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Banker, editor, entrepreneur – her focus has been empowering women

Girija Raghavan has been single handedly, bringing out a Tamil monthly for women called Ladies Special, which is celebrating its silver jubilee this year. She is both the editor and the publisher of the magazine. In the context of the print media seeing the demise of some popular Tamil weeklies and monthlies, to bring out a magazine without fail for the last 25 years is a remarkable achievement indeed. R.V. Rajan traces her life and career

Apart from being a successful editor and publisher, Girija Raghavan wears several other hats. She is an entrepreneur who helps other women become entrepreneurs. She is an activist who champions many women-centric causes. She is a business consultant to women who need advice for new business ventures. She is a philanthropist and an active Rotarian.  In her mid-sixties, Girija packs a lot of energy  in her short frame and is brimming with new ideas to help women in need.

Girija did her schooling in MCT Muthiah Chettiar School, a Tamil-medium school in Chennai and got a BSc  degree from Vaishnava College in  Chrompet. Though she wanted to study further, her conservative family decided that it was time for her to get married and settle down in life. In November 1976, she married Raghavan, a distant relative based in Bangalore. “Chennai to Bangalore was a big transition for me. A girl from a conservative family, I became a modern woman thanks to the encouragement I got from my husband. Raghavan was a fine human being. He saw a lot of potential in me to achieve big things in life. He opened up a lot of new windows for me.”

When life was cruising along beautifully with a loving husband, a decent job in a bank and a baby boy to dote over, tragedy struck the family. Girija’s husband died of a massive heart attack in 1981. Numbed by shock, she was frightened beyond words. However, she was determined to make her husband’s dream about her and their son come true. At the bank, while she was earning a good name for her efficiency, she began to take active interest in the sports, literary and cultural activities of the bank.

As secretary of the cultural club of the bank, Girija staged Panchali Sabadham as a musical play. She wrote the script, directed, and donned the main role of Panchali (Draupadi). The play was a resounding success.  Artist Madan of Ananda Vikatan, who was the chief guest, while appreciating the play remarked, “This is the first time that I saw Panchali with spectacles.” Everyone laughed. Girija had forgotten to remove her glasses while going on the stage.

 Madan did not fail to notice Girija’s immense talent. He invited her to write during her free time for Junior Vikatan, the sister publication of Ananda Vikatan. Her very first assignment was a weekly column devoted to local shopping. Later, she was allowed to write on subjects of her choice. Girija, the writer, had arrived.  

After two years, Girija decided to become a freelance journalist, writing for other publications like Mangayar Malar, Kalki, Mangai and even Bommai, a film magazine, which gave her access to all the famous studios and film stars of the time. It is the association with Mangayar Malar (a monthly targeted at women) that planted the dream of starting a magazine of her own for women.

When All India Radio was looking for somebody to anchor their youth-centric programme  Girija was invited to take a shot. AIR found her presentations to be very good. She started participating in radio plays, became an announcer and eventually was made to read the news in Tamil. “All this I did during the free time I managed to get from the bank, for the extra income that it brought me, so that I could give the best of everything for my only son. My dual role as a writer and radio artist brought me close to several celebrities. By now I had built a reputation for my ability to take on any challenge posed to me.”

The television industry soon decided to use the talents of Girija. Doordarshan invited her to anchor programmes aimed at housewives during the afternoons. When demand for her time from the media started to grow, Girija resigned from the bank job to become an entrepreneur in 1991.

Her first venture called Gayathri Cassettes was launched the same year and under the banner she pioneered the concept of converting stage plays into audio cassettes. All famous stage plays of the time of almost all famous troupes were recorded and sold as cassettes by her firm.

Within a few years, however, piracy menace and huge losses made Girija quit the business.  In 1995, she started another company called Gayathri Creations, which produced in-house programmes for Doordarshan and Sun TV. Over the years she produced programmes for  Raj TV, Raj Digital Plus, Vijay TV, Podhigai and Win TV. Gayathri Creations was also involved in the production of advertising commercials. She also lent her voice to hundreds of commercials produced by other producers.

“One of my most popular programmes was the one titled Ladies Special, which I did for Raj TV. In the weekly talk show which ran for 52 weeks, I dealt with several topics dealing with problems faced by youth, housewives and working women. The success of the programme made me very popular among women. I saw an opportunity to start a ladies magazine dealing with similar topics. Thus was born a Ladies Special, a women’s magazine in Tamil with and English title,” says Girija.

Girija’s single biggest appeal to women was that they should learn to be independent and stand on their own legs. This led to the Women Enterprise Cell of the Tamil Nadu Government inviting her to conduct seminars on various topics aimed at women in cities and towns of the state. Since 2000, Girija has conducted more than 500 events across Tamil Nadu, in Bangalore, Mumbai and even in Kuwait.

All this led to Girija becoming a social entrepreneur with a focus on women empowerment as her mission in life.  She is being helped in the endeavour by many committed women who have benefited from her advice and guidance. She runs an organisation called BRAWE (Business Related Advice for Women Entrepreneurs)  and an NGO called Wise Trust which helps women entrepreneurs with individual attention. She has helped create many women entrepreneurs and is known as the One Woman Army in the Tamil literary world.

(The writer, former chairman, Anugrah Madison Advertising, has authored a few books post-retirement. He was earlier managing director, WAN-IFRA South Asia.)

July – September 2022