“This thing called Life is a funny thing. How it lets people have the illusion that they can ‘plan’ it; it first lets them choose – their school, subjects, their college, career path, their partner and then, it decides to unleash itself on them and finally changes their life as they have never known it or guessed,” says Vasanthi Hariprakash.
She adds that “there are some of us of course who weren’t clever enough to plan Life.” She just did, rather take, what came her way, and today when she looks back, she finds life has turned out to be a mixed bag, with more good than bad. On the personal front, it has given her experiences of every hue and career-wise a near-360 degree view of the media from within, in a newspaper, on radio & television, in documentaries & dot-coms, and now, as an independent moderator-anchor, journalist, mentor–trainer, each one of them literally taking her places around the globe Austria to Avadh, Bengaluru to Belgium and the latest role as she speaks, for the first time a film-festival curator.
So much so that she even has a possible formula:
Life = Destiny + Opportunities + What you did with those opportunities.
After a happy middle-class childhood with a younger sister, and schooling in dozens of places across India through towns and cities like Hyderabad, Bokaro, Haldia, Chennai and Ennore in Tamil Nadu, Bhatinda in Punjab, Narora in Uttar Pradesh (dad was an engineer with BHEL), she came to Bangalore for college & took up BSc degree in what was considered cool then, Electronics. She then tried to get into IIM – twice – and failed the CAT entrance both times, “sulked big-time” but realised and remembered that hey, it was a journalist that she had always wanted to be.
She then changed tracks to take up a PG Diploma in Journalism & Mass Com and that turned out to be wise. She topped the journo course, got hired by the New Indian Express as a sub-editor and then did her M.A.Literature while juggling the late night edition job and the euphoria of marital bliss with Hariprakash.
To spend more time with her little son, she changed jobs to a dot-com portal but it shut shop one fine day. Two things She did in that ‘jobless’ phase stood her in good stead even later: joining Acting classes and becoming part of an incredible network and support group of women journalists called NWMI(www.nwmindia.org).
A freak incident led her to be the guest to speak on press freedom on a show at a radio station – that happened to be India’s first private FM radio, Radio City 91 FM – and opened doors to a career that she didn’t even know till then, existed for her. A stint at All India Radio’s FM Rainbow and then hosting the prime time breakfast show called Good Morning Bangalore felt like radio was what she was born to do. Being anchor of a show and touching the pulse of a pulsating city, and a chance to energise entire city by playing music but talking to it about its joy, anger, angst and pain; all this Live, 4 hours non-stop every morning gave her a high that was lovely – and legit!
She adds that a couple of awards came along and when awards happen is when the world is convinced that you are doing something right & good. She got sent to London to study the best practices of radio and then to Salzburg in Austria. But television took over when she got back, and she joined NDTV 24×7 as the special correspondent. Reporting breaking news on national tv was both exciting and exhausting, and there wasn’t ever a dull moment our country and the state of Karnataka being what it is – a heady happening place full of things to say, from changing governments to rogue ministers, from environment scams to tigers saved from poachers, from double murders in a locality to defence deals.
When the chance to anchor documentaries came up – that too for the venerable BBC for a South Asia special on a series called One Square Mile, it seemed like a dream. Auditions and accent-tests (got told politely, if she could speak English more clearly and s l o w l y, please?) happened online, and when she was beginning to lose hope, she was told she was on. The crew came from London, she travelled from Bangalore – to Kathmandu first, then to Vientiane in Laos. Then to assist on another series on climate change that was shot across the Rann of Kutch in Gujarat, Legazpi in the Philippines and off Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.
Fast-forward to now, when she gave up her daily job with television so she could spend time with her teen Anirudh and also do things that she chose to do. It wasn’t easy, though – the switch to being a freelancer without the backing of a brand of a national network.
She has shared this before but she says here is what you can expect if you quit job to do your own thing: Your overnight becomes your own project-finder, telephone exchange-cum-directory, appointment-fixer, taxi-booker, travel agent, invoice-maker, invoice-printer, envelopes-buyer, address-writer, poster, courier, payment follow up, your own PR, HR, brand-builder, and your own Appraiser, not praise, and all this while juggling milk-buying, maid-helping, guests-entertaining, marriage birthday-attending as you are “anyway in the house all day”. In other words, you turn Ms Raymonds!
But there is a good side to this she says – Along with the knocks you get, messed up deadlines and missed assignments, you discover who your real cheerleaders are, what your support system is, who are the ‘friends’ who you wouldn’t now bother being even enemies with, and most importantly, who You really are.
She discovered who she is, but also what (all) she can do. She didn’t even know for example that she had it in her till she was approached, to be a storyteller about goddesses of India even when as a woman she has problems with parts of mythology; to be a TEDx speaker material even if she is still a work in progress; to be ‘model’ for a brand of gorgeous sarees created by women weavers in Assam; to mentor young adults for a US Consulate programme even when she was often seeking a mentor for her own career; to moderate a really long conversation with Shahrukh Khan; to train rural journalists in whatever little craft she had picked up over the two decades; to mediate as the only Indian in a European conference in Brussels; to do training workshops for senior management on how to face the camera, have the right body language, what to say in a press conference and – what not to say.
She adds that if it is seeming like her life is perfect and all cool, she asks to just have a conversation with her mother Vaidehi – and her certainly better half Hari. It is they who bear the brunt of having an in-house nomad, a restless wanderer, and manage the home when she is not around with least fuss.
The latest ‘adventure’ as her family calls it, is this venture of hers called Pickle Jar. Under this banner, she intends to curate programmes that entertain, but are also socially relevant, reminds us of our roots & and closest to who we really are. Like pickles in a jar!
Vasanthi’s weakest point is that she can’t deal with narrow minds. Especially those who divide people on gender, race or religion and yes her biggest strength is PEOPLE – Her network of incredible friends, across language cultures and countries. She beautifully says that If you are genuine, they will back you no matter what – and if they are genuine, you shouldn’t mind getting that little whack on the back when you go wrong.
She has coopted some fabulous friends to work on Pickle Jar’s first programme, a Smita Patil retrospective film festival in and for Bangalore, from the 8th to 10th of April. Her dream is to have the sharpest minds in Indian cinema today come and talk during the festival at NGMA, about her favourite actress and a role model for women,a legend who still has not got her rightful due and taken away too early. Vasanthi also hopes to have good discussions on how and where ‘parallel cinema’ is, and where are the women in mainstream Indian cinema. She goes on to add that bringing these minds comes at a huge cost, though, and that is what is giving her tense moments.
She really hopes the Universe is listening up?!
As she grows older, she is less and less ritualistic, more and more spiritual.
And in this hashtag-age, she has two of her own that has been her life ka funda: #gowherelifetakes. #takewhatlifethrows at you, sometimes on your chin and hers as she always gets told, happens to have a mole.
Get in touch…
Facebook Fanpage: https://www.facebook.com/vasanthi.hariprakash