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Eye-opener visit corrects squinty vision

The contrast between our image of India gained through hearing and reading and first-hand experience is amusing and staggering.

I had heard horror stories that India is an unsafe destination for children but the desire to see our ancestral land remained immense and I convinced my cousin Shiva to apply with me for the 26th Know India Programme (KIP) organised by the Indian Government through the Indian High Commission in Wellington.

Understanding India

This initiative is a three-week orientation programme, conducted three times a year by the Overseas Indian Affairs Ministry in partnership with a State Government, for Diaspora Youth between the ages of 18-26.

It is designed to promote awareness of India’s development in economic growth, education and culture. The 26th KIP ran from December 23, 2013 to January 12, 2014. The partner state was Odisha.

There were 37 participants from 13 countries including Australia, Botswana, Canada, China, Fiji, Malaysia, Mauritius, New Zealand, Trinidad & Tobago, South Africa, Sri Lanka, UK and US. My group included four others, namely Akash Prakash, Maneet Kumar (Auckland), Shiva Mishra (Wellington) and Shweta Priyena Nand (Christchurch).

We prepared for the trip, full of apprehension, as a lot of advice, often contradictory, was given by people who care; but everybody has different opinions. The advice ranged from clothes to toilet paper.

As we stepped outside the airport, we could hear the infamous tooting and see the crazy Delhi traffic. Even at 11 pm, there was so much going on that all our tiredness from the 24-hour journey disappeared!

Genuine efforts

The ensuing 21 days were hectic. Each day we left the hotel early and returned late at night. At the Indian Institute of Public Administration we learnt about how the Indian government is working towards making the country a better place for its citizens. At the Centre for Cultural Resources and Training we were exposed to wonderful artistes from different fields such as arts, history, cinema, theatre, music and dance. We also had practical sessions in pottery, tie-dye, beading, rangoli and paper crafts.

As a part of KIP, we met officials from ministries, visited the beautiful Akshardham (Swaminarayan Temple) and market places around the Indian Capital.

We had an overnight trip to Agra, via Mathura, Vrindavan and Gokul where we had Darshan of Lord Krishna at His temples.

Odisha heritage

On New Year’s Eve, we flew to Bhubaneswar, the capital of Odisha. We boarded a colourful bus with blazing Bollywood music, which inspired some of us to dance. It had a very interesting and loud musical horn which startled us.

The visit to Odisha can never be forgotten. We visited several temples including Jagannath Puri and the famous Konark Sun Temple. We also visited ’Dandasahi,’ home to many ‘Pattachitra’ artists, took a boat ride on the Chilika Lake where we got to see dolphins, spent time at the zoo (with lions and tigers!) and took a camel ride at the beach.

We learnt about the diverse tribes in Odisha at the Regional Tribal Museum.

Diaspora meet

On return to Delhi, we attended the 12th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD), the annual conference for the Indian Diaspora, held at Vigyan Bhavan. There were several presentations and speeches by people of Indian origin from various parts of the world.

The cultural programmes held in the evening on all the three days of PBD comprised traditional dances from all over India but the ‘Orissi’ and ‘Chhau Dance’ of Odisha were fascinating. A performance by the ‘Siddi Tribe’ in Gujarat surprised us, because we had no idea that there were African tribes in India.

The rest of the trip flew by, with a visit to the cinema to see Dhoom 3, shopping at Nehru Place, Karol Bagh, Chandni Chowk and Lal Qil (Red Fort).

The worst part of KIP was saying Goodbye to the members of our new family as they left to their home countries. Shiva and I were last to leave the Athena Inn Hotel (which was our home in Delhi) with the knowledge that we can return to India with confidence, rather than fear and that we have 12 more countries to visit!

Ashmita Singh is a New Zealand born Indo-Fijian. She attended the Wellington Hindi School where she is now teaching as a volunteer. She was a part of a five-member group selected by the Wellington-based Indian High Commission to visit India recently under the annual ‘Know India Programme.’

The picture appearing here shows Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi with (from left) Shiva Mishra, Ashmita Singh, Maneet Kumar, Akash Prakash and Shweta Priyena Nand.

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