"Didi, please don’t let Mehendi die!”
So begged Jyoti Bhadoria, a young mother of three from Madhya Pradesh, at a
truly special event last week in Bhopal.

She had travelled from her tiny village
after winning a competition on our radio show Khirki Mehendiwali ('Mehendi
Opens A Window') which sets out to improve family health in Madhya Pradesh by
telling the story of a feisty young woman called Mehendi who dreams of becoming
a radio DJ.

"From the first episode to the last,
the whole journey has been a truly memorable experience," Jyoti said. "We want
to continue this journey, so please don’t stop the show! Didi, don’t let
Mehendi die!"

Interactive radio

Jyoti was joined in Bhopal by more
than 20 other winners, who had all become part of Mehendi Mitra Mandali, (Friends
of Mehendi club) by answering a question asked on the show.   

Our team had come up with the idea of
a competition to make the programme 'stickier' and give our audience a more
interactive experience. Listeners answered the question by phoning a number
announced on the show and then we phoned them back.  

There were no big money prizes, just
the opportunity to join the Friends of Mehendi club and win a visit to Bhopal
for a 'felicitation ceremony' - a day of celebration.  But during its 37-episode run over three
months, Khirki Mehendiwali received nearly 11,000 calls and thousands of
post cards.  

The lucky winners came to Bhopal from
all over the state and spent the entire day sight-seeing in the state capital,
the high point being a cruise on Lake Bhoj. 

Then in the evening, they were awarded
with plaques and watched a performance by local musicians. When the winners entered the event's venue, an
invited audience gave them a standing ovation.

Listening and learning

It was a terrific day that really
impressed on me the difference a radio programme can make.

Jyoti told me that she invited her
neighbours over for tea to listen and enjoy the show and how she and her
friends started to relate to the characters, chatting about the plot’s twists
and turns and the health advice given by the show’s medical character, Dr

This power of radio to trigger debate
was picked up by P P Singh, the head of Bhopal’s National University of
Journalism, who also attended the event. He described Khirki Mehendiwali as “heart
and brain mixed in equal proportion” and praised its “interesting format that
aims to touch lives”. 

Another competition winner, community
health worker Sushila told me, “Although I’m a health worker, listening to
Mehendi and Dr Anita, I realised I need to know a lot more. I have learned many
new things. This show has really helped me in my chats with the women in my

Dr Krishna Swamy, from Indian government’s technical unit which is
supported by the UK’s Department for International Development, heard the
women’s testimonies and agreed with Sushila’s observation that radio can really
help. “For raising awareness about basic issues like health and livelihood, you
need to tell stories through a basic medium like radio,” he said. 

Real support

Some of the competition winners were
fans of the show from the start. Manisha Mehra, a widow working as domestic
help, said, “When I heard the first episode, I knew I had to hear it all
because I need to pass this knowledge on to my teenage daughter.”

The support a radio show can provide
was also obvious. “Dr Anita and Mehendi became my family and taught me about
getting ready for birth, delivery and post-natal care,” a woman called
Subhashini said.

She lives with her husband, a farmer,
in a remote village. They are expecting their first child but have no family
elders living close by. “It’s because of the show that I’m not worried about
having a girl or a boy,” she added. “We have understood it’s really the

The Friends of Mehendi club on their sightseeing trip in Bhopal.

Opening a window 

The Bhopal event itself was, for a lot
of the winners, a real eye-opener. “I am only allowed to visit my mother’s
family home once a week,” said Gayatri Lochkar from the city of Itarsi. “But
because you all invited us so affectionately, my husband agreed to accompany me
here,” she said.

Laxmi Sen from Sagar also said, “I
think, after my marriage, it was the first time I laughed so much. I made some
good friends from different parts of the state – my window has opened indeed.” Leela
Kishan, who is visually impaired, travelled to Bhopal with his sister-in-law
and was very emotional when he told me, “I’m here to salute the spirit of a
healthy family – good health is the key to happiness.”

The ceremony ended with emotional
speeches by Jyoti and another young woman, 23-year-old Sakshi Gupta. 

Like Mehendi, Sakshi would love to
build a career in the media. “Khirki Mehendiwali has helped me in so
many ways,” she said. “I’m trying to get my friends listen to the radio. I want
to be like Mehendi but my father can’t pay for any courses.”  I hope like Mehendi, someone helps open her ‘window’.

We have yet to fully evaluate the
show’s reach and impact. But the stories we heard last week left the Khirki
team inspired and even more determined to listen to the women
like Jyoti and not “let Mehendi die”.         


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