Passage thru’ India

By Darshini Govindaraju

My practical training in India was more of a 10-week educational trip. Everyday, I learnt something new and everyday there was something to look forward to. I learnt so much about the Hindu culture, its history, legends and myth. 

It was during one of my visits to India that I met Sterling Holiday Resorts chief executive officer Steve Borgia, a friend of my mother's.  

I immediately took the opportunity to apply for an internship with his company and soon after, received news that I was offered a placement with the public relations department. 

DARSHINI: It was a soul-searching experience.

Equipped with a Lonely Planet travel guide, I headed to South India, not exactly sure of what I was in for. All my previous trips had been with my mother, and all we did was visit her old friends and went on shopping sprees. 

This time, it was different; I had to fend for myself, make my own friends, and work. 

As Sterling had 13 branches around India, I chose to conduct the internship at Mahabalipuram and Swamimalai. I was given the task of creating reading materials that would be of interest to guests of the resorts. 

Swamimalai was a very remote area, its main attraction being the 108 temples surrounding the village. Mahabalipuram, on the other hand, was rich with sculpture. 

To write about the various places of interest, I went around talking to the villagers, who were eager to share their stories with me. It came to a point where I had to pretend to be from India in order to get them to give me the real picture. If you're a foreigner, they leave all the juicy negative bits out. 

Apart from conducting these interviews which I managed to pull off, thanks to my decent command of the Tamil language, I also surfed the Internet and read a lot of books especially about the temples and sculptures.  

I could have taken the easy way out and downloaded pictures of the temples and sculptures from the Internet, but instead I took the opportunity to visit these places, experience the surroundings, and take my own pictures. These articles, about 47 in total, were not only for reading pleasure but also served as an informational feed. 

Apart from the articles, I was also responsible for creating dialogue scripts for both the front office and the food and beverage staff as a guide for them to communicate with the guests. 

To the people of India, their colleagues are like their second family. Nobody really goes home at 5.30pm and everybody looks out for each other.  

As a fan of Tamil movies, I was thrilled to experience things I watched on TV back in Malaysia. For example, the lifts to my office had grilles on them which you had to pull to open or close, and for lunch, we ate out of a Tiffin carrier.  

There was no McDonald’s or mee goreng where I was, although I later discovered a Malaysian restaurant and was overjoyed that they served the best roti canai ever.  

My daily attire was either Punjabi suits with shawls or saris with flowers on my head. It was not part of my job to wear the flowers but I was so touched by meeting the people there that I wanted to be like one of them. 

With 5,000 rupees a month for daily expenses, I was able to live rather comfortably.  

Accommodation was provided, food was free, and all my research work was paid for. I had paid for nothing but the air ticket to India which was RM1,500. 

Things were cheap too; a tailor-made pair of pants was made within a day for RM4. However, Campbell soup, imported from Malaysia costs RM6.50 a can.  

The weather was really hot. One night, it reached 48 degrees Celsius and I had to get up every two hours to pour water on the bed. Sleeping on the balcony didn't help either.  

During the course of my internship, I had also enrolled in a two-month summer course at a nearby dance studio, as I had always loved Indian dances. We had a performance the day before I left and I was presented with the Best Talent Award.  

The whole experience was enriching as I learnt a lot about my own religion and picked up a few survival skills, which included watching over my stuff after I discovered I had lost my RM1,200 digital camera. I also learnt never to carry too much money around as there are beggars and conmen everywhere.  

In India, men would offer women their seat in a bus. It was an amazing sight to behold. Almost every day there was a strike, either by the bank or the teachers or some other movement. 

I extended the compulsory eight-week internship which was from March 13 until June 3, 2003. I didn't want to return but I had to complete my final year here. Settling down in India is definitely one of my future plans. If anyone has the opportunity to do an internship overseas, my advice is to go ahead and try it out. The vast exposure and rich experience you gain is priceless.  

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