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.