Being a big film music buff, my childhood in Delhi was spent listening to radio. Our morning ritual at home began with switching on the radio at 6 AM. The first show used to be dedicated to devotional songs and then would move on to Bollywood classics.
I continued the same tradition when I set up my home in Bengaluru. Only difference, being a more lenient mother, my kids used to wake up at 7 AM to the ‘Good Morning Bangalore…‘ call of Vasanthi Hariprakash on Radio City 91 FM.
Over the years, Vasanthi has become a household name and can be at equal ease with the likes of SRK, Sonu Nigam on one end and at Barbanki or Pilani on the other.
Today, I bring to you, Vasanthi – an exemplary woman who has done it all with élan.
Swapna: For me, you are the quintessential media woman. Women are known for multitasking, with their profession being a core element. You seem to have taken it a step further, and are holding multiple roles professionally! Print media, Radio and TV and now you are often live on Facebook either conducting a session or hosting an event. Tell us more about your journey.
Vasanthi: When I look back at my own journey for the past 25 years, I feel extremely grateful for the wide spectrum of things that I have gotten to do.
For I have never been someone who has planned much, I do not think I even had the wisdom to! I go where life takes me, I take what life gives; and give that opportunity all my passion and love.
I am a wanderer, and the heels on wheels came pretty early, my father who was a power plant engineer with a PSU had a job that took my sister Vidya, my mother Vaidehi and me across the country – to Ranchi (now Jharkhand, earlier Bihar), Bhatinda (Punjab), Kanpur, Aligarh, Narora (Uttar Pradesh), or Ennore (Tamil Nadu). That basically meant you had to be this south Indian girl quite okay with Hindi or dropping Gurmukhi as you had by then moved to a school down south. Or the other way when you had just learnt varnams in carnatic music from a Tamil teacher, and you had to give it up because of the move north of the Vindhyas.
However, for my graduation, my parents decided to send me to Bengaluru, a move I welcomed with my whole heart. I had anyway spent a few years as a kid in grandmother’s joint family in Madras, and so, the whole idea of being in college and hanging out with cousins and the family that was now in Bengaluru sounded so much fun.
I took up my bachelors in Electronics and after going through the drill for three years, figured I actually liked the thought of being a journalist, this wisdom after I had failed two attempts to get through to the IIMs and those CAT exams!
But the good thing was that once I had zeroed in on the journalism course, things fell into place. Soon, I found myself in my first job as a sub-editor at the new Indian Express. Marriage and straddling a baby boy, an MA- Literature course in a college and late night editions at the newspaper; the years rolled by quick.
To cut a long story short, I transitioned from print media to a job at a dotcom managing the editorial, to a brief period of unemployment, before I got a career-bonus (a medium that till today remains my favourite amongst all) – being on radio.
A chance outing as a guest on a radio show opened my life to a job, first as a radio show presenter at AIR Akashvani and then as primetime anchor of a breakfast show at Radio City called Good Morning Bangalore. It was radio that took me to every other household, every other car or bus stuck in a jam and gave me love – and an audience that was captive, literally!
From being an RJ to a special correspondent at NDTV 24×7 to a documentary anchor for a south-Asia series on BBC World News, it has been a unique 360-degree insight into the world of media from within.
Now though, having stepped off the 24×7 world of breaking news to be able to spend time with my young son a few years back, I now have a different tag – of a learning struggling entrepreneur!
Swapna: While media has a good amount of diversity and is largely gender inclusive, yet it is still a man’s world. In your career have you had instances of facing disparity because of you being a woman? How did you handle such situations?
Vasanthi: Never. Just like at home, where our parents made no distinction just because we were girls, I have stood in ticket queues, often travelled alone on trains and buses, and got tyre punctures fixed at the local shop! That is how my career has also been. No special perks for being a woman, and when you accomplish the responsibilities given, you keep up their faith and get more.
Having said that, being a woman has in fact helped my work. For instance when I was working on a rather tough assignment in Bhatkal, a small town in Karnataka now known for its terror linkages, I got called in and some of the Muslim women opened up to me and spoke on what was otherwise a very difficult dialogue to have.
But then I also acknowledge that many women do face discrimination, sometimes subtle, sometimes awful, at work and within their families. My respect to such women who overcome those biases and attitudes, fight their situation and rise to the top.
Speaking for myself, I have so many men in my life who have been equal stakeholders, and supported me without making a big deal of it. Whether my husband Hari who used to wake up to serve me dinner or give me a glass of hot Horlicks when I would come back from the night shift at Indian Express; my father Vijaya Sarathy, now no more, but would make the yummiest of Idlis and chana dal chutney and polish our school shoes in our growing years; my son Anirudh who I had let into the kitchen to help me even as a kid and now quietly comes up with a sandwich while I am at the laptop beating an urgent deadline; or my former boss Suresh Venkat who offered me the radio job and said my being a mom while being an RJ is in fact a great thing as it brings in maturity and the working women of Bangalore can relate even better. This is the kind of stereotype-breaking that we need in our everyday lives.
Swapna: You seem to be a big movie buff. Not only are you a founder of Pickle Jar – a collective of film lovers, one can always spot you as an audience in any national/ international film festival happening in Bengaluru. Tell us something more about Pickle Jar.
Vasanthi: Well, I think my love for cinema was lying dormant and came to the fore only at this stage in life!
Strangely, it was an article that set off Pickle Jar – a tribute by Shabana Azmi to her co-star, the powerhouse actor Smita Patil, who died early and suddenly in the 1980s that I was reading and shared with a friend. He hinted that I should show the whole city her cinema instead of just wanting to watch her films at home!
Magically, within the next few weeks and months, the people I had reached out to, known or worked with; we all formed a community to do our first, the Smita Patil Film Festival in Bengaluru. The legendary Shyam Benegal was part of the first festival along with director Mahesh Bhatt. Amol Palekar came in for the second season that was a tribute to director Hrishikesh Mukherjee – for someone who had been clueless, having three film festivals in two cities in three different venues is such a joy.
I credit all this to the power of the community – my childhood was spent surrounded by people. Being part of a joint family with plenty of cousins, aunts, uncles around, I feel that one complements the skill sets that the other may not have. Which is why, I shared in a TEDx talk too, that I have, on hindsight, had 3Cs propel me in life – (working as a) Community, (having a) Conversation however tough and Collaboration (with people of different talents).
Pickle Jar brings together a vibrant set of people who have their own daily jobs – activists, techies, students, homemakers, green crusaders and journalists – who live across Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi and Mumbai; but we come together when there is a festival to accomplish, work, struggle, make mistakes, learn and hurrah when we pull off a project despite ourselves!
It has not been an easy journey, and I am no natural at ‘doing business’ , but my aim is to create and curate programs and conversations, which leave a lingering taste or flavour in people’s minds – like a pickle.
Swapna: Education seems to be another aspect close to your heart. You are often seen conducting sessions at colleges and universities talking to and inspiring students. Any special mission you carry close to your heart?
Vasanthi: Oh it is true! I do love spending time with students at universities and colleges. I was involved in a project by the US Consulate where along with six others from across south India, I was a mentor to young adults, to help them realize their dreams and goals (someone should meanwhile figure out for me how I can realize mine).
This season has been quite talks-heavy and I have loved every bit of it, from sharing tips with girls at Aligarh Muslim University on how we women can negotiate freedom and spaces for ourselves, to telling Rotarians at Coorg on the 5 kinds of Indians that India needs today, to sharing ‘The Power of Small – voices in the media that are telling the true India story‘ at BITS, Pilani to ‘Is your degree enough to conquer the world of communication?‘ to students of media at the Manipal University.
I am only sharing my story and perspectives with them; as an anchor-moderator and communication coach, I get to travel and see a view of India that is unique. I feel the youth today is limited by the knowledge that they gather through the traditional media and social media. There is a lot more happening in the country which they are not aware of. I want to highlight that India to them.
There is much to do, more people to reach out and as an individual, I want to maximise the message to reach more people – I plan to launch a podcast soon, and hopefully a show online on and for working women, if things work out.
Swapna: What would be your advice to young women in the media industry?
Vasanthi: From whatever has been shared of life, work or the career-jugglery, feel free to take away what you can relate to, and ignore the rest!
But if I have to tell you from experience the traits that build us, it would be Empathy and Confidence.
Do not fall prey to complacency, superficiality or worse, vanity. Run away from those, they are lethal to your worklife!