Meet Shikha Mandi, the first RJ to host a show in Santhali

The daily broadcast, in the radio jockey’s tribal mother tongue, is beamed in the Jhargram and West Midnapore districts of West Bengal.

more lifestyle Updated: Mar 04, 2018 08:48 IST
Dipanjan Sinha
Dipanjan Sinha
Hindustan Times
Shikha Mandi,Santhali,Radio Jockey
Shikha Mandi, 24, grew up in Kolkata but retained a love for her mother tongue that she says is fading among others of her generation. Youngsters in the cities pretend they don’t speak it, even if they do, and she wants to change that, she adds.

“I was terribly nervous. But as soon as the show began, off I went with the name of God on my lips, welcoming everyone to my show, Johar Jhargram (Greetings Jhargram),” says Shikha Mandi, remembering her first broadcast as an RJ, in November.

Mandi had reason to be nervous. She is the first radio jockey to host a show in Santhali, the language spoken by the Santhal tribals of West Bengal, Jharkhand, Odisha and Tripura.

That’s a total of 42 lakh people, but it’s not often that you hear Santhali on TV or the radio, even in these regions.

Mandi, for instance, grew up listening to one weekly show on All India Radio Kolkata that featured Santhal songs and music. But she loved her mother tongue, and would sing the songs she heard on that show, and write poetry in Santhali in her free time.

It needed that effort to stay in touch with the language, because Mandi — the daughter of small farmers from West Midnapore — grew up in her uncle’s home in Kolkata, where she had been sent at the age of three so she could get a good education.

This is a very positive development. There have been some community radio efforts, but our community is not just in need of perennial support. We also want to be entertained. We too come home tired from work. A radio channel like this is a good sign of the community becoming mainstream.— Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar, Santhal and author of The Adivasi Will Not Dance

She graduated from an Industrial Training Institute and was set to take an apprenticeship exam at a shipbuilding and engineering company on the same day as her interview for the position of RJ.

“My parents were hoping I would get the apprenticeship,” says the 24-year-old, laughing. “I too was very tense about trying something new but I wanted to give it a shot. I had a feeling I could do it.”

That feeling was based on years of pretend news anchoring when no one was watching.

“Since childhood I had always fancied speaking on the mic,” Mandi says. “After the interview I realised just how much I love doing what I am doing now. Most of all, it was hard to believe I was speaking in Santhali on the radio!”

Mandi’s show is beamed by Radio Milan 90.4, in the Jhargram and West Midnapore districts of West Bengal — which also broadcasts in Bengali, Hindi and English. The Santhali show has become so popular that its duration was extended from one hour to two in February.

“We wanted to hire a fresher and Shikha was just the right kind. She is fluent in the language, a good speaker and has an interest in Santhal culture,” says Milan Chakraborty, editor Radio Milan. “We guessed there was an audience for the language but the response has been much greater than we expected. We are now looking at devoting three hours to Santhali daily,” he adds.

What are the broadcasts about? There’s always a theme, Mandi says, but the theme could be anything.

“A lot of our discussions are about our culture,” says Mandi. “Sometimes, the audience informs me of cultural mores that I was unaware of.”

One show discussed Baha, the community’s spring festival. “This was to make people aware of the distinctions between our spring festival and Holi or Dol Jatra in West Bengal, as they often get confused even within the community,” she says.

Three broadcasts that got the most responses were discussions on the theme of waiting, on the year-end festival of Poush Sankranti, and on the joys of spring.

“I thought waiting was an interesting and universal theme. From childhood you wait to grow up and when you grow up you wait for other things to happen,” says Mandi.

One call she remembers fondly from that day was from a man who waited many years for his lover but could not get married. He told her how they met recently and discussed their now married life.

Her father Dayal, 50, is also now a fan. “I am really proud that she does a radio show in her mother tongue. The radio at our home is not working right now so we listen to her show at our neighbour’s house. On most days, many of our neighbours gather to listen too,” he says.

Mandi is hoping the show will make Santhals proud of their language and culture. “In Kolkata, young Santhals don’t even want to admit they know the language,” she says.

She also wants to perfect her Santhali pronounciation. “Living in Kolkata and speaking in Bengali most of the time has influenced my diction a bit,” Mandi says. “I am determined to make it pitch perfect with practice.”

First Published: Mar 03, 2018 20:29 IST