Journalist Emily Ford spent six weeks at the Deccan Herald in Bengaluru on an internship supported by the Asia New Zealand Foundation.
Cowering in the backseat of an Uber in the middle of a narrow Indian street, the explosions seemed to be coming from all directions.
It was the second night of Diwali celebrations in Bengaluru and what was supposed to be a 10-minute drive felt like a lifetime. Between bursts of light and thundering booms, I desperately hoped our car wouldn't get hit by an incoming firecracker being thrown into the street by children.
This was, my local friends reassured me, nowhere near as bad as places like Delhi. The smoke pollution from crackers in the capital was threatening its already poor air quality.
I'd been reading and writing about Diwali — the festival of lights — for two weeks, but nothing prepares you quite like experiencing it for the first time.
Which is exactly how I'd sum up India.
From braving street food to dodging rickshaws, motorbikes and cows to get across the road, I well and truly left my comfort zone behind in New Zealand.
It seemed the biggest challenge was not the threat of "Delhi belly" or the crazy traffic, but getting by with a Kiwi accent. I learned this the hard way in my first few weeks at the Deccan Herald, with a confused phone interviewee hanging up on me.
Determined, I continued to repeat myself, talk slowly, and adopt British vowel sounds in an effort to be understood.
My time at the paper opened my eyes to India in a lot of ways. A month before I arrived, the Supreme Court had overturned the criminalisation of homosexuality, but the effects of that would take some time to be felt. Many of my friends were welcoming of these progressive moves, but said conservative populations and older generations would not be.
The #MeToo movement reached India while i was there, with Bollywood stars, politicians, and media personalities bearing the brunt of accusations. It provided a lot of discussion but also drew criticism as men were apparently being falsely accused, leading people to doubt the validity of the movement.
In many ways, the Deccan Herald office felt like being in a New Zealand newsroom. There were constant deadlines to meet, the place was buzzing with people, and news rolled on TV screens. But it was also very different, with reporters working longer, later hours for six days a week.
Print media is still strong in India, and while there seemed to be a gradual acceptance of online and video content, the paper was the main focus.
I was based in the paper's Metrolife team, tasked with writing about arts and culture. This involved stories about Comic Con, art exhibitions, food reviews, and plenty of music events. One such highlight was spending a day in the photographer's pit at an outdoor music festival featuring Indian and international artists.
My foreigner status was put to good use on a first-person piece about monuments dedicated to Tipu Sultan, who ruled the Mysore Kingdom in the 1700s. This was an excellent way to tick off some of the tourist spots I had yet to visit in Bengaluru, and the piece made it to the front of the section.
My worlds collided in the final weeks of my internship when Kiwi comedian Guy Montgomery was in town for a comedy festival as part of an Australian contingent. There was nothing more comforting than picking up the phone to a familiar accent to chat all things India and comedy.
By the end of my time in India, I was sad to say goodbye. Everyone I met was so welcoming, opening their homes and cooking me proper Indian food and gifting me souvenirs and tea.
With a full spirit (and an even fuller backpack), I boarded a plane home knowing I will be heading back to India as soon as I can.
- Asia Media Centre