Little Big Things: the 52‑Year‑Old Housewife‑Turned‑Radio Announcer
52-year-old Alka Pradhan has always been confident about one thing: that people like to hear her voice. As a third-grader, she often went to a local radio station to do storytelling on the air. In college, she would be the one to read the news in assemblies. As a homemaker, she would often get teased by her family that she talks too much. As an adult, she found it easy to chat up strangers on the street.
“I had confidence in childhood that I can speak in public. I can even speak to strangers. Now, I don’t know how well I do it,” she says, chuckling, “but I still do it.”
At an early age, she lost her father, which put the burden of running a household on her shoulders. She took up a part-time job at a private firm while in college and offered tuitions to kids at nights. Soon after, she got married, and a fresh set of responsibilities prevented her from pursuing public speaking as a career. “I had elders to care for, my [daughter’s] studies to pay attention to. I was a housewife, full time,” Pradhan said. “But one thing’s for sure — the thought that I couldn’t learn a new thing at this age never crossed my mind. I do what I like. I wear what I like. I play with little kids and I have deep conversations with older people. Some might say, ‘Oh, her daughter is in college, but she’s still studying?’ If I want to study, then I’ll study. I’ll do what I like now.”
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And so she does. Pradhan is finally putting her public speaking to monetary use: as a radio announcer at All India Radio, officially known as Akashvani, in Daman, India, alongside 30 other such women. It all began when she was lamenting to her husband how she used to be fascinated with public speaking, but the time to act on any such ambition had long passed. Soon after, the couple came across an ad for auditions for announcers at Akashvani, and her husband challenged her. “Y’ou were fascinated, right?’” she remembers him asking. “‘So try this out,’ he said. He even drove me to my audition.”
At 47, she began her professional career as a radio announcer — she passed the audition, received comprehensive voice modulation and equipment training from the station, and started conducting interviews on air. Be it a local doctor, or a woman cycling from Kashmir to Kanyakumari on a bicycle to spread awareness about the environment, Pradhan has interviewed almost all the famous people in her town, she says.
“We have to get some knowledge from them and make the layman understand it. I [have] increased the amount I read; I do my homework before every interview to focus on questions that will extract information from the expert that benefits the common man,” said Pradhan, who reports for duty six times a month. “A segment on cancer awareness, for example, needs to benefit the farmer in a village who is around chemicals all day long.”
Any plans to go full-time? “I want to be called into work every day,” she says, adding she would be open to any offers private channels want to make to her. “Everyone told me I’m very talkative, but that’s a plus point, right?” she asks. “If Amitabh Bachchan can do so much even at this age, why can’t I?”
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With the part-time job, Pradhan says she has been able to stand up on her own two feet; she has gained her own identity — one that exists outside of her family. “I am not just someone’s wife, someone’s mom. I have my own thing,” Pradhan says. “[My husband is] famous in this town. I’m always recognized as his wife. But now, people will recognize me, recognize my voice. If someone heard my program, liked my work, they’ll say they heard me; they’ll say they like my voice.”
Pradhan, who grew up in Gujarat, always thought her grasp over the English language wasn’t very good. But she realized she had command over three languages — Gujarati, Hindi, and Marathi. “So why not use that?
“My innermost desire has come true,” Pradhan gushed. “And my family is even more excited than I am to hear my voice.”