When she was 21-years-old, she aspired to become a police officer. When she accompanied her friend to an interview for air-hostess training, the examiner asked if she would like to be interviewed too. The same year, she received a job offer from a German businessman impressed by her sales pitch at a leather exhibition stall. Fluent in five languages and with an M.A. in English Literature, J.Jamila wanted to see the world and would have loved any of the jobs, but she was married off at an early age. Now, aged 32 and a mother of four, she reaches out to a small world in Chennai through her radio programmes on Anna University’s community radio. Shyam Ranganathan caught up with her in the studio.
“In hindsight I wish I hadn’t married so soon, but I was very attached to my parents. My mother was 45-years-old when I was born and she was paralysed when I was 17. So when my father died ten years ago, she hurriedly arranged a marriage for me and I accepted,” says Jamila.
The marriage did repress her happy-go-lucky spirit and she says she has had to bear many a beating and abuse in silence. But three years ago, when she was introduced to Anna University’s community radio at 90.4 MHz, she jumped at the chance. “Usha madam (who helped run the channel for the first few years) introduced us to Anna FM through “Sakthi Arivayadi” (a women’s programme), and many people in our community (at Kannikapuram) were recruited by her for programmes in 2004 itself. Initially I was not allowed to join other community women, but after some fights we settled the issue,” she smiles. After taking the Radio Jockey training course offered at the Centre, she quickly became the voice for the women in her community as she tackled problems head-on. Six women joined in to start the programme “Magalir Neram,” a talk show focused on women in the Kannikapuram area. She smilingly recalls the anger and abuse her group was subjected to when a marriage was called off thanks to her show. “We were talking to an expert on reproductive health and she warned us that marriage between close relatives could lead to genetic problems in the children. A Kannikapuram girl called off her impending marriage to a cousin after hearing this, and the boy’s family kept threatening us for days afterwards,” she explains.
Apart from the Rs.150 Ms.Jamila earns for every show, and the words of encouragement from her listeners, she says she has also personally gained from the whole experience. Ms.Jamila herself says the community radio is the best thing that has happened in her life. And as the latest show of “Magalir Neram” comes up on the airwaves at 1.30 p.m., she motions for silence and a soft, strong voice starts out: “Vanakkam Neyargale. Idhu Ungal Anna Samudhaya Valaga Vanoli…”