Saturday, October 10, 2020

Indu Ramesh, a Tribute


Indu Ramesh, a Tribute

1937- 2020

By Smita Ramanathan

The veteran media woman Indu Ramesh, who passed away on 26th August 2020 was a dear friend and mentor who introduced me to the world of media. She had an interest in the world of media right from her childhood days. Her first story was published in a Kannada magazine when she was only fifteen years old. After graduation, she wanted to be a journalist. She even approached a newspaper office in Bangalore, however, she did not get a job as a journalist. She got married and moved to Delhi in the early 1960s. After brief stints as a receptionist and a telephone operator, she cleared a written test and an interview to be appointed as transmission executive in All India Radio. Starting out in the external services division of All India Radio, she went on to become the Station Director of the Commercial Broadcasting Station, Bangalore (Vividh Bharati), at the time of retirement. Under her directorship, CBS Bangalore got the best station award twice in a row.

Radio was her passion. She was very fond of recounting her varied experiences in radio. As a transmission executive her roles included assigning announcers to the right studio, making sure they had the broadcast material, making artists comfortable, making sure announcers were in time for the broadcasts and – during night broadcasts – ensuring they did not fall asleep at the mike, letting the tape end and silence come on air! She enjoyed these tasks as they provided her a learning opportunity. Eventually, she learned to make announcements in the studio herself, thanks to announcers who did not show up in time – the show just had to go on!

She would often recall several memorable events from her days in Delhi AIR. Siddheshwari Devi, who used to bring her little paan box with her when she came for recordings and give all the staff some paan. Rahul Bajaj, whom she presented with a cheque of Rs. 100 after he was interviewed for a show. It was not only the celebrities that she remembered with relish. She spoke with equal joy about the farmer who came into the AIR office with a gift basket of tomatoes in gratitude for the farm advice programmes that had been broadcast on radio. Or the tonga-wallah Pushtu singer who used to come to the studio in his tonga, record his song, collect his payment and ride back in his tonga. In 2019, in an interview she gave to independent filmmaker and theatre person Ranjan Kamath, she talked about her life and work. This can be viewed here on the Youtube channel ‘Mitra Tantra Archive of Personal Narratives’. 

Her interest in the medium made her rise to a leadership position in the organisation. In the early days of radio, when women’s roles were limited to the music, women’s and children’s section, she insisted on handling programmes on politics and newsgathering. Her perseverance paid off and she was soon to gain roles that were hitherto reserved for men – newsgathering and administration. Colleagues at AIR, Bangalore recall her bold and quick decision-making. She was always on the lookout for innovative programming and encouraged her juniors who wanted to try out new ideas. After her death tributes poured in on her facebook page. A younger AIR colleague Anand Patil recollects how in the restrictive atmosphere so common to government organisations, Indu Ramesh provided a whiff of freedom for her staff. Child Rights Activist Vasudev Sharma recalls how she enlisted his support to conduct Yuva Vani programmes (Youth Programme) and encouraged him to do it differently from the way it had been done before on radio – live interviews with youth achievers, quiz programmes for rural youth. For this she sent him to rural Karnataka to record the programmes. She also sent him out to record interviews with rural communities on problems being faced by them. She was always keen to get on the air, voices of the community. It was this interest and the passion for the medium that led her to community radio. After retirement, she got closely involved with the community radio movement. She would often recall with fondness her association with Sucharita Easwar, who introduced her to community radio. This led to her association with Frieda Werden and she became a producer for WINGS (Women’s International News Gathering Services). Programmes she produced for WINGS include a feature on women Gram Panchayat Members, one on the Devadasi Women of Karnataka and their successful struggle for rehabilitation, a feature on the forest women of Karnataka (for which she received a special mention at the IAWRT conference, 2012), and on women seed savers. She served as a mentor and adviser to organisations and individuals that set up CR stations in Karnataka. These include Sarathi Jhalak in Hosakote Bangalore, Namma Dhwani run by the NGO MYRADA in Kolar district and Ramana Dhwani run by the Ramana Maharishi Academy for the Blind in Bangalore.

I learned radio from Indu. I started by accompanying her to the field locations where she was recording for WINGS. I watched her in action – recording the programmes, making sure people spoke one at a time, finding voices to translate the Kannada narration into English. She would then review the recordings, write the script and record the commentary. I used to assist her in reviewing the recordings and script. Later she made me do the recordings and write the script myself. She provided practical advice – to record at least 60  minutes of voice for a 30  minute feature, record any music if possible, speak clearly and slowly while recording, instruct participants to do the same, that a script for a 30 minute feature will have between 3000-4000 words. Later I became a regular contributor to WINGS along with my colleague Manju Venkat. We always ran the script by her. She would have valuable inputs to enhance the quality of the script and therefore the show. I feel quite proud to say that I was coached by the best in the business.

I am grateful to her for her friendship and guidance.