At 19, when other girls her age went by the humble honorific of “akka” (meaning “sister” in Tamil), Philomena Gnanapragasam was already known as “Aunty”.
She became known as Aunty Philo to her fans after she took over the radio show Calling All Children on Blue Network (now Traxx FM) from Maizura Mansur in 1984.
During a career that spanned three decades, she notched a total of 21 awards including those for best radio show, best producer and best radio presenter.
“I was supposed to go into teaching but I had a creative streak. And I was leading a very exciting life.
“I was just 20 but had already interviewed the Eagles and the then Pakistani president General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq,” recalled Philomena.
She cut her teeth in the current affairs unit but was most passionate about children’s issues and this was where she used her rich imagination to create a voice for a younger generation to speak their minds and hearts.
But after 30 years, Aunty Philo, who rose from the ranks of producer to head of a radio station, decided to take a break last year.
Her 78-year-old mother, Mary Mariadoss, and her youngest child 14-year-old Lucanus Nathan, were cited as reasons.
“Two things dawned on me. That one cannot expect old people to be with us forever.
“And having given all my attention to a radio station, I barely had time to spend with my youngest son, who was born 10 years after my second son,” said Philomena, who has two other grown-up children with her businessman husband Thomas Loganathan. One is a doctor, the other, a lawyer.
A typical day for Philomena has seen many changes since leaving the radio station.
When she starts her day at 7am, it’s not to the office she rushes, but to get Lucanus to eat his breakfast and to remind him to have fun at school.
She has joined the football mums’ club by accompanying the boy to his training sessions, jogging around the field for exercise while the boys kick ball.
Mother and son are also spending time to read.
“I believe reading cultivates fertile imaginations because you have to visualise the story in your mind’s eye.
“The other day, my son wrote a story about a volcano and I thought he did good,” she said.
She is also taking cooking lessons from her mother.
“I am learning the family recipes from her – fish cutlets, pepper mutton, and murukku.
“I know you can learn all this from YouTube but my mum has seen the clips and she doesn’t agree with them,” she laughed.
And after many years of being, as she describes it in her own words, “a free spirit”, she is learning how to become a daughter all over again.
“I owe it to my mother for what I am today. Where I am impatient, she is organised.
“And I have come to realise that she is not the type to procrastinate.
“I am learning all this from her and it enriches me,” she said.
And being her mother’s daughter, Philomena is going to listen to mum who wants her to write.
“I am mulling over ideas. You’ll just have to wait and see what is going to come from ‘Aunty Philo’,” said Philomena who plans to come up with a series of children’s stories.
But topping this radio veteran’s to-do list is to go back to university – as a student first, and then maybe a teacher.
“I want to specialise in media. Having known the industry in its analog and digital form, I believe I can use this knowledge to teach others.
“It would be a waste if I keep all these years of experience to myself without sharing it with others,” she said.
Having come out in the open about taking a back seat, Philomena admitted it has not been easy to adjust to life away from radio.
“I am the type who still needs to win. When I cook a dish, it has to be the best dish. When I do something, it has to be the best in whatever I do.
“There’s still a lot of striving spirit in me,” she said.
So comes the crucial question. Is Aunty Philo going to turn her back on radio, forever?
“We’ll just have to see. For now, I know I want to spend time with my son and mother. But in the future, who knows?” ended Philomena with a smile.