Humaare Neelesh Mishra ki Heartwarming Kahaani

01 Sep,2014


By Nilima Pathak


Neelesh Mishra has the knack for coming up with out-of-the-box ideas. And in the process he breaks the stereotypes and myths propagated across cities and villages.


When most artistes prefer being seen on private television channels, he has commenced a show ‘Hamara Gaon Connection‘ (Our Village Connection) on Doordarshan’s National Channel that bridges the ever-increasing gap between rural and urban India.


Prior to that, when it was being felt that storytelling was a thing of the past and that there were no takers for it in the new generation, Mr Mishra introduced ‘Yaadon Ka Idiot Box‘, a radio storytelling show on 92.7 FM. In this show, he tells stories of ‘Yaad Sheher’, an imaginary city that he has created. The immensely popular show is broadcast in 35 cities across the nation.


Also, when none understood the demand for a rural newspaper, he ignored convention and launched India’s first rural newspaper Gaon Connection from Uttar Pradesh, the largest state in the country.


The television programme, he says, is an offshoot of his newspaper Gaon Connection, which has set standards for others to follow. Eliminating the misconception that agriculture and animal husbandry is all that the villagers are interested in, the smart weekly newspaper is an effort to document the amazing changes that are underway in rural areas – in the way people think, dress up, eat and entertain.


Mr Mishra, founder and editorial director of the newspaper, says, “Mainstream newspapers devote only two per cent of its space to stories about rural India. I strongly felt the need for a professionally run rural newspaper, which impartially fills this space.


“Rural India is not just about farming, purdah system and honour killings. Yes, the farmer waits for his next crop and makes plans to counter floods. The women still continue to hide behind veils and crime and caste violence prevails. But there is another side to the rural milieu. And that’s what we have cracked open.”


The broadsheet features success stories, especially of young boys and girls from the villages of UP defying norms with their education. The aim of the newspaper was not to bring news to the heart of India, nor does it prophesize to change the way media views its rural markets.


Mr Mishra’s mission and logic are both simple. He is striving to bring to the rural people what matters to them and the subjects that are of interest to them and fulfill their needs in the present day context.


“Our dream is fierce and the way to accomplish it even more challenging. By just doing our job, we have created a tool for India’s heartland that has given birth to a movement that is propelling a change in attitudes. Gaon Connection is created by the villagers for the villagers and of the villages of the region,” he reasons.


Explaining further, Mr Mishra says, “The concept was thought upon after realizing that communication through mainstream media is often city-centric. It does not connect with the substantial changes in rural areas, especially the rising literacy and aspiration levels of the younger generation.


“Rural India is going through amazing growth and churn and just as with their urban counterparts, people in rural areas have evolving tastes and dress sense. They too wear denims, and are fond of noodles and momos that are sold at corner stalls. They drive the same brand of vehicles as their city counterparts.”


Agreed. After all 70 per cent of India still lives in the villages. And there’s no platform or medium that focuses entirely on them. But ever since Gaon Connection made inroads into several areas, it began focusing on the problems agitating the ordinary people. It covers issues like unemployment and scarcity of agricultural inputs as much as becoming a mouthpiece of achievement stories and best practices in farming and other rural businesses.


In addition, the weekly covers subjects on how women are making a difference to society with their efforts on keeping the environment clean and green and also accessing vital information regarding pregnancy and health care on their mobile phones.


The readers feel that it is a serious, conscientious paper with an eye-catching design. The stories of entrepreneurship, growing businesses, shortcomings in infrastructure and local essentials are especially appreciated. Moreover, the language is conversational and friendly and appeals even to children.


It made sense when staunch critics pointed out the gap between the urban and rural markets saying: “What use is it to show TV advertisements featuring bath tubs to people in the villages who do not have a bathroom in their homes?” But Mr Mishra turned the logic on its head.


He claims that the purchase of washing machines in villages has increased by 200 per cent year on year. That rural India accounts for 49 per cent of motorcycle sales. “So, understandably, the next wave of growth is expected to come from India’s businesses that will help understand the changing trends and needs of rural population,” he states.


Mr Mishra’s thoughts run on multiple tracks, but there’s never anything complicated. He understands the pulse of the people. Justifying the five rupees per copy price point of Gaon Connection, he says, “When people in rural belts do not hesitate spending Rs.50 to download songs on their mobiles, there is no reason why they should mind spending Rs. 5 on an informative newspaper.”


He knows better. For, the young and old alike have lapped up the newspaper. The contents of the 12 pages Hindi broadsheet are a mix of social issues, food and trends and covers several facets in the form of news and features from villages across the country.


Gaon Connection is also available online. Catering to a global audience, it is of interest to rural citizens residing in urban areas and also non-resident Indians who look towards and stay abreast with news and development back home.


Supporting him in this cause is his father Dr Shiv Balak Mishra, a former geologist, famous for discovering 565 million-year-old fossils in Canada, plugging a hole in Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. In 1972, he had started a school Bharatiya Grameen Vidhyalaya in a remote village in Kunaura, 160 kilometres from Lucknow.


The school changed the lives of thousands of Dalit and Muslim children by providing them access to education. It helped transform mindsets of people, who for generations had remained uneducated.


Gaon Connection is headquartered in Kunaura from where 50 years ago, Mr Mishra’s father would walk for about 12 kilometres to go to school. Initially, the father-son team trained young girls from villages around Lucknow to become reporters. Since they came from modest backgrounds, the school students were paid a monthly stipend.


Mr Mishra, who has been working towards emancipation of the youth in the villages says, “An alarmingly large number of the youth in rural areas are forced to sit at home without jobs. The reason is simple – they are educated and can find no source of income fit enough for their skills. Most of them have studied up to intermediate and working under MGNREGA scheme of the government is below their dignity. But in cities they don’t fulfill the service requirement of even a peon.”


Gaon Connection is creating white-collar employment in villages so that the educated do not rush to cities for low-paying jobs. The newspaper is being distributed across 75 districts in Uttar Pradesh, which is home to over 155 million rural population.


Forty-one-year-old Mr Mishra, who grew up in Nainital and Lucknow, carries a town in his heart and likes flaunting it. While in school and college, he would sing and made quite an impression on girls. But confidence boosting came from debating. And when he began anchoring the radio show, he was sure not to sound like a voiceover artist. He narrates the story as if he is telling an acquaintance sitting on a park bench. The serious relationship stories cater to the age group of 13 to 24.


He is probably the only creative professional to work across so many diverse genres. Having worked with both national and international dailies covering hard news, Mr Mishra has also pursued interests in Bollywood as a lyrics and scriptwriter.


His debut song Jaadu Hai Nasha Hai for Jism (2003) was followed by another hit Kya Mujhe Pyaar Hai for Woh Lamhe (2006). So far, he has penned the lyrics for over 30 songs, including Dil Mera Muft Ka for Agent Vinod (2012) and Banjaara for Ek Tha Tiger (2012). He co-wrote the script with director Kabir Khan for the movie Ek Tha Tiger and recently completed a script for Yash Raj Films banner.


The writer has gone a step ahead and published five books – ‘173 Hours in Captivity’, ‘End of the Line’, ‘Once Upon a Time Zone’, ‘The Absent State’ and ‘Neelesh Mishra ka Yaad Sheher – Volumes 1 & 2. He has edited ‘India Yatra’ and ‘Inspired India’. And co-wrote, ‘Dream Chasing’ along with his father.


Quietly demonstrating that he thoroughly enjoys the process of all ventures he is involved with, Mr Mishra undoubtedly lives by the saying: ‘Kites rise against, not with the wind.’


Photographs courtesy Gaon Connection


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