India – My home away from home

By POOJA GOUNDER Pooja Gounder is a Fijian student studying biotechnology in Durgapur, West Bengal in India Ni sa bula to all.      I’m Pooja Gounder, ICCR Fiji Scholar in Durgapur,
06 May 2012 11:08

Pooja Gounder (second from right) going out and about in India with college friends.


Pooja Gounder is a Fijian student studying biotechnology in Durgapur, West Bengal in India

Ni sa bula to all.     

I’m Pooja Gounder, ICCR Fiji Scholar in Durgapur, West Bengal. This is my first year here in India and I’m in the field of B.Sc. Biotechnology Hons.
Being awarded the ICCR scholarship was like a dream come true to me, and I’m forever grateful to the director of the Indian Council of Cultural Relations, Mr K. K Mishra for giving an opportunity to me to experience India and having faith in me.
Being the youngest, the decision was hard for my family to send me to India for three years but judging by my determination they backed me all the way.
I knew what was ahead of me as I will be away from my family for the next three years. Together with me were six other students from Fiji and Tuvalu. I was happy because although I may be thousands of miles away from home, I would still have a loving family.
After almost 18 hours of travelling, we arrived at the Kolkata Airport where we received our first impression of what West Bengal was going to be like.
Everyone around us seemed to be in a rush, determined not to waste a minute. The taxi drivers were bargaining fares, very competent, determined to go home with a handsome earning.
We were received by an official from ICCR Kolkata. The humid air did not bother me at all as I was too tired to notice anything.
After two days of the kind hospitality we left for our college, and with the help of a second year Fiji scholar, we made it possible.
I was not alone as I had a friend from Tuvalu, Akelita Pesega. Since I was not used to hostel life I was homesick and cried almost every night, but the encouraging words of my friend made me feel stronger.
College life here is the same as what we have in Fiji. There could never be any compromise made when it comes to education as everyone here is in on “a rat race” to give their best.
I did have problems in communication as Bengali; the native language was totally new to me. The faculty of our college was considerate with us and reverted to English for our understanding.
India with a population of 1.2 billion – and still counting – is a place of many beautiful festivals, each with a message for people in its own way.
I got to experience some religious festivals also, namely “Durga Puja” – also known as Navratri – which is also celebrated by the most Indians in Fiji as well.
The festivity lasts for almost a month and soon after that Deepawali – the festival of lights – follows.
These festivals are observed with great respect for God and offerings in forms of prayers, fasting, fruits, sweets and accessories are made.
The people of India are very much aware of their culture and traditions, and regardless of rich or financially disadvantaged, they get together to show their appreciation to their God.
Other aspects of the Indian culture involve the dressing of people; women are mostly expected to be in the traditional sari and there would be a few whom we’d find in modern-day wear.
Extended families are also very common with mostly the men of the house working.
Food has never been a problem for us because we have everything that we have at home. In fact there is a wide variety of food from vegetarian to non-vegetarian; also these foods are exceptionally cheap.
There are also many different sweets, so as far as food is concern we never miss home.
The livelihoods of people are mostly a challenge. The living status of the people here could either be rich to below poverty level.
A fact that made me wonder was that everybody here works hard for a living. There is no age limit to work; children who are barely 10 years old work in restaurants as waiters with just Rs20 for a week – this is less than a Fijian dollar.
So coming from the South Pacific really makes me feel fortunate because at home a piece of cassava and a pot of ‘rourou’ was enough for a meal compared to the thousands of people living on the streets of India who don’t have a single grain of rice on their plates. They mostly live on (untreated) water.
I haven’t had the time to travel to many exotic locations here in India, but the few places that I have been to have taught me a great deal.
This scholarship has given me the chance to be independent and also experience life outside Fiji.

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