Letter from India

March 28, 2013

Dear Friends and Teachers at CNM,

Hope you are all doing super fine.

I have been in India since January, and have been well.  So much has happened since I started term here, and I am bursting to share my experiences with you. Please sit tight.  This is going be a loooong email.

Initially, it was frustrating. Really frustrating.


Firstly, getting access to the Internet.  College wifi is almost never on.  When it was, there was only access till 5pm.  So we got to get our own mobile Internet.  We do this via a thumb drive called a dongle.  Then again, the speed of the Internet depends on the strength of the signal that the thumb drive catches from airwaves. So you need to be in the right area. It’s almost like using a cellphone. If you are in a right place, you’ll get good signal.  I also needed to top-up the value in the SIM-card that resides in this dongle.  So when I run out of credit, it would be no access to the Internet for the day!


Secondly, I have to get used to the style of teaching here. I am with the second year Journalism class in Lady Shri Ram College for Women which is a college within University of Delhi.  They do a three-year honours course with a teaching style that is very different from NUS.  At NUS, we have lecture for two hours and tutorial for one to two hours. Here it is almost like the junior college system. I have 55 minutes of classes and most of the time, my day stretches from 10am to 4pm unless the teachers cancel class because they are not around and tell the class representatives to relay the message to us.


I take four classes here. The teachers teach usually by reading from a book or their laptops or screening a movie and then discussing it. The discussion for ‘International Media Scenario’ is always lively with everyone trying to get their word in. There are practical classes where in ‘Reporting and Editing for Broadcast Media’, I got to produce a radio documentary on ‘Cricket and Politics in India’ on my own. We also learnt how to shoot outdoors using professional cameras (the ones news camera crew use for broadcast) and made different types of shots, including close up, shift focus.  There is no randomness in the decisions behind each shot. Every shot has a message for the audience.


But there were also some less than pleasant classes. One such module is “Advertising & PR”.  Unfortunately, the students in this class are not learning much about public relations.  They don’t learn how to make a PR plan, how to write a media pitch or even a press release.  If they want to learn these, they would have to take their own initiative outside of classes to do this.  What students here are learning are the theories and the different advertisements in India over the decades. The teacher takes the syllabus, splits it up and assigns each student some parts of the syllabus as assignments.  Students have to find information about say, Types of Advertisments or Theories of Advertisements and produce the assignment. She doesn’t teach them much. Their approach is very exam-centric.  According to the teacher, her method of teaching was what it would take to help students pass an exam.  So really, I pity the students.  They know among themselves that this is not the way to learn about advertising and public relations.  For myself, I have definitely learnt more about Indian ads, some failings of MNCs when they advertise in India and such.


I have the same set of classmates in all four mods.  One of my favourite mods is Development Communication and Rural Journalism. It’s a really good class to take to understand the role of what I’ve been learning (Communications), in development. Lessons in this class cover criticisms of dominant paradigms of development and how development strategies always need to be needs-based and to keep in mind the people you are making policies for.  I wonder how feasible this is?  India is a big country and every state has different needs. It is impossible for ‘one policy fits all’ here, unlike in Singapore.


Unfortunately, I have nothing useful to tell you about their versions of Principles of Public Relations and Writing for Communication Management.  Instead, I have been sharing the faculty and students here about how NUS conducts these classes.  I hope they will go and find out more about how these modules can be taught and learnt.


Thirdly, I would like to share about how the safety of women in Delhi is handled in this college. I am staying in a hostel just beside the college. If I want to go out of college, I will need to write a day-slip and ask for my hostel warden to sign in. I have a curfew by 7.30pm. If I want a ‘Late Night’ I will have to write in my ‘Leave Book’.  That allows me to stay out by 9.30pm. I am allowed two late nights on a weekday per month. Weekends are allowed for ‘Late Nights’.  As you can see, the rules that they have put up for us can be very rigid if one views them from a Singaporean perspective.


It was only after the recent Holi celebrations, did I fully realise the consequence and the reasons for women’s safety in India. After all, the strict rules and lockdown indicate the extent of the ‘hooliganism’ that happens. I wonder why some men behave that way?  Do they think that they are having fun?


Over the past three months, I have heard conversations about Delhi Gang Rape case and followed the trials.  There are reports of the rape or of the woman fighting her attackers every day in the newspapers (I read The Indian Express). You can imagine the kind of fear this creates among some women. Rapes also happen to homeless women on the streets, or those who stay out late at night, or just happen to be unlucky. Earlier on, I have not been able to write about it because I have not encountered anything untoward. (Thank goodness, actually!).  Then, I didn’t think I fully understood the mindset of the young women here too.  Now I think I do, and am able to write something which I hope is of some value.


For the first few weeks that I was here, everyone would tell me not to go out on my own, not to stay out late, and to avoid crowded places at all times.  The fellow hostellites, who themselves are not from Delhi but from other states, see me as a foreign woman who is vulnerable, especially since I am unable to speak Hindi to the people around here. Even for them, Delhi is a dangerous place, unlike their own hometown. They advise me because they are trying to protect me.  But I am not used to it, and it feels very restrictive at times trapped in college.  Still, this is their country after all. They would know better, I think.


So I only go out and about only if my roommate is free to go out with me, or someone is taking me out. I go out alone only if I’ve been to the place before, so I know the directions. I would take the rickshaws if the place is near, and speak Hindi to the driver. I will ask how much before I board “Kitna bhaiya?” (How much, brother?) so that you won’t pay too much when you get off the rickshaw. It’s really not that bad when you’re on the streets. If you ask someone for directions, they will help. Sometimes, I think the threat is in the mind. I rarely take the public bus when I’m alone, though it’s the cheapest option (10-20 rupees no matter the distance, that is, like 50 cents in Singapore). There are too many routes and buses. There is a bus conductor and you need to tell him where you are going so that he can charge accordingly. During peak hours, I have seen from the outside that the bus will get so crowded that people will stand in someone else’s leg space when people are already sitting there. So, because of this, my friends would tell me not to take the bus too, because somebody might “rub you the wrong way”.


Once when I was walking to India Gate from the National Museum, alone, an auto-rickshaw (a motorised rickshaw) driver asked which tourist area I wanted to go to. I refused him many times saying I wanted to walk to India Gate since it’s not very far, but he  followed me on the vehicle. I lied to him that I had no money so that I could throw him off. But he was insistent and said he could give me a ride to India Gate, and then to Lodi Garden where he wanted me to visit a tourist shop. I would get a free ride and he would get one litre of petrol. It was a win-win situation. I agreed to take the ride to India Gate (less than 1km away from where I was standing). He said he would wait for 15 minutes to let me take a look at the place and after that I should come back. So I went around India Gate and clicked photos, but I took off after that. That was the nearest I came to “danger”.


India is a huge country.  The significance of being in an enormous country is something that one doesn’t really appreciate or think of, living in Singapore and knowing only Malaysia’s geography well enough.  It has diverse people, diverse terrains, diverse cultures. North and South are extremely different in terms of language and culture. So is east and west India.


Just last week, we celebrated Holi. It’s celebrated mostly in Northern India.  Generally one smothers coloured powders on the faces of one’s friends and family.  In Northern India, people throw water balloons too and at passer-bys.  In Singapore, I’ve seen my friends celebrate Holi whole-heartedly on the fields just outside Kembangan CC. But here in Delhi, the University put up a poster saying “No colours, no water guns, no hooliganism”.  Essentially, that is the same as saying, “No Holi”. The poster also said that there will be police patrolling outside the colleges, security will be up. The rationale for this is that Holi, even in Delhi University is one of the days where women are prone to sexual harassment and plain injuries.  People in cars wind down their windows and throw water balloons at passer-bys. According to my friends, that hurts. In co-ed colleges, the men might take the opportunity to smother powder on the usually untouchable zones of women’s bodies. It is ironic that in the capital of Mother India, such lengths have to be taken to make Holi safe for passer-bys; whereas in Singapore, Holi is celebrated out in the open, albeit, restricted areas. In the end, in the college, we managed to have one hour of fun chasing each other and messing each other’s hair with colours.

On the note of adventure, I’ve climbed up high enough to touch snow for the first time in my life.  I saw the Himalayan Mountain Range and rode a camel in the desert, twice. I took a streetwalk tour guided by a former street child.

At present, I am also doing a part-time internship with a start-up company, Skillhippo.com.  In my first week at work, I gave the staff a presentation on ‘Twitter for Business’.  Now, I handle their Twitter account.

When I think about home, I think about our food, my family and friends.  Boy, I do miss Singapore food, especially, Malay food. It helps that there are many Chinese restaurants here.  I patronise these when I get bored of eating Indian food.

And then there are my family and friends back home.  I appreciate Singapore and NUS so much more when I’m here. At the same time though, I’ve made many good friends with the locals and I will say that I will be very sad to leave them when the time comes. I deeply believe the friendship will run deep even when I am back home

That’s the end of one of the longest emails I have ever written, folks!  Thanks for reading this far.


I really look forward to being home again.


Nur Safiah Bte. Alias

Communications & New Media | University Scholars Programme

Exchange student at Lady Shri Ram College for Women since January 2013

After five hours, finally, me and my room mate (Joanne Chung, Yr 3, Sociology + USP) reached Triund Peaks, part of the Dhaoladar Range. It was too cloudy so we didn’t see the three distinct peaks. (This is the local name for Himalayas. Location: Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh.


Celebrating Holi in the Hostel Common Room


On a street walk led by former street child, Kailash (On the right in dark blue). He is about 19 years old now. He moved to Delhi from Bihar when he was eight years old, with his 12 year old brother because he wanted to go to school. In Bihar, school was too far away, so he helped with his family farm instead. He came directly to Salaam Balaak Trust (hyperlink: www.salaambaalaktrust.com) in Delhi where they help street children with lessons. Now, Kailash works for them, giving tours in English to tourists. Kailash is different from many street children. Many street children have to be convinced by social workers before they go into a drop-in centre.

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About Gulizar Haciyakupoglu

A PhD Candidate at Communications & New Media Programme, Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences
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