The 32nd Indian Diaspora participants at 20th Know India Programme from 12 countries called on the Union Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs, Mr Vayalar Ravi, in New Delhi on May 3.

By K.G. Wickramasinghe

Though I am a Sri Lankan Tamil, having Indian roots and was brought up in a traditional Indian way, my impressions about India were not that great. We gather information from media, local and foreign, we watch Indian movies and we occasionally meet Indians mostly from Chennai. Our first impressions were that Indian cities are very unclean and unhygienic filled with lot of beggars and destitutes, Indian people are rude and waiting to cheat, especially autowalas, and Indian society is full of corruption, inefficiency and hypocrisy! That’s what meets the eye. But thanks to the ‘Know India Program’ organized by the Ministry of Indian Overseas Affairs, now I am a totally changed person with a new Vision of India which gives me a feeling of awe and respect for the country of my origin, my roots and I feel very proud to belong to such a wonderful cultural heritage which is ancient yet open to all modern ideas!

Since I was a shy person, very conservative and reserved, I was not very enthusiastic when my dad suggested this idea. I was very worried how I am going to manage with an unknown ‘gang’ from different parts of the world for three weeks with my limited language skills and limited exposure to the modern world. I even rebelled. But my father pushed me into the pool. Now I really thank my dad, otherwise I would have missed a glorious opportunity to mix with a wonderful bunch of youngsters, full of life, all keen and eager to explore and understand and to know the secrets of India! The organizers (ICE) also took extreme care to make us feel secure, comfortable, and at ease so that I never knew how the days have flown. Really those are unforgettable days!

In search of Secret India!
This is the first time I am flying to Delhi, the capital of India. Not exactly knowing what is in store for me for the next few weeks my heart was racing fast and I was feeling bit uneasy… When I got down at the Delhi Airport, I could not believe whether I was in India or elsewhere! The New Delhi airport was very impressive and in my opinion it has reached international standards in architecture and other facilities. My feeling was that I was in an European airport. I got the first glimpse of modern India and my thoughts about India started to change…

The first couple of days eminent speakers, the cream of intellectuals from renowned Indian institutes addressed us regarding governance in India, internal security and preparedness, Indian politics and environmental issues, Indian cinema and culture, Indian economy, resource conservation and management, and emerging investment opportunities. I could sit only in awe and admiration for both the speakers (who spoke so beautifully, effortlessly and without any air around them) and the spoken content. I was very impressed when one of the speakers said “India has got the greatest youth population in the world and therefore can become a super power when the potential of the Indian Youth can be harnessed and utilized properly”. At this point of time I remembered Poojya Gurudev Swami Chinmayananda’s famous statement “Youth are not useless, but used less! Youth are not careless, but cared less”. How true it is! How lucky is India!

The next few days we were taken to Aurobindo Ashram (in New Delhi), CCRT (Centre for Cultural resource and Training), Qutab minar, Delhi Museum, AIR (All India Radio), Doordarshan, ICCR (Indian Council for Cultural Relations), ICWA (Indian Council of World Affairs), Jamma Masjid, Red Fort and what not… How can I express in few words what all I learnt in few days! We were exposed to history, culture, heritage, music, dance, contemporary art, literature, craft and all fine things of glorious bharat! When one of my friend explained what Bharat means, I was amazed! Bha – light; rat – one who revels. Bharat means “one who revels in light (knowledge)”. Can there be a better word to express the identity of our forefathers? From my exposure to all of the above wonderful things of India, I really feel proud that I belong to such a great heritage of those who reveled in light!

Even though I enjoyed many things, I would like to mention few things which delighted me the most. I was taught how to make mud pots. Not only was it taught, later I myself was allowed to make ‘kutti kutti’ (small) pots. I cannot express how much I was thrilled and excited! I had not heard any sitar recital in my life. When I heard for the first time, I was very surprised to know how a simple musical instrument like Sitar in combination with tabla can export one to the realm of pure joy! And the lecture on Vedanta was simply outstanding. I recorded the whole thing…

“Having gone to India especially Delhi, if one misses the ‘one of the seven wonders of the world’, It is really Sin” – thus I have heard from my friends. But now I can tell you, it is really sin if one has not visited Taj Mahal. What a Beauty! It is more so because it is inspired by the most fascinating four letter word L O V E! The guide who accompanied us explained everything about the glorious monument to etch the experience deep in our memory.

The Goan experience…
‘Goa is the second biggest beach in India’, I was told. Having come from an island nation, I was not that excited about sunny beaches and the fun that accompanies it. We have seen enough down south in our own country. But the other delegates were really excited and everyone had gala time in Goa.
We were taken to a village in South Goa to get a feel of the Goan culture. We were truly touched by the kindness and the hospitality of the simple village folks. They received us with cute garlands made out of local flowers and the little girls entertained us with Goan dance. We visited their houses which reminded me of the line houses in our own upcountry and they hosted us to a sumptuous Goan feast. I was very surprised to find many Goan dishes to resemble Sri Lankan ones in taste and texture. Can you believe they still cook in mud pots!

There were interactions with the Governor, Assembly Speaker and the Chief Minister of Goa. They explained to us the very many facets of Indian society in General and Goan society in particular. They were talking to us about the higher education possibilities and the investment opportunities in India which was quite interesting and informative.

If we do not travel around and visit places, we would be talking only like the frog in the well. This I realized when we visited BITS Pilani. My God! What a huge campus and what sort of facilities! I was very impressed when I heard about the varied courses offered and the high academic standard maintained in such universities in India. It was really an eye opener. Now I will not crock joining with my Sri Lankan friends saying India is a backward country and Indian education is not par with the International ones…

Our visit to high tech industry in Verna Industrial estate only added to the sense of awe and admiration for India. It showed the growth of IT industry in India. Not only in IT, in Space Research, in medical treatment, in auto industry and in very many fields India is really booming! My visit to India taught me about the two dimensions of the Indian life and Indian development. On the one hand there is tremendous progress in the modernization of India and on the other hand, India is all out to preserve her cultural traditions and identity. It is Amazing!

In Old Goa, we visited an ancient church built by Portuguese, which is Asia’s largest. When I was there, I could not believe my ears, the father was giving his sermon in Tamil! How come? I was wonder struck. Later I learnt a group of Christians from Tirunelveli (South India) had come on a pilgrimage and this was a special program organized for them. With great joy I interacted with some of them and also joined them in prayers as I studied in a Christian school and was familiar with what they were singing. Later we visited Manguesh temple where Lord Siva was sporting a lovely moustache and beard! This is the first time in my life I am seeing Lord Siva this way and could not help hide my amusement. Earlier in Delhi, when we were taken to Jama Masjid, for the first time I am seeing a mosque. (As a girl never I was allowed inside a mosque). One experience which stands out in this Goan trip is the boating in the Mandovi river. It was so pleasant, so refreshing and so delightful that we forgot everything. It is true ‘when we are one with nature, when the mind is quiet and cheerful, real joy is experienced’.

Back to Delhi
Back in Delhi we visited ISKCON temple and Akshara Dham, had a nice ride in Delhi Metro, met the Governor of Delhi (who spoke beautifully) and the Chief Election Commissioner of India. We were supposed to meet the President of India. But due to her busy schedule it couldn’t happen. Even then we visited the President’s bungalow which was fabulous with so much of rare paintings and a unique statue of Buddha with thousand hands!! As I am from a Buddhist country I could not stop admiring the masterpiece which is most spectacular.

I am full with wonderful memories… I am a changed person with a new Vision of India… I am so touched by the love and affection, sincerity and nobility of all the brethren of Indian Diaspora from different parts of the world… And I have no words to thank the Indian Government and the High Commission of India in Sri Lanka who gave me this wonderful opportunity.

When I was explaining in detail my experiences in India with my spiritual teacher (Acharya), he asked me one pertinent question “Everything is o.k. What did you learn from all this?” I said “I learnt to be humble”. All the eminent speakers, top artists and great leaders whom we met were highly educated, very proficient and holding high posts, yet they were very simple, very down to earth and very cultured (no air around them). This one aspect touched my heart the most and I bow down to the Mother India. Jai Hind!

June 2012

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