Sometime in early 2012, during the final months of my graduation at Jamia Millia Islamia, an eight-month-long scholarship to learn the Turkish language in Turkey came to my notice on one of the bulletin boards at my department — the Department of Commerce and Business Studies. The scholarship was offered by the Indo-Turkish Business Association (ITBA) based in New Delhi.
As my classmates and I were about to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in commerce, courses like MBA, CA, M.Com etc. were among the list of favorite courses most of us were planning to pursue once we completed our B.Com; whereas learning a foreign language was perhaps not on anyone’s list; not even mine. But eventually, some of us did apply for it, although, we all had some reservations on the benefits of learning the Turkish language.
For me, however, it was a chance to boost my passion in journalism and provide my CV with a professional leverage. Ever since the second year of my studies in the department of commerce, I discovered a keen interest in the field of journalism and started writing articles on various issues. Due to a myriad of reasons, over the years, I developed a keen interest in the politics of the Middle East. Therefore, learning a language of this region was of great importance to me.
The selection to the scholarship included two anticipated steps. First, we had to supply a Statement of Purpose (SOP), and second, an interview was to be conducted based on the reasons we mentioned in the SOP for learning the Turkish language.
At the end of it, three students from my department were selected for the scholarship; however, nobody except me availed it.
This, however, does not mean I was the only one who availed the scholarship from Jamia. I’m not certain on the exact number, but besides myself, we have here students from AJK MCRC, Department of Teacher Training & Non-Formal Education, Department of Turkish, Department of Arabic, and Department of Islamic Studies.
Getting Ready for Turkey:
Though I got selected to go to Turkey, I, interestingly enough, did not have a passport ready even till the date of selection. As soon as I got to know about my selection for the Turkish program, I applied for it under the Tatkal scheme. Under this scheme one is supposed to receive his passport within one week of application. I applied through this scheme because I was required to submit the passport within a few days of my selection. But due to some unfurnished reasons, the passport office took around three months in issuing a passport to me. I was almost convinced that this delay will cause me to miss my opportunity to go to Turkey. But that did not happen. It was my fate, so here I am in the Eurasian republic — Turkey.
Flying to Turkey:
The journey started on October 10, 2012 from the Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi via Sharjah, U.A.E. to the Sabiha Gokcen International Airport, Istanbul. It is worth mentioning here with pride that the two-year-old Terminal 3 of the IGI airport is indeed a swanky-looking airport terminal with world class facilities. Even the airports in Sharjah and Istanbul, which I visited, cannot match T3 of IGI airport.
With me on the airplane there were four more students heading for the same destination, and for the same purpose. There were two students from Jamia Millia Islamia,: Syed Asadullah, Department of Islamic Studies; and Shahbaz Ahmad, Department of Teacher Training and Non-Formal Education. While the students from Jawaharlal Nehru University were: Imran Ashraf, Center for Persian and Central Asian Studies; and Md Rameez Raza, Center for Russian Studies.
When we reached Istanbul, we had to take a bus to travel to our final destination — the city of Konya.
The distance from Istanbul to Konya is about 500 kms, which takes approximately eight hours. The distance covered and the duration of journey is enough for one to have a glimpse of the landscape, people, and infrastructure of the country. Given the fact Turkey does not have a vast geographical area like India, I got a very good idea of the entire country on my bus trip to Konya.
The natural beauty of this country is simply amazing. And they have a commendable infrastructure, which makes it even more beautiful.
In Turkey the comfort level while travelling on a bus is not less than the comfort level one would get while travelling on a cruise ship or an airplane. The roadways are the lifeline of transportation in this country; they are so finely constructed that it gives you a feeling of sailing on an ocean, or flying through the sky. Generally the roads have eight lanes, if not more on some routes. Noting the fact that Turkey is a mountainous country, bridges and tunnels are a common sight on every route. The most impressive part is that even on bridges and under long running tunnels, the roads are wide enough for the smooth running of traffic.
Moreover, I did not come across any significant disparity in quality of roads in any city or region in this country; be it a street in the capital city, or a street in a small town in the interior, they are all the same.
Another testament to the good quality of their roads is that, during my several trips by bus to different cities in Turkey, I never felt tired or exhausted at the end of my journey. In fact, the bus trip between two cities is an opportunity to witness an ever exciting country-side of this wonderful country.
Apart from the impressive roadways of this country, public transport on the road is also amazing. Most of the public buses are Mercedes buses. Possibly because the bus transport is the most important means of transportation in this country. Its services and prices of tickets are regulated by the government, and they seem to be efficiently managing it.
A Note on the City of Konya:
Konya is a city in the Central Anatolian Region of Turkey. This city is famous worldwide because it is home to the shrine of Hazrat Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi. Rumi was a Persian poet, theologian and Sufi mystic in the 13th century. The city drew even more international attention in the year 2007 when UNESCO declared that year to be “International Rumi Year.” The city is often referred to as “Rumi’s Garden.”
Life in Turkey:
Turkey is certainly not a place for Indians to settle down easily. A vast difference in overall culture, including language and food habits exists between the two countries.
I remember my early days when it was almost impossible for me to communicate with the people around me. I was surprised to observe that very few people in Turkey can speak English. So I was left with just two options: either I continue to communicate with hand gestures like a mute, or to learn the Turkish language as soon as possible.
Secondly, the difference in food habits between Turkey and India is also huge. Our love for spicy and deep fried dishes are in stark contrast to the spice-less, lightly salted, and sometimes simply boiled food people eat in this country. For me, food was one of the most difficult aspects of Turkish culture to cope with, as I have always been a great lover of spicy Mughlai dishes.
Sometimes in our hostel, we are served boiled fish that has a thin layer of spices with few raw leaves of an unknown plant. I never dared to taste those leaves but each time due to no other available option, I had to eat, what I consider to be, uncooked fish. This dish is just one example of the kind of food we get to eat here.
It is not a matter of choice in Turkey to speak the Turkish language and eat bland food; it is rather a necessity. You just have to because there is no way around it. This necessity, however, proved to be very helpful in learning the language, which was the reason I was there in the first place. Now, after the passage of only five months since my arrival in October, I can communicate almost everything in Turkish, that said, I still have a long way to go, and much is yet to be learned.
Interestingly, the university I am admitted to is named after Hazrat Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi. It is called Mevlana (Rumi) University. This is a private university, founded by an organization called Gevhar Sultan Education, Research, Culture and Health Foundation, in the year 2010. The university has a lavishly constructed multi-storied building, installed with all the modern teaching equipments you can hope for. It is the most expensive university is Konya, and in fact, is counted among the most expensive universities in all of Turkey. [Watch a 7-minute video on Youtube introducing Mevlana University here]
When I go for my classes here at Mevlana, I sometimes feel as if I have been admitted to high school again. For the first four days of the week, Monday to Thursday, we have twenty-two hours of mandatory classes, plus, about three hours of optional classes on Fridays. Therefore, we usually have at least five hours of classes continuously for four days. I spend the rest of the day reading, writing and hanging out with my friends. I would like to mention here, that as it has always been in my life, I have made a very good number of friends here in Turkey also. During the weekends I usually go to the city center or sometimes travel to a new city with some of my friends.
As far as my teachers are concerned, I believe the teachers in my department are one of the most honest, talented, and wonderful human beings I have ever come across in my life. Their enthusiasm and dedication to teaching sometimes amazes me. They certainly deserve a great level of respect and honor from us.
In my batch, there are students from more than 10 countries, from at least three continents; namely, Asia, Europe and Africa. It’s a very diverse batch of students. I see students in traditional African clothes, typical Arab-looking class-mates, one from Albania (a small country in the southeastern Europe), teachers from Turkmenistan, Syrians who are victims of the ongoing civil-war in Syria etc. are some of the unique features of this batch. This level of diversity is one of the most amazing things I have ever witnessed in my life.
I have always had a wish to reside in a hostel for at least once in my life as a student. This wish, however, was not fulfilled in India, but here in Turkey. I live in a hostel with many native, as well as international students. The hostel I live in is called Mehmet Ali Shengul Hostel. We (Indians) have been provided by six four-seated rooms, as the number of students from India is twenty four.
Perhaps the goodness of my teachers and excitement of meeting and knowing people from so many countries, reflecting various cultures made it easy for me to adjust on this vastly diverse foreign land.
Thoughts on Turkey:
My keen interest in traveling around and learning the culture and the language of this country took me to four different major cities in Turkey, apart from Konya. The cities I visited, which are not incidental to our scholarship program, are Istanbul, Ankara, Kutahya and Tavshanli. It is one of the maximum numbers of cities anyone has visited till now in our batch of 24 students from India. Apart from this I have visited few villages neighboring Konya.
An irrefutable fact about the Turks is that they are a very hospitable and friendly people. This is one of the very first impressions anyone will have about them.
One of the most touching memories in this regard is the one when I travelled to a nearby twin city called Kutahya and Tavshanli. I was accompanied by my friend Zubair from Pakistan. Though I was a total stranger in the city, Zubair knew some people there. We reached the city at midnight. The temperature was much below freezing. Even then, the person we were visiting sent one of his friends on his behalf to pick us up from the train station. He took us to his place, provided a well-furnished heated room and some food to eat. We rested there till next morning, visited some sites, and then moved for our next destination, which was Tavshanli.
For the next three days, we received the highest levels of hospitality one can expect. We stayed in their homes for the entire period we spent in Tavshanli. They planned our schedule for the next three days and took us to many tourist attractions in town; even paid for the expenses we incurred. They took us to their respective homes and introduced us to their friends and relatives. They arranged for our meals and did everything else to make us feel comfortable. The return train tickets to Konya were also arranged by them, and we were not allowed to pay even for that. They dedicated their entire time for those three days in hosting us, which is the most important thing anyone can offer these days. That trip is indeed one of the sweetest memories I have till now of Turkey.
Turks Love their Language:
As I mentioned earlier, English is an alien language for the Turks. In contrast to us Indians, their love for their native language is seriously deep. We do not have the same level of love for our own native languages in India. In Turkey, the medium of education is almost entirely in Turkish. They are not fascinated by the English language as much as we Indians are. Though the reason for it could possibly be that we were an English colony for so many years, whereas Turkey was never a colony of any foreign power.
Albeit, in a changing scenario and in an ever growing demand for the English language around the world, including Turkey, establishments of English preparatory schools, and more focused English classes in primary schools are now given importance in this country also.
Founding of an Association:
Among all the things I’ve gained and achieved in my almost five months of stay in this country, there is one thing I am particularly proud of, which I would like to share here.
Like any other country in the world, Turkey is also home to a large immigrant Indian population; the same goes for Pakistanis in this regard. In just this city, Konya, there are 36 students from India, and approximately 25 students from Pakistan. So, in my effort to build better people-to-people contact among these two countries, I thought of establishing an India-Pakistan solidarity student association. With this aim in mind, and under the guidance of Dr. Şadi Aydın (one of the senior most faculty members of Mevlana University), I founded a friendly association for all the students in Turkey, from India and Pakistan. We named it, “The Turkish Association for Indo-Pak Solidarity.”
Under the banner of this association, we aim to get in touch with each and every student from India and Pakistan living in Turkey. And we will do this by organizing different cultural, academic and sports related activities in various universities across Turkey. The basic purpose of establishing an organization like this is to create an environment of friendship and brotherhood among the students from India and Pakistan in Turkey.
On February 21, 2013 the association was inaugurated in my university and all the students from these two countries in Konya were invited to the event. We had a brief introductory session followed by a dinner party. The event was a great success.
Plans for the Future:
It is interesting to mention here, that after completing my graduation in Jamia Millia Islamia last year, this Turksih scholarship program was the third item on my list of priorities. But for reasons I do not wish to go into, I was unable to avail the first two, so having nothing else to pursue, I decided not to miss this one either. And looking back, I am glad that I did not dismiss it, and went for it.
“Instead of resisting to changes, surrender. Let life be with you, not against you. If you think my life will be upside down, don’t worry. How do you know down is not better than upside?”
These words of Shams Tebrizi, the spiritual master of Hazrat Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi, work as the most consoling words for me.
In a hope that my stay in Turkey will be blessed with more success than the first two options of mine, I have decided not to avail those two options this year either. The Turkish scholarship program is scheduled to end this May but there are some good opportunities on offer which can prolong my stay longer than I had planned for when I left Delhi for Turkey. Irrespective of what I plan to do in the future, what is for certain is that my decision to come to Turkey was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life. It is an experience I will never forget.
[Mohammad Behzad Fatmi (Class of 2012) is a former staff writer for Jamia Journal, and a 2012 Bachelor of Commerce graduate. He can be reached via email at: behzad.fatmi[at]gmail.com]