Our member Kumkum Banerjee talks to Rimjhim Bhattacherjee about her illustrious career with the All India Radio.
As a young girl, did you always aspire to join the AIR?
- No, it was entirely serendipitous. I had completed my Masters and was working on a patrika named Ekaleen with great zeal. A few of my friends and I had started it and we handled the all the work— from gathering material to arranging for its publication. Writers like Sunil Gangopadhyay, Shirshendu and Shankha Ghosh wrote for us.
Meanwhile, a brother of mine heard of the vacancy at AIR. He himself filled the form, made me sign it and delivered it. When I received the joining letter, it was for AIR Siliguri. It wasn’t possible for me to join there. I let AIR know that. Finally, Indira Devi herself wrote to me to join AIR Kolkata. I couldn’t believe it. It was as if the job was meant for me.
What was your work like at the AIR?
- It was challenging in the beginning, like all new jobs are. I had to learn the art of queuing, fading in and fading out and so on. I learnt quickly and well. Soon, even artists were praising my work. I usually didn’t do announcements; I worked for special shows like Mahilamahal and so on. I got transferred to various departments as the years wore on but everywhere my work was met with enthusiasm and praise.
Can you share with us some of your golden moments at work?
- I worked with the AIR for a long 38 years. Asking me to relate a few golden moments would be like looking for needles in a haystack. (laughs)
I cherish the entire journey and the people I had the opportunity to meet, interact and work with. I still cannot forget the day I spoke to Pankaj Kumar Mullick. I stood staring at him in total awe. I was a little child when he had composed the music for ‘Diner sheshe ghumer deshe.’ When I asked him about it, he told me how he had visited Rabindranath Tagore and presented the composition before him with a lot of trepidation. Can you imagine the good fortune of meeting such people and hearing stories like these almost every day?
The day I met Birendra Krishna Bhadra also remains indelible. Nobody would look at the slim, fair man and imagine that he would have as powerful a voice as he did.
Tell me some more about the people you had the opportunity to work with.
- (laughs) This can take ages. People like Kanan Devi and Manju Dey left deep impressions on me. I have never met a woman as genteel and as warm as Kanan Devi.
Did you know Manju Dey drove and could even change the tires of her car herself?!
They were women who both inspired me a great deal. Apart from this, I have worked with the likes of Gouri Ghosh, Sarajubala Devi, Suchitra Mitra, Kanika to modern day artists like Moonmoon Sen and Rupa Ganguly.
And you are an artist in your own right…
- (smiles embarrassedly) I wrote and I used to recite but I was never one for self-publicity. I love poetry and I still recite when acquaintances ask me to. I have also written several songs and books of poetry, rhymes and other writings. As I said, I never liked to publicise but people close to me know that I write.
What would you say is your greatest achievement?
- I don’t look at achievement in terms of awards or as a solitary great event. For me, my achievement lay in my building friendships with certain artists, which went much deeper than the strictly professional. It lay in my work being deeply appreciated by artists and audience alike. My name used to be announced for some shows I hosted or organised. I had people writing to me from both Kolkata and Bangladesh telling me how much they liked my show and the way I presented it. I still have some of those letters. Once, a young boy from Bangladesh even visited my house to congratulate me on my work! I have had several letters inviting me to visit Bangladesh, but that has not been possible as yet.
Is there anything in particular that you would like to share with your readers?
- I’ve often been asked what I did to maintain my voice. I always laughed when I heard this question because I really took no special effort. I think that if we love our work enough so much so that it becomes a passion for us, it will always express itself in the work we produce. It becomes unnecessary then to focus on ancillary things.
I’ve learnt another thing from my interactions with all the artists and great people I’ve had the fortune to meet. The greater you grow in Art, the more humble you become and the more respectful towards others. When your profession teaches you so much, you know you’ve lived a fulfilling life and the journey, with its ups and downs, was completely worth the effort.
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