Author: Dr. Sharmila Adhikary, Akashvani Drama Section Artist in Hindi/Urdu, 21+ years, English Lecturer, 27+ years in Mumbai
December 1974 :-
Father Begley kept adjusting his cassock very frequently, as a cool breeze blew that sunny winter afternoon. The five minute break in between lectures was long over and Political Science (theory), in the teeming classroom was in full swing. His Belgian accent “th-th-th” as he spoke English, would make me hide a smile now and then.
A peon was at the door with a slip of paper asking for a student from the class. Principal Father Proust was calling someone urgently. It was me. With great trepidation I followed the peon wondering what i had done that father should call me like this. On entering the Principal’s room, I noticed two gentlemen sitting opposite him. THEY HAD COME FROM AKASHVANI FOR ME.
As it came out I was in the heroine’s role for my first ever radio play. The radio guys were unable to contact me. Realising that I would be available in my college, they came there to take permission from my principal. I felt honoured and elated. It was too good for me to believe!
One of them was Pandeyji, a Program Executive with whom I was to have eventually a long association and we were destined to meet here, of all places, in Father’s office. Taking Father Begley’s permission and picking up my bag I prepared myself to leave. When I asked for attendance Father assured, “Don’t worry, your attendance will be taken care of.”
They paid for the longish rickshaw ride and not only that but also called me “aap” which had never happened before to me in my entire life. I thought I was just a young girl of 17. Those days there would be artist’s allowance and a plateful of snacks and goodies was offered to me which I was only too happy to see. Mrs. Vijaylakshmi Sinha was the producer of this play, a social drama bringing out the sorry state of affairs of girls in middle class homes, tied up in tradition and societal norms. The play was ultimately a craft well done, by Mrs. Sinha, and I received my first ever fee cheque.
There was a stir in the AIR building after this play. Many senior artists complained about how I could be selected, a young Bengali girl, for such an important role, they said. In the course of the recording a lady had come specifically all the way from Lucknow to meet the heroine of the play. It was Swarnkanta Talwar who had written the play. We spent some time interacting.
“Aap jis thahake ke saath Hindi bolti hai”, an unknown person greeted me in the corridor one day. He was an officer from another section. That was when I realised that even others had heard about me. For 21 years, I was with All India Radio as a casual artist in the drama section. The contract letter duly signed on behalf of the President of India gave me a great sense of achievement. On getting a call, we had to sign it, accepting the terms and conditions in the contract, before getting the script and starting rehearsals.
I had two upgradations in course of time. After my marriage and shifting to Bombay my husband Gautam got me transferred to Akashvani, Bombay in Churchgate. I had joined Nagindas Khandwala College by then, along with BSGD, Junior College. I would take a CL and go for my play, returning with my cheque in the evening from Churchgate Station to Malad Station. Our then Principal, Prof. Tirodkar, was a great enthusiast and he actually put up a notice in the staff room announcing the broadcast of an oncoming ‘naatak’.
Above all it was a great learning experience for a teenager that I was when I joined. Hindi and Urdu language exposure, new words and idioms all came my way. A number of other casual artists, like me, cutting across social layers would meet up in the course of doing those plays. Lawyers, businessmen, stage artists, TV artists- all similarly inclined and in love with acting.
Infact a whole new world had opened up in front of me. I did so many jingles with an officer who would rope me In for the purpose. I also did modeling for a Marwari businessman.
My best play was “Laut ti aakhon ki pyaas”, a beautiful heart-rending story written by the great playwright and author Upendra “Ashk”. In the main role with a wide variety of voice modulation and inflextion, the dialogues were in Urdu, as the story was based in Kashmir. I and others rehearsed for 14 days to get the Urdu pronunciation right. I received praise and accolades for days together after it was broadcast that made me think, it was really worth it after all.