Roli Sinha brings Agra into the spotlight
by Mantra Roy
Juggling several roles at the same time, including hosting two daily shows on community radio supported by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in Agra, Roli Sinha graciously spent an hour with me on Skype. In her easygoing and unassuming voice, she shared her journey from a shy eight-year-old poet to a well-respected writer, teacher, popular radio talk-show host, and an active organizer of the Taj Literature Festival.
How did her journey begin?
She was a very shy child for whom writing became a favorite mode of articulation. When she wrote her first poem as an eight-year-old, her father encouraged her, like any parent would do. But writing became a habit for her. She began to publish poems and short stories in her school magazine and local newspapers and publications in Lucknow. She doesn’t remember a time when she did not have a piece of paper and pen within easy reach. She fell in love with the British Romantic poets as a college student and drew inspiration from them in her maturing writing. She still remembers her professors in Loretto Degree College in Lucknow, who taught the works of these poets so meticulously that her current work shows clear influences of them.
Post marriage and motherhood, she didn’t get enough time to think about publishing but she was never far from her first love, writing. Her close friends, on coming across her drafts of poems tucked in drawers or kept under her pillow, encouraged her to consider publishing. Later, when she was bed-ridden for almost nine months following a serious accident, her husband suggested blogging.
That’s when Roli created her account on Speaking Tree (http://www.speakingtree.in/roli-sinha-1), a blogging platform of The Times of India. She formed an online community and shared her views and continued her writing. It helped her during convalescing, which was a rather lonely journey, in spite of having a very supportive family around her.
Writing in Hindi versus writing in English
Her book of poems in English, Fleur de Lys, and her book of poems in Hindi Iha were both released during the Taj Literature Festival in 2013. While Hindi is her mother tongue and English her medium of formal education, she is equally comfortable in writing in both languages. Premchand, Mahadevi Verma, Subhadra Kumari Chauhan, and Suryakant Tripathi Nirala have influenced her work in Hindi. But she has not translated her work — she says the “soul” gets lost. She enjoys working in the two languages and chooses her language based on the nature of her projects.
Her teaching and writing
She has an MBA in Human Resources and for a long time she worked as a corporate trainer of soft skills and spoken English for MBA and PG (Post-Graduate) students at NIS Sparta, Reliance. She also worked closely with many teachers’ training programs. These training sessions gave her a unique perspective on the psychology of young adults. She saw several young women caught between their families’ expectations of married life and their dreams of becoming independent professionals. But she also realized that many of them did not have a friend from whom they could seek advice, in whom they could confide. When young adults have emotional baggage, she observes compassionately, it’s hard for them to stay focused on their careers and ambitions. Extending her hand to young men and women as their teacher, Roli has helped them overcome barriers in their professional journeys. In return, her students’ lives and struggles inspire her poetry. In “My God Played a Prank’ she sensitively portrays a student’s experience of betrayal in an abusive relationship.
In her book, The Lighter Side of Life, inaugurated by Muzaffar Ali at the Taj Literature Festival, she adopts a conversational tone so that her targeted readers, young adults, find it accessible. She repeated that she did not want to “preach” but rather reach the hearts of young men and women who struggle with notions of “love”, “control”, “personal space” in a relationship, among others. Once again, her teaching inspired her writing.
The Taj Literature Festival
As a co-organizer of the Festival, she hopes it will become a platform for the revival of Agra’s rich literary culture. There are attempts to promote Braj Bhasha literature in addition to mainstream Hindi and English literatures. Local performing artists in theatre and Kathak are participating actively, and the Festival, in its third year, is gradually evolving into a significant cultural event. The best part, Roli notes, is the encouragement the younger generation receives from watching great artists on stage (Shabana Azmi and Farooq Sheikh have performed in this festival) and by listening to several panels of literary discussion by scholars and writers. Children are beginning to read and she is hopeful that the Festival will continue to foster intellectual activities in Agra.
90.8 FM “Aap ki Awaaz”
Roli wears yet another hat — that of a popular radio jockey on the community radio of Agra which is sponsored by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. The mission is to air programs that will contribute to social welfare.
Roli hosts two shows daily. The afternoon show, suitably entitled “Ladies Club”, is geared toward homemaker women who also need advice and enrichment. It is very easy to dismiss this segment of women as wives and mothers who cook and clean. But they need access to health information, guidance on emotionally stressful situations, and smart ideas for maintaining beautiful homes. Roli often interviews successful women who have overcome serious obstacles in life and she hopes the stories work as inspiration for her audience. The evening show airs during prime time, 8:00 PM-11:00 PM, and is divided into three segments. “Zindagi ke Rang Mausiki ke Sang” is the section devoted to old songs and typically starts the evening slot because that is when people are either driving back home from work or are already at home after the day’s work. Classic Hindi film songs by the greats such as Gulzar enliven the homes of her audience. In the second segment, “Ek Mulakat”, Roli interviews those people in Agra who are actively involved in enhancing Agra’s socio-cultural-economic circumstances. For example, she has interviewed key people who are campaigning for an international airport in Agra. The third and final segment called “Kahaani” is where she lends her voice directly by reading aloud stories and poetry of famous writers and poets, often in translation. It is her attempt to enrich the reading culture of Agra by introducing new authors and their works. Akin to listening to an audiobook, her audience enjoys listening to stories and poems every evening.
When I asked her about her time management, she started laughing. It’s a lot of work but it’s very “rewarding” even when she does not make any money from her broadcasting work. She records both the shows in the morning and spends her evenings researching and writing. She knows she is touching people’s lives and that is her greatest achievement.
Roli Sinha through her various engagements is an active member of the Agra community and directs her talents, energy, and time to enrich her city’s intellectual life. But she is first and foremost a writer and then everything else, she concludes with a smile. A fine writer with a heart for community building, Roli Sinha is an artist to watch closely.