Priscilla Jebaraj

Kolkata is the next stop for the students on their whirlwind 10-day tour of India

“You have the same kind of traffic jams…Here, everyone can talk freely about politics…”

CHENNAI: So similar and yet so different from home. That was the verdict of the 50 college students from ASEAN nations visiting Chennai.

“The art, the culture, so much of it is like ours. Only the language is different,” says Asti, an art and design student from Indonesia. “I’ve never seen slums before. At home, the Sultan takes care of us,” says Atiqah, a student from Brunei, pointing out the differences.

“You have the same kind of traffic jams,” laughs Francis, who is studying International Relations in the Philippines. “It’s so much like home, the songs, the movies, hearing Tamil all around you,” says Abbilasya Varatharaju, a psychology student. Though she hails from Malaysia, and has never been to India in her life, her father’s ancestors came from the Thanjavur region, and she has read Tamil newspapers and lived in a Tamil culture all her life.

In fact, many of the Malaysian students on the trip are of Indian origin and several of those from other countries, especially Singapore and Indonesia, have been exposed to Indian culture as well. They are excited about spotting familiar sights and sounds, especially when told that the ancient Tamils travelled widely in South East Asia. “The Indian media should write more about us, people of Indian origin,” says Nagarajan, who is studying Electronics and Communication in Malaysia and still has relatives in Tamil Nadu.

The Hindu Editor N. Ravi addressed the students on the Indian media scenario on Wednesday evening at an event organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry, which is organising the trip, backed by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs. Indian and the Indian media have finally started to focus on Eastern Asia, realising the common strands in our relationship, Mr. Ravi said.

Freedom of expression

In fact, the freedom of expression allowed to the Indian media was one of the biggest differences spotted by many of the students. “Here, everyone can talk freely about politics. No one seems to be careful about what they say or write. And you take it for granted,” says Jamie, a sociology student from Singapore, who explains that all newspapers come under the control of the government in her country.

“I have heard that many Indians want to model their development on Singapore, but I do not think that it will work for your system of democracy,” she says.

“Since the Malaysian newspapers are all censored by the government, everyone goes for e-media nowadays,” says Malaysian student Dipesh Sanghvi. “Bloggers may be more read than journalists,” adds Prevrnavan, a journalism student from Malaysia.

Kolkata is the next stop for the students on their whirlwind 10-day tour of India. “We hope that they all become unofficial ambassadors for us in the ASEAN region,” says T.T. Ashok, chairman of CII’s International Business Promotion and Networking Task Force.