direct descendants. Shortly after leaving, a young boy knocked on the windows of our van begging for a few rupees to eat his next meal.

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A land of extremes.

Within the Golden Triangle, as its famously dubbed (New Delhi, Agra, Jaipur), we played witness to illustrious wealth and power, among widespread poverty and disenfranchisement.

Luxury among the struggle of the everyday.

And I wonder, when will those at the bottom of the triangle enjoy India’s gold?

Blink.

Blue sky.
Foaming waves.
Wet hair across my face.

Stroke with the left.
Stroke with the right.

The flap flap of a bird above.
A distant tattooed hippy swimming.
Palm leaves swaying.

Floating blue eternity.
Sand approaching.
Footprint here and footprint there.

I blink.

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India and The Economics of Fog

India and The Economics of Fog

We looked up to see each others faces with confusion – it must be a joke, right?
Our flight had been cancelled.

It was only a short ride (about 3 hours) from New Delhi to Goa, but the decision was set. The reason? “Weather.”

Low visibility brought on by the heavy fog that filled Delhi’s gray sky.

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We noticed it when we first arrived and we were taken by surprise. It not only filled the sky, but it penetrated hallways of our hotels and noticeably itched our lungs.

But, fog?

Nay. This was smog. Pollution.
A man-made environmental dilemma.

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Grave enough to be affecting health, water, living conditions, I’m sure.

Impacting flight patterns for local travel or tourism was the least of the problem, as we soon found out.

Could it have been corporate greed and capitalist malice with blatant disregard for the environment? Perhaps the massive influx of India’s urban population? An industrialized chaos of cars, motor bikes and rickshaws?

Many elements to blame unfortunately, but it is the current and coming generations who will pay the heavy price of our action and inaction.

Crossing the Street

By: Mitchell Petit-Frere

When you think “adrenaline rush,” what usually comes to mind is something along the lines of skydiving or bungee jumping — maybe even rollercoasters. But let me tell you, one of the most heart-wrenching things you can do as a tourist in India is cross the street.

You know in New York when you’re walking through Manhattan for the first time and can’t help but hesitate when the timer reaches single digit numbers? In India, there’s no time for hesitation. If you’re not proactive in deciding when you start your descent through a maze of cars, vans, trucks, bikes, tuk-tuks and other pedestrians, you’ll never get across the street. Oscar wryly likened the venture as “Real Life Frogger.”

The hardest part is taking your first step. There’s so many different opportunities that arise where you think you have enough room and time to beat the oncoming vehicle(s), but you more often than not get cold feet and tell yourself a better chance will come.

…it never comes.

So, in order to kickstart your trek across a [busy] road in India, you have to muster the courage to take that first step.

As the initial vehicle nears you, put your hand out toward it like you’re a makeshift traffic guard. That’ll slow it down [at least] a little bit — as well as the cars, trucks, etc. behind it — to give you some breathing room. But be prepared, you’re going to get intimate with the smaller vehicles as they breeze past you. I still consider it a miracle that I haven’t witnessed a single toe being run over since I’ve been here.

In many cases while crossing the street you’ll have time to take a small break at the road’s center divider. Don’t fall for the trap. If you let your guard down for even a few seconds, you’ll be stranded on an island where the water is pavement and the sea creatures are beeping metal beasts.

So, once you reach that middle divider, keep walking. But don’t abandon your freelance traffic guard alter ego. Remember when I said you might have to get intimate with smaller vehicles? Well, if you don’t put your hand up toward the tuk-tuk on a beeline to the general area you’re occupying, you’re going to get your first kiss. From there, you’ll probably break into a full blown sprint to safe land (ie: the sidewalk). However, there is a chance you’ll have to zig-zag through a few bikes, scooters and maybe a cow or two. But, rejoice! The hard part is over.

With that said, if you’re ever in India and looking for a good old fashioned adrenaline rush, please don’t ask your hotel concierge (or hostel front desk person, host family, etc.) where to sign up to go on a Well of Death ride. All you have to do is find a busy street and let Jesus take the wheel.

Godspeed.

 

 

Two Men Holding Hands

Walking down the streets of New Delhi.
Entering the Arabian Sea by the beaches of Goa.
Shopping in the markets of Jaipur.

I turn my head and my eyes do not deceive me: two men holding hands.

You see, in many cities around the world a transparent rope of masculinity and patriarchy ties us down. It strangles us into submission declaring pink feminine and blue masculine. It herds us into boxed fences of the gender binary, punishing those who dare to step out with lashes.

Unnatural. Immoral. Queer.

But, for some reason, the social constructs of gender and sexuality, the tightened grip around our wrists, allows two Indian men to hold each others hands.

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It is not a cultural marker that defines your sexuality. It is a measure of neither masculinity nor femininity.

Rather, a subtle expression of trust, a notion of friendship, a touch of humanity.

Seeing two men holding hands makes me long for our liberation from the patriarchy and gender binary.

Untie our masculinity. Untie our femininity. Free us from ourselves.

Let us be human.

Oh, India

By: Mitchell Petit-Frere

*This post was posted after we safely arrived in Goa earlier today.* 

It’s 11:02am and we’ve been waiting for about 2 hours at the airport to board our flight to Goa. But in true Indian fashion, the flight has been delayed another two hours. The worst part is that we were supposed to leave yesterday afternoon, but that flight was cancelled because of low visibility from excess smog.

After a very smooth first four days, I think our beginner’s luck has finally run out. For every ounce of wonder that India instills into you, it also inserts an equal amount of frustration. It’s safe to say that we were high on wonder during the first leg of our trip, but now that we’ve finally been dealt a few ounces of frustration , we’re entering into the realm of a truly authentic Indian experience.

It’s a bummer that we’re missing a significant portion of the Graduate Symposium that serves as the primary reason for this trip. And it’s downright sad that we — as Dr. Monteiro’s students — won’t experience a large chunk of the symposium he has worked so hard to prepare. But there’s no point in fretting. We’ve been dealt our cards and now it’s up to us to knuckle up and embrace the chaos that gives Delhi — and India as a whole — its distinct character.

Regardless, one way or another, we’re going to reach Goa and experience a region of India that is lauded for its natural beauty and meditative environment.

I liken the past 24 hours as being a novice driver in the streets of Delhi, stuck in standstill traffic, but not possessing the assertiveness to honk your horn and rage past the tut-tut in front of you. But when we finally step on that plane, it’ll feel like a euphoric and cathartic first honk.

But here’s one last laugh for the road: as we’re waiting to board the plane after the delay, Kristen pointed up to a banner that read: “World’s Number One Airport.”

Oh, India.

*We’ve only been in Goa for a few hours now, first impressions point toward it being an incredible place.” 

The Taj and me

By: Mitchell Petit-Frere

When you visit the Taj Mahal, your first glimpse of the structure is framed through an archway that you have to walk through in order to make your way into the complex where the tomb is located. I kid you not, as I caught my first glimpses of the Taj, I got goosebumps on my neck and shoulders.

On our drive to the Taj, our tour guide told us numerous times that pictures don’t do it justice. And he was absolutely right. I don’t think I’ve ever physically seen anything more awe-inspiring in my life. There’s not a better way to describe it than perfect. You can imagine my surprise, then, when I realized how [initially] underwhelming the interior of the Taj is.

For starters, it’s much smaller than what you expect after seeing the exterior. The reason being because you can only occupy an octagon of surface area located directly in the middle of the structure. Everything else is closed off and/or empty space.

Nevertheless, there was something mystical about being inside. It might have been because we went during the evening and it was very dark inside, which added a bit of spirituality to our trek around the interior. It might have also been because our tour guide used a flashlight app on his smartphone to illuminate the different carvings on the walls so we could clearly see what we were touching.

I remember of sense of awe coming over me as I glided my fingers across the marble carvings, trying to contemplate how such exquisite work was created some 400 years ago — not to mention how perfectly intake it has remained.

Alexa said something along the lines of “Can you believe we just touched something from the 17th century!?” And she was right. It was mind-boggling that we were connecting with a period in history that is almost impossible to conceptualize because of how long ago it was.

There’s not many famous monuments that fully live up to their respective hype. The Taj definitely does.

 

Overlooking Jaipur

Overlooking Jaipur

By: Alexa Chanelle

We spent two days nestled between the mountains in the pink city of Jaipur. A lively place filled with open markets, monuments and people who are always heading somewhere.

Our modern hotel had more activity than the others we stayed at prior. There were numerous families checking in and out with children that ran around the lobby carelessly. I, like the children, was excited to be there and wanted to run around the lobby with them. As a 6 foot tall adult I figured that wouldn’t be appropriate, so I showed my excitement through snapchats that failed to post.

My room, which was on the fourth floor, had a magnificent view. On my left I could see the summer palace that peeked out of the middle of the lake in which it was built, with a mountainous background. In front of the palace I saw artisans lining the boardwalk with their goods to sell. In the distance there was a fort on top of a mountain. So high the morning fog almost made it disappear. Parakeets flew in pairs, monkeys roamed about and dogs barked below me. To my right apartment buildings, possibly made of sandstone, were decoratively scattered about the mountainside.

I thought about how blessed I was to witness such beauty. I took many pictures of this view even though I knew my iPhone 5c wouldn’t do it justice. I’m not quite sure anything but the human eye could accurately capture what I saw and the feeling it gave me.

During our stay we visited Amer Fort. It was surrounded by a wall and as we entered its gates ancient architecture intermingled with 21st century patrons. We rode elephants to the top and upon arrival an extravagant palace was revealed to us.

Rooms made entirely of marble so intricately designed I couldn’t imagine how its creators envisioned such beauty within a marble slab. Colorful paintings, mirrored rooms and of course breathtaking views of the city.

Later we took a driving tour around Jaipur. We saw glorious government buildings, sports arenas and statues. Although I tried to pay attention to our guide as he recited the city’s history, it was diverted by the child beggars who tapped on our windows at every stop light. Little hands covered in dust and dirt didn’t cease their banging even when we tried to ignore it. Their voices asking for anything we can give. We all had the urge to reach into our pockets but each time our guide shooed them away. As I observed those around me anger filled my heart as people in cars taunted the kids with candy. Some eventually threw it on the ground for them to fetch… others closed their windows and gave nothing at all.

No matter how hard I tried I could not erase this experience from my mind. How can so few live so lavishly while their people live in dirt? This question haunts me for I am unable to answer it.

Each night we all gathered on the roof of our hotel for reflective conversation and a few drinks of course. Watching Jaipur sleep as its street lights twinkled like the stars above. Our dialogue drifted between deconstructing ideologies and humor. All the while reminiscing about the luxurious palaces we had the opportunity to see– as well as the profound poverty that was right outside of its gates.

As I gazed off into the distance, overlooking Jaipur, I thought how blessed I was to be here. As I continued to gaze I couldn’t help but think about those overlooked.