The interns exchange notes and (below) Jali from China shows off her mehndi. (Arnab Mondal)
They loved the saris, the jhumkas, the mehndi, the colours of Calcutta and, of course, its people.
They were taken aback by the crowds, the traffic, the pollution and the noise, even at night.
University students from 15 countries, in Calcutta as part of an AISEC global internship programme, explored the city when they were not interacting with students of city schools, learning Bollywood jhatkas and matkas and folk dances from Lavani to Bihu or teaching them their own folk dances and songs.
Ruam Marcos de Souza of Brazil stood in a corner of the Millennium auditorium at La Martiniere for Girls, swaying to the beats of the Subha Hone Na De from the Desi Boyz. “I’m hearing this song for the first time and just loving it,” he said.
Bollywood music has been one of the greatest discoveries of the visiting students. From attending a dance workshop conducted by La Martiniere girls to breaking into a jig with Ji Karda and O Soniye, Bollywoood helped cement the bond between the guests and their hosts.
Besides visiting schools as part of a three-week-long cultural exchange that culminated in the Global Village programme, the visiting students took time out to explore the city and beyond.
If some loved shopping at New Market, others were captivated by the Ganga. From phuchkas, samosas and sweets to dal, roti and paneer, the foreign students tasted an array of Indian food and loved most of it.
Eva Janssen from The Netherlands showed off a green bracelet that she had bought from New Market, while Jo and Jali from China went gaga over the jhumkas and Lorena from Brazil couldn’t stop admiring the blue sari she had picked up.
The shopping trips proved to be no less than an adventure for the girls — Alice recounted how she was almost pulled into every shop.
South City Mall turned out to be another preferred shopping destination and some of the girls were spotted wearing kurtis they had picked up from there along with brightly coloured bags. “Calcutta is one of the most colourful places I have seen. You will find all the colours together in a dress, something missing in Ukraine,” said Anna, who also loved the river flowing through the city and planned to go back to the riverbank with her friend Helen.
Some of the interns also visited the Dakshineswar temple and Belur Math and Lorena and Marcos Brazil, Jo, Jali and Annie from China were seen sporting the sacred red thread around their wrists. Jali even had her hands decorated with mehndi by a La Martiniere girl.
From religion and culture to history — Victoria Memorial had Daniela from Portugal impressed. “I loved the Victoria Memorial a lot. It was so romantic,” she said.
If the warmth of the city’s people touched a chord with everyone, Vandhana, a Delhi-born Canadian, appreciated how “people go out of their way to help”, inviting a smirk from Helena: “I guess that’s the reason why punctuality is a big problem.”
Asked to point out one difference from her country, Eva was quick to mention traffic, pollution and noise. “Calcutta is a lot more crowded than The Netherlands,” she said as Alice from Portugal added: “The streets are full of people and busy even at night.”