Aria was visiting her native land after many years, and she visited her high school after what seemed like ages. As she parked her car near her school, she stood looking at a pathway and saw herself once again. Distant. A faint silhouette slowly moving away.
Young Aria sitting on the back seat of her school teacher’s bicycle while he rode leisurely. This slow-moving bike journey along the short tree-lined path, took them from their school to All India Radio, the local radio-station that had recording studios within. Those days when private channels had not yet mushroomed, the government-run AIR was the only radio-station in her city.
School meant huge pressure to go for science and maths which Aria loved, but languages English and Hindi were also her favorite, and from time to time she accompanied Mr Kaul, her English teacher, to participate in radio programs. As she remembered now, Mr Kaul was a simple man, unpretentious yet with certain dignified manner. “Of course he had typical fine features that most people hailing from Indian Kashmir state happen to have”, something she never observed at younger age.
Cycling towards their radio program journey, how she used to sit still, clutching her teacher’s analog transistor set with one hand, while her other hand tried to save her school uniform skirt from ruin; for its pleats and gathers could get entangled in the spokes of cycle wheel. Such accidents had happened before esp. when she just learnt cycling. How these flowing skirts and Indian stoles (dupatta) had a habit of committing suicide by putting their head inside spinning tyres!
Aria smiled to herself as she stood recollecting trifle worries of those times that had no relevance in her life today. There was another anxious habit she developed during those days – chewing throat lozenges right before the recording sessions or, for that matter, any speech. The habit continued for a long time…it does till now, she realized as she walked down the verdant path while the whistling wind endorsed her thoughts.
And with that came the memory of her first radio program, the experience of facing microphone for the first time when this teacher-student pair had recorded their own part within the grammar lesson that was more of a casual conversation.
Aria was supposed to enact the role, rather be the voice of Heena, a student learning English grammar and vocabulary.
Heena asks “What is the pronunciation of …?”
Mr Kaul corrects her, “No Heena, it’s not pronounciation…it should sound like nun as in bun, and not noun as in gown”
“But we say pronounce differently, don’t we?” Heena, that is Aria, argues and then repeats the two words correctly.
There were other words like – envelope that sounds like onvelope, catastrophe as cat-ass-trefi, cliché as clishe (ˈkliːʃeɪ), garage, kilometer and many more.
For Aria, these lesson scripts served dual purpose. Teaching their listeners about correct meaning and phonetics of everyday words, she herself learnt many new words. This early fascination for crisp analysis of right pronunciation, stressing of correct syllables, discovering new words – became her second nature for all times to come.
Thinking now, as a grown up woman, she wondered how a demure girl like her who hardly ever spoke too loud, did quite well in front of microphone. Where did her shyness go? Probably that’s what a good teacher, a guru can make us do.
Indeed these radio programs had made thirteen-year-old Aria aware of the power of voice. That she could use it as and when she wanted. That voice can reach out to others through words. That words and voice together can do wonders. One can write words and then speak them out, or use words as written articles and poems. People listen. People read. People gain.
Years later, as she turned nineteen, this fascination with voice and word combination drove Aria back to her first paid employer, howsoever casual it was back then. She found herself walking down the same tree-lined path that culminated in the AIR gates.
The confidence gained during childhood must have radiated in her unhesitating attitude, otherwise how else could she have barged in and talked to the executing authorities there, she wondered now. It’s a different story that when multiple tests found her eligible for the role of newsreader, there was definitely a lot of learning to do.
“Indeed, radio seems like it’s all about microphone, voice, sound and technologies, but it is about knowledge, writing and words”, she deduced now. For as a newsreader it was about fetching news stories and press releases from newsrooms, translating them word-by-word, editing and then rushing to the studio for a ten-minute news bulletin. Later, as a general announcer, she prepared manuscripts of ‘Programs for the Day’. In another branch of AIR, preparing documentaries on women’s issues meant planning the program, doing library research for material on women, followed by writing and editing various passages before recording them.
What a learning experience it was, in such varied environments! So much hand written work, using her collection of reliable ball-point pens, although soon computers too came along though not yet used for programs.
She wondered if broadcasters at AIR still prepare news scripts by hand, and do they ever do manual word count? And do they still use black vinyl music records? “Highly improbable! It all must be computerized and digitalized nowadays”, she dismissed her primitive thoughts. Broadcasters are now referred to as RJs (Radio Jockeys), and this change she didn’t like. But if anytime she decides to work for AIR again, she’ll have to learn newer ways, quite like she did for the media work in her current adopted country.
Coming back to the present, Aria felt as if nothing had changed down that path, yet everything was different. For that matter, her native country seemed to have transformed like never before. And who knows where Mr Kaul would be right now! Probably not alive, or else an elderly man who has lost his voice – not only within the community but also within his own house.
It was getting dark. This time in life, Aria neither had nerve nor heart to enter the AIR premises boldly, like she did before. “Let it be some other time. When I’m in a better mood to meet strangers there”, she decided and turned back towards her car. Exhausted though she was after going down the memory lane, she had a flash of insight that provided some clarity of purpose.
“That was that! Years ago. It was all great the way my journey originated and the path moved on, with all the wayward curves and bridges. But now, written word…rather typed word is my favorite, for it’s the best voice in this Internet era. One day, our spoken voice will anyway get tired as we grow older…and we may feel too lazy or sick to go out for difficult work hours. But our writer’s voice can continue to work forever. From anywhere. Anytime. Till our end.”
~~~~ ~~~~ ~~~~ ~~~~ ~~~~ ~~~~
This story was based on my own experiences. Going back there to have a look and coming back without seeing anyone in there.
Except that I also did some radio broadcasting here where I live now, that is in Sydney. If I want I can continue it here. I can still do it in India as well. But…motivation is everything. Once gone it’s hard to come back. Analog or digital does not matter.