When the clock ticks 8pm on Thursday evening, Pooja hurries into her room to turn on her radio. Lying cozily on her bed along with her mother, Pooja listens to our radio drama, Katha Mitho Sarangiko every Thursday through Dhaulagiri F.M.
Pooja Gayak is the youngest listener I met during our field trip to Baglung last month. She is a 10 year old Gandharba studying in class 3.
There are many Gandharbas in and around Pokhara like our main narrator of Katha Mitho Sarangiko, Prakash Gandharba (Dilu). We had visited three villages in Baglung in search of young Gandharbas to talk to but to our dismay we discovered the tradition of Gandharbas travelling around different places playing a Sarangi was slowly diminishing. On our last day while exploring the main bazaar and chatting with the locals, we came to know about Pooja's family who lived nearby. We learnt that her grandfather, Padam Gayak who is now 78 years old still continued to play his Sarangi. Wearing a grey colour suit, a Dhaka topi on his head, Sarangi wrapped around his shoulder, Padam ventures out everyday to take a stroll in the main bazaar of Baglung and also to earn some money by playing his Sarangi. We decided to visit their place.
Standing on its own, their house resides on a steep hill which took us nearly 20 minutes to walk uphill. When we finally arrived, we met Pooja's grandmother who is 68 years old. While talking with her grandmother, Lalkumari, she told that her daughter, Gyanu and her grandchild Pooja are regular listeners of our drama.
During our four days trip in Baglung, I hadn't come across anyone as young as Pooja who regularly listened to our drama. Excitement filled me up to meet Pooja and, moreover, I was curious to know what this little girl really liked about Katha Mitho Sarangiko so much. I waited patiently for her to come back from school.
After spending an hour talking with her grandmother, around 3pm, Pooja returned. When I first saw Pooja, she looked very shy. With few books in her hand, Pooja approached towards us and gently smiled. Her grandmother introduced her. Suddenly her eyes sparkled with excitement when she found out that Dilu Ghandharba (Prakash) was beside her. When Prakash greeted her, there was a big grin on her face. She must have been very familiar with his voice after listening to our drama regularly. We exchanged more smiles and then she rushed inside her room to get changed. After a while her grandmother asked her to come out. As there was no sign of her, I asked permission with her grandmother if I could go and meet her inside instead.
The one storey house was made of mud like most of the houses in the village. When I entered, it was very dark inside. There were only two rooms, one bedroom and another was the kitchen. I looked for her everywhere but to my surprise I couldn't find her. I then asked her grandmother if there was another exit but there wasn't any. Her grandmother came inside too to help me find her. She was so shy that she actually hid herself in the corner of the roof. Her grandmother later told me that whenever she's very shy or even angry at someone she comes here and hides herself in the corner.
Pooja finally came down the staircase after a lot of persuasion. She was now beside me. Slowly I started to talk to her but in return she would just nod her head. After spending more time she gradually started to feel more at ease around me.
Then I began to interview our youngest listener. As she uttered every word, there were very long pauses. I waited and waited patiently for her to say few words and gradually she started to speak. I was taken aback when Pooja highlighted that she hated the way how Pratibha ill-treated Phuli, one of the main characters in Pratibha and Phuli's Tale. She felt very sad when Phuli's landlord Pratibha never let her study and always kept nagging to do household work. Hearing this from a 10 year old was very heart touching. I had come across many listeners during this trip but Pooja was different. She pointed out how education is important and moreover working for other families is never same as working at your own place. I then asked her if she could recall any other stories. Once again, there was a long pause and suddenly she exclaimed Jowana's Tale. She vividly remembered one of the scenes in the drama where Jowana tells Sabitra not to carry heavy stuffs while she is pregnant. Pooja liked the fact that Jowana still treated her husband's second wife Sabitra nicely. I had never expected a 10 year old would express herself so clearly and distinctively. I was amazed!
After interviewing Pooja briefly, I let her be alone for sometime to go through our Katha Mitho Sarangiko pictures. Watching her gaze from a distant, I realised meeting Pooja was the best thing. When I told her who had produced the dramas she was overjoyed to see who they were in person. When she learnt who Rojita and Bhanu were, she exclaimed “Oh! They are Rojita and Bhanu from Sarangiko Bhalakusari”. There was excitement in every word.
At one point she came over to me and insisted that she wanted to hear Dilu sing a song. Prakash (Dilu) happily sang a song playing his Sarangi and also enacted some of the roles he had portrayed in the radio drama. It must have been surreal for her to meet the team in person after listening to the drama. As we were about to leave, Pooja's mother, Gyanu had arrived too.
Every Thursday evening, Pooja and her mother cuddle up on their bed and listen to our drama. Once it ends, they discuss about it before falling asleep. Pooja loves Katha Mitho Sarangiko so much that she tells her mother “It's Thursday, Hurry up! We have to finish all the household work before 8pm”. If sometimes they miss it due to some work, they make sure they listen the following next day when other FM stations broadcasts it.
Pooja has no memories of her father. She was only one and half years old when her father died due to jaundice. Just like Pooja, her mother also loved Jowana's Tale and Pratibha's Tale. Pooja's mother loves listening to radio and especially our drama because her mind drifts away and eases her pain after the loss of her husband. She was only 20 years old when her husband died. Pooja is today happily living with her grandparents and her mother in Baglung near the main town.