From Canada to Israel and from the West Indies to South Africa, 30 youths culled from India's mammoth diaspora are in India to acquaint themselves with Indian culture and life.
Ashutosh Jha is a fresh computer science graduate from Trinity College under the University of Toronto. Riva Joseph has just completed her two-year compulsory stint in the Israel armed services. Varsha Gannes is in the final year of her graduation from the University of West Indies. And Mohit Narotam is an actuarial analyst working for Deloitte in South Africa.
They are all persons of Indian origins (PIOs). And they are among the 30 youths in India to take part in the Know India Programme (KIP), which will teach them a lot about Indian culture and life.
The programme is being organised by the ministry of overseas Indian affairs (MOIA) in coordination with the Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan (NYKS) and in partnership with the Kerala government.
This year, the participants will spend two weeks of the three-week programme in Kerala before returning to New Delhi to participate in the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, the annual conclave of the Indian diaspora, to be held from Jan 7 to 9.
Welcoming the participants at an official briefing here Tuesday, MOIA secretary Nirmal Singh urged them to go out and feel the real India - the country that most of them haven't seen but have only heard about.
"You are going to one of the most beautiful states, Kerala," Singh said.
"Go out, interact with the people there, keep notes and let us know whether your perception of India has changed."
The participants, who would be leaving for Kerala Thursday, are already an excited lot. For Mohit Narotam from Johannesburg, a first-timer in India, the experience has already been a mind boggling one in the very first four days he has spent in India.
"I spent the first day in much apprehension," Narotam told IANS when he landed in New Delhi.
"But the next day, I got rid of all apprehension and walked around Connaught Place, taking in the sights, the people, hooters of cars. It has been mind- boggling. I am just looking forward to the programme."
For Ashutosh Jha of Toronto, though, the programme is more of a means to build bridges between Canada and India. "I intend to look at opportunities for Canada in India in various fields. I also would like to act as a facilitator for Indians who want to go to Canada. I want to paint the true picture of India back in Canada," said Jha, who traces his roots to Bihar. For 20-year-old Varsha Gannes of Trinidad & Tobago, it is all about Indian culture.
"People back home have such different conceptions about India. I want to know the real India. After this programme, when I complete my graduation, I will come back to do a course in Odissi," said Gannes, who has been learning this form of classical dance since the age of five.
After a successful programme last year in Himachal Pradesh, this year the programme is being organised in Kerala.
The youths will get to stay in village homes, will visit places of tourist interest like Kanyakumari and Kovalam, visit newspaper houses and participate in a national youth integration camp being organised by NYKS.
Talking about last year's successful programme in Himachal Pradesh, NYKS executive director Yogendra Choudhury said that a global fraternity of friends was formed who are in touch with each other even today.
"A youth from Malaysia who participated in the last KIP told me hat when he went to places like South Africa and Britain, he always found a friend waiting for him there."
He urged the participants to bond well and keep networking even after the programme is over. This year, the programme is being organised in two batches. After this first batch completes the programme, a second batch of 30 diaspora youth will arrive in early January who will then be taken to Rajasthan.
The first batch has participants coming from South Africa, Kuwait, Britain, Israel, Canada, New Zealand, Mauritius, the US and Trinidad & Tobago.