A voice for the faceless
A three-part documentary puts the spotlight on public announcers at Mumbai’s train stations
We are tied to the urban demands of a concrete jungle, where lives are often defined within the parameters of the day's first and last local trains. We thus navigate our way the best we can through crowded stations, quickening our steps and jostling our way to the platform before a train can leave us stranded in its wake.
This rat race might breed a sense of insularity that blinds us to everyday heroes, who serve as a guiding light for countless commuters, such as those railway employees who make public announcements. Their contributions can even make the difference between life and death, and yet we are too caught up with getting ahead to reflect on the person who says, for instance, "The train arriving at platform no. 8 is a slow local for Churchgate. This train will halt at all stations."
But a three-part documentary releasing online in January aims to shine a light on these faceless wheels of the railway machinery. Directed by Disha Rindani, it's called Meet the Voice and tells the stories of a trio who have found their place under the sun seated before a mic in railway cabins. They are Sarala Chaudhary, the first female train announcer in the city's history; Ganesh Srinivas, a blind person; and Vishnu Zende, whose presence of mind saved hundreds of lives when terrorists unleashed a bloodbath at CSMT on 26/11.
"Each individual story had a lot for me to take away from," Rindani tells us, before explaining: "Sarala's was the first one that intrigued me. It is the story of a pudgy-looking, cute, ordinary little woman who was selected among 13 others to get her voice recorded at All India Radio. And suddenly she realises that her voice is echoing across all the stations in the city. So, it's a really empowering job profile because, somewhere, it speaks about the presence of a woman in a place like a railway station which, in a sense, is extremely masculine and defined by the masses."
She continues, "But I think Ganesh remains especially inspiring for me. I had seen the Indian Railways in a mostly negative light in the recent past. But the way they have put visually impaired people in positions of responsibility, really getting the best out of their abilities, is something that has changed my perceptions about the system."
It's a fair point, and credit to the railways where it's due. For, here we have a blind person who says into Rindani's camera in the film, "I love my job and I try to do it sincerely. People don't know that there are blind announcers. Some people come to make announcements for a missing person. That is when they come to know that we are blind. When they find the missing person, some of them come and tell us. So, I feel very happy."
It's heartwarming to say the least, but returning to the insularity of our fast-paced lives, Rindani agrees that the issues we face day to day are so overpowering that we take a lot of things for granted. "I honestly don't know why the media doesn't cover these people more. It's only when there is a tragedy that a hero or a culprit is brought to light. But I hope that these stories change our perspectives," she says. It can. But for that, the onus lies on us to acknowledge those unsung stalwarts of our daily lives who ease our invisible burdens and in doing so, embody the indefatigable "spirit of Mumbai".
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