While people bid a tearful adieu to the renowned social activist Saroj Vasishth, 83, on her final journey on Tuesday, little did they realise that her last recording on All India Radio (AIR) was aired the same day a few hours after she had passed away on Sunday.
The veteran radio announcer who had an inevitable love for the medium had completed her last recording on December 4, which was a discussion on her short stories that had been narrated from her book “Zindani”, in her own voice, recalls noted litterateur SR Harnot, who had been a participant along with her in the discussion.
“I had no idea that it would be my last meeting with her. She had joked that she was still 18 years old and had a lot of work to do. She mentioned her recent project, a book called ‘Araaif ’, which was almost 80 percent complete.”
According to Saroj, “Araaif ” meant an imaginary transit place for the reformed prisoners, where the fate is decided by God on whether the prisoner should be sent to heaven or hell.
“Saroj ma’am’s love for radio continued even after her retirement in 1989 from AIR Delhi. She had carefully heard all the episodes of the stories she narrated and even pointed out errors and suggested how they could have been better. While many listened to the last discussion, fate however had been cruel, for snatching her away from us just a few hours ahead of the last recording that was aired at 7.15 am on Sunday,” said Karuna, a casual announcer for AIR Shimla.
“She was fondly called ‘mom’ by the jail inmates and many others associated with her. I am proud to be her son, who had brightened up the lives of many and also taught us to be strong willed like herself,” said her eldest son Ashwani Vasishth, who performed her last rites.
“An open book herself sharing her life experiences through her writings, she had even opened her heart to countless people who had been associated with her,” said Ashok Kumar, one of her adopted sons.
Citing inspiration from the then IG (Prisons) Kiran Bedi, who was making efforts to bring about reforms at Tihar Jail in 1993, Saroj also volunteered to be a part of the reforms as a story-teller. After that, she shifted to Shimla in 1996 and continued with the jail project reform there and in other parts of the state.
She was instrumental in bringing out the literary expression of the inmates through workshops and poetry writing to reduce their pain and suffering.