10:00 a.m., another bright morning at the Sahbaghi Shiksha Kendra on
A little nervous, all forty students wait for the class to begin. They come from three districts, Rae Bareli, Barabanki and Hardoi. Most have never seen microphones in their lives, others have never been away from home. They come from villages that don’t have schools or basic medical facilities. Some are veteran development project facilitators and field workers and each has a story to tell.
Like twenty four year old Apala Mishra from Rae Bareli who financed her education by tutoring little girls since she was in eighth grade. “My father couldn’t afford to send me to high school or college, he’s a poor farmer and we have little land. I give tuition to around twenty young girls so I can pay for my expenses”, she says. The workshop to her is an opportunity to showcase her singing and make some money as a community radio jockey. Fifty year old Rudrapal Gupta ‘Saras’ introduces himself as a poet. He is also a teacher at a primary school in Hardoi and he’s managed to have two of his anthologies published at the local press. “I never quote anyone but myself!” he claims.
“My name is Ankit Srivastav, I am from district Barabanki!” sings a tall young man, Anthony style. He has been nicknamed Big B by his new friends. “I can mimic any actor, villain and comedian, but Amitabh Bachan is my favourite!” he quips during their tea break. Sanjay Sharma sings at weddings for a living, he has a couplet for every occasion but he can’t help but express disappointment when asked about his village, “Nobody encourages talents such as singing where I come from. At least in the big city each child is encouraged even by his neighbor!”
The workshop has been oraganized by PATH, Population Services International (PSI) and the Dynamic Tarang team. All forty students will be trained to become community radio jockeys or CRJs to help spread awareness about the essentials of the PATH funded “Sure start project” which intends to promote the basic elements of newborn and maternal healthcare. Ajay Patel of PSI says, “They will become resource persons for information in villages while building their own careers and becoming good ambassadors for development”.
Ram Leela actors, anganwadi workers, girl scouts, wedding singers, teacher, graduate students, nukkad directors and writers, they introduce themselves with eloquent fervour which leaves the organizers stumped. “If this is how you are before the training, I don’t know what we’ll be seeing after the next five days!” says an excited Shilpa Nair, from PATH.
Promptly divided into groups of ten, the CRJs are escorted to nearby villages Sarni and Nandgaon to practice audience research. At Nandgaon, housewife Saraswati from Rae Bareli talks to an anganwadi worker with new confidence, her notepad and pen in hand “Do women in the village listen to the radio much? What time do they listen to the radio? What is the biggest problem your village faces?” The worker answers all her questions which she diligently notes and proceeds to some houses to meet the village women. Others follow suit and fan through the village, talking to surprised villagers about their tastes in music, movies and their knowledge of good health and family practices.
Over the next five days, Manish and his team guide them through a crash course in the basics of scriptwriting and make them practice impromptu talk shows and interviews. “What we are trying to do here is to light their latent creative energies,” says Manish who manages to involve all forty in the various exercises he sets for them.
On the last day of the workshop they analyze the voice and content quality of each of the four programs recorded. They are given assignments and scripts to write for when they go back to their villages. “The group will meet again in December to record programs which will be aired January onwards”, explains Manish who while parting with the group encourages them to be as creative as they like.
While leaving for their villages, the poet ‘Saras’, Apala, Saraswati, Sanjay, Ankit and the others feel responsible, confident and enthusiastic. They have forged new friendships and learnt new skills. The organizers hope they will ignite their fellow villagers with the same fervor of newfound awareness. ‘This’, pointing at a microphone Manish smiles, ‘is power’.