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Sumeer Kalyani – BBC East Midlands Today

Sumeer was born in 1975 in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) and he moved to the UK with his family at the age of 4. They first settled in inner city Leicester on the border of Highfields and Stoneygate along with his grandparents and great grandma. “From my mum and dad’s point of view, they came here to make sure their children had a better life,” said Sumeer. “They did have some extended family over here—one of my dad’s siblings had moved here in the 70’s too, so they thought they’d make a better life for us. Of course, you hear the clichés of people coming to the UK with not very much, and that was the case for us. But my dad was determined to make a life for himself and for us so he took the plunge.”

Moving to a foreign country with limited funds and possessions is a huge challenge, especially when you have a family to take care of, but they made it work. The Kalyani’s took up residence in a small terraced house in Belgrave on Cossington Street in November of 1983. “I remember it being so cold.” said Sumeer. “There was no adequate heating so we all slept in the same bed together to keep warm. My dad used to get up ridiculously early to put the gas cooker on to warm the kitchen up a bit for when we woke up. Those were my earliest memories really. It wasn’t easy to start with but eventually both my mum and dad managed to get jobs and their entire focus was for us to get into school and that we had everything we needed in life.”

Sumeer’s father worked as a photographer which drew on his experience back in India, where he did a lot of work in Bollywood. In Leicester he got work with Leicester City Council as a darkroom technician and a photographer. His mother eventually worked in the NHS as an interpreter.

Something that inspired Sumeer to get involved in the world of Journalism is when his father became the first reporter for the Leicester Mercury’s Asian Edition. “When dad was with the Mercury, I loved writing. I used to go out with him on jobs and I would have a go at writing the articles. Sometimes he would submit my articles over his! Eventually I started getting by-lines in the paper. I was really into journalism and especially became interested in broadcast. I had lots of work experience and even did my own shows using a tape recorder, where I would pretend to host my own hour-long radio show with music jingles, and I’d even interview friends and cousins when they came to visit!”

Sumeer went on to university where he studied politics at De Montfort University but over the years, Sumeer’s dedication to journalism paid off and he managed to get enrolled in a paid, BBC-funded post-grad course at the University of Westminster. He was one of 12 chosen of roughly 12-15 thousand applicants. “After finishing that course, there was a job opportunity on a BBC trainee-scheme at the local radio level. I applied and managed to get into that and spent a year training with Radio Leicester. I made my way up through the ranks and ended up working at East Midlands Today and that’s where I’ve been to this day. I’ve done it all, I’ve been a video journalist, I’ve done reporting shifts, I’ve presented morning bulletins, you name it.”

After such a lengthy career in journalism Sumeer has earned a wealth of experiences. But picking the most memorable was an easy decision. “The best experience for me was getting an exclusive interview with the Dalai Lama. He was the friendliest, happiest man I’ve ever met. He’s incredibly down to Earth and kind and we spoke a lot about peace and being forgiving and not getting worked up over things that don’t really matter. All of which has stayed with me.”

“Other highlights of my career are the two trips I made to India. I went on my own with just my VJ Kit (camera equipment for a solo journalist), camera tripod, and just filmed a series of reports out there. One was for the 10 year anniversary of the Gujarat earthquake, and how aid efforts in Leicester, Nottingham, and Derby were helping with relief and rebuilding projects there. The second one was where I went and did a series of features about the east midland links to India. It was really nice to just go out there and be creative rather than just sit at home behind the scenes!”

Now, alongside his continued work with the BBC, Sumeer passes on his knowledge and experience to upcoming journalists studying at De Montfort University. Sumeer teaches broadcast journalism students, which includes audio and visual training. His key bit of advice for these budding reporters and researchers is to just talk to people. “I tell them to just look around them. Being observant and noticing an interesting poster or speaking to a shopkeeper
and asking whether they’ve been busy or not—you might get a really good line out of someone that leads somewhere really interesting. Use those motor skills you’ve been given and don’t rely solely on your phone. Sometimes good old-fashioned journalism will get you a nice and original story.”