Florine Roche

Mangaluru, Feb 1: The radio voice that talked to the people of undivided Dakshina Kannada, Kasargod, Kundapur and other parts of the coastal region for the last 35 years has silently bid adieu to millions of her fans. Shakunthala R Kini, the last among the five announcers, who formed the main pillar of the institution called Akashavani, retired from service from January 31. With her retirement it can be firmly said the last leg of the five pillars that formed the announcer cadre of this great institution called Akashvani has finally crumbled as there is no feeder cadre to take over the mantle. Now on the institution will be deprived of the services of experienced and talented announcers and Akashvani has to carry on the task with the help of casual announcers.

They say people may come and go but institutions will remain. True to a certain extent and even after the retirement of Shakunthala Kini Akashvani will continue to carry out its duty as a public broadcaster. But she was the last link between the past and the present and with her departure Akashvani has been left poorer of her wisdom, experience, knowledge, talent, her poetic and writing skills and the rapport she had established between the listeners and the institution of Akashvani. For cynics who very casually comment or argue ‘who listens to radio these days’, the content of this article may not be of any significance.

No doubt her ubiquitous voice that talked to people on radio in their drawing rooms, kitchens, bedrooms, gardens or in cars when they drive to office of back home or in buses or trains when they travelled has come to a standstill, though not literally. (Listeners will be able to listen to her voice often through some of the programmes for which she has lent her voice). But She will be missed by millions of Akashavani listeners, who in today’s jargon are called as fans. Because the listeners and announcers formed the vital link and there is that unsaid and unwritten rapport that binds them together knowingly or unknowingly.

Leaving a Void

Though she retired on January 31, January 29 was the last day she performed duty as a staff of Akashvani. In the past four senior announcers have retired except K R Rai of Kenchana Kurlari fame, who died in service. But for the first time we the programme staff feel that we are on the brink of not merely losing a link but something more than that. We feel she has left a void that cannot be fulfilled by anyone. She was the one and only vital link to some of the unforgettable memories some of the employees share about our good old initial days in Akashvani. Being an amiable lady she shared excellent work and personal relationship with the colleagues and that is why there were more misty eyes and aching hearts when she retired.

On the verge of retirement I casually asked her whether she faces anything called retirement blues. I asked this despite knowing that she will be as busy as ever even after her retirement because basically she is a workaholic. Her quick riposte was “though I try to imagine myself as retired, my mind and the sensory organs are still attuned to the disciplined approach I had cultivated all these 35 years of service. This may be because subconsciously I feel relieved as I don’t have to struggle to come for shift duty anymore. But retirement does not make any difference as I have enough and more work on hand”.

Kini family with with son Rahul

The initial years in AIR

For the last one month there have been calls to Akashavani as there were WhatsApp and Facebook comments about her impending retirement. Since then Akashavani is flooded with phone calls seeking clarification on whether the news of her retirement is true. When they come to know it is true there is dejection in the voice of the caller. But then they reconcile to the idea because they have no other option.

Travails of Shift Duty

Being a colleague who worked in shifts for almost 20 years and as colleagues like any other staff for the last two years, I cannot help but recall the journey of Shakunthala Kini as Senior Announcer in Akashvani. It can be rightly said that Shakunthala Mai (as she was lovingly called by all of us) and Akashvani were and are made for each other. As an institution Akashvani has certainly benefitted by her unique sonorous voice in establishing that vital connect with the listeners. And on her part I believe she could not have found a better platform than Akashvani to showcase her eclectic talent as an announcer par excellence. As a presenter, compere, poet, writer, trainer, speaker, interviewer, voiceover artiste to features, jingles, B High grade drama voice artiste - she did justice to these multifarious roles with élan. With her deep voice, her perfect diction, voice modulation, control over Kannada language, the time sense, the patience, her craving for knowledge and the penchant for perfection, were some of the qualities that endeared her to the listeners.

None of this, however, came on a platter and there is lot of hard work that has gone behind the excellence Shakunthala has achieved apart from support of her family. Being a R J’s there was no way they could show their emotions, pain, hardships, turmoil , personal problem or the inconvenience that comes with working in different shifts almost every day. Having worked in shifts I can related to these inconveniences better though I am fortunate to be on regular shift now. But to work for 35 years on weird shift hours definitely take a toll on the person. Moreover, for a woman it is not easy to be in office by 5 am for morning shift or to be in office till 11.30 pm on evening shift and manage the home kitchen as well.

The Pancha Pandavas (left to right) - Shakunthala, Shankar Bhat, K R Rai, Muddu Moodublle and Narayani Damodar

Interviewing Dr D Veerendra Heggade for Chit Chat Athithi in Akashvani

With Varsha Usgaonkar on stage

Interviewing Kasaragod Chinna

10th anniversary of Akashavani public function

On duty with discs and faders

Turn Table discs - a thing of the past

In office among studio visiting students

"Morning shifts used to be sleepless nights till I retired because it keeps the mind alert saying I have to be in office for morning duty. After night shifts we arrive home between 11.45 and 12.15 am. As all our sensory organs have to be very active during duty hours, keeping perfect coordination of mind, eyes, hand moments etc, it is not easy to detach from it soon after coming home. So again it is disturbed sleep on night shift duties. Now I am in a way relieved from the burden of coming for different shifts everyday," she says with a sigh of relief.

Her husband U R Kini (ex employee of MSIL) and son Rahul have been the pillar of strength in her odyssey of personal and professional life. Rahul who spoke his heart out during the retirement function arranged for her said “I was always worried about this weird shift hours and was wondering why my mother was not there in the morning some days or in the evening on other days. I was not an easy child to be brought up but she has managed the home and her professional life beautifully and her discipline has inspired me a great deal. It has helped me in my life. Husband U R Kini, who has been her supportive partner is said to be her biggest critic. “His impartial criticism has helped me to grow and become better”, Shakunthala points out.

Reward for Talent

Shakunthala Kini however, says she is grateful to Akashvani for more than one ways. She was a simple village girl born in Ballambettu in Kasaragod as the 8th child among the 10 children born to farmer late Purushothama Pai and late Ramani Pai. Though her mother tongue is Konkani she had great love for Kannada and it showed in her mastery over the language without any trace of the mother tongue. “It was the environment of Kasargod where we had fight for Kannada and the good teachers and the high syllabus in Kasargod schools helped me develop a liking for Kannada”, she says. She did her school and college studies in Bellambettu, in Bengaluru and Arasikere. She recalls Pallathadka Babu Master for indoctrinating that ambition to do MA in Kannada and she did it in style coming out in flying colours.

Despite securing 8 gold medals in Kannada MA Shakunthala Kini had to toil hard for two long years as she could not get a decent job. "I applied to many posts but there were predetermined candidates and interview was only for namesake," she says. She began to teach in four colleges in the city as part time lecturer and stayed in the hostel in the city. “It was as if I was moving with a roller skater on my legs running from one college to another," she says with a smile. It was her hostel mate Girija Bai who suggested that there was announcers' post in Akashvani and she should apply and she did so.

"I came for the written test thinking it will be another routine affair but to my consternation I received a letter saying I was selected. I had to pass the written test, voice test and finally the interview and the process was a cakewalk for me. I am thankful for Akashvani because among 80 candidates I was selected only on the basis of merit. I have to thank H V Ramachandra Rao the then Station Director for giving priority only for merit," she recalls. She was selected and joined in 1981 and since then it has been a long, arduous but rewarding journey for her.

It was our good fortune to have worked with her. Her impeccable talent to announce or read a script without any mistake in the very first take is not easy to emulate. Though she is retired from Akashvani her voice and her writings will not bid goodbye to us. We will be able to hear or see her in some programmes or the otheras she is active in many organisations, institutions and public forums. Let us hope the retirement period will help her to sharpen her creative skills and reach out to more people in the form of her poetry, writings, translations or books. She has left behind a rich legacy. Full stop.