Saturday, June 21, 2008

Tune the Radio

I found an article in The Indian Express this morning about a place called Jhumri Tallaiyya which reminded me of my good old days of radio listening. The only claim to fame for this otherwise unknown town of Jharkhand is the huge number of song requests received from here on various radio stations like Radio Ceylon , Vividh Bharti etc. In the guest house where I am living these days, they usually have Worldspace radio tuned on in the dining hall. So mealtimes are once again very happy hours for an old radio addict like me. I always preferred Radio over TV because of its non- obstructiveness. You can continue doing your work and listening to music/news on radio for hours . Another reason leading to popularity of this medium is its unparalled reach . Be it the mountains or the remotest of village, islands or a city restaurant or even your own car or Taxi …radio’s reach is incomparable. Listening to radio while travelling is always in fashion. At times, I wonder if old radio clubs are still existing in small towns and cities as they used to be. These fan clubs of specific radio shows and radio stations can be termed a precursor of Orkut communities , as they were a great place to meet likeminded individuals . Radio was a craze in our school days .....Who in my generation can forget legendary Ameen Sayani and his popular show 'Binaca Geet mala'?
It was difficult for me to imagine a life without my little transistor radio in my school days. This small box was my companion , friend and closest confident. Whether I was doing my math homework or just taking a break from studies, going for a walk or counting sheep in those late night hours of insomnia, my radio was always with me in my teenage days. For many of us in those years, life without a radio was unthinkable. Even some of the best Hindi movie songs were picturised as a sequence where either Hero or heroine is singing it for All India Radio and the other one is listening to it.(Remember ‘Zindagi bhar nahin bhoolegi who barsaat ki raat..” or “Ek tha bachpan…(from Aashirwad)” or “Hum the jinke sahare ” or “ Tu is tereh se meri zindagi mein shamil hai” and many more.... ). It was a daylong companion for barbers, autorickshaw wallas , housewifes, college students and of course, lovers. I fully endorse the sentiment expressed by actress Amrita Singh(playing Chameli) in the movie Chameli ki Shaadi when in a love letter she writes to her beloved that in the moments of separation only your memories and Vividh Bharti songs are my consolation. There was a time when I was regular to at least 15 radio stations. Finding a new station was our favorite game . The content of the shows was as varied as possible . From bible lessons to Hindi or Urdu services of countries like Uzbekistan. Afghanistan or Germany and from Bollywood songs to BBC news …I enjoyed all of them. But the default station was of course, the commercial service of All India Radio, also known as Vividh Bharti. I am feeling almost nostalgic remembering those typical request a song (आप की फरमाइश) programs where the announcers will painstakingly read names of all listeners who have requested the song before playing the number. Interestingly, it was because of these programs that I heard the names of places like Majnu ka tila, Jumri Talaiyya and many more. In fact for years I thought these names were fictitious. There were always some favorite stations and some favorite programs. One of them was Urdu Service of All India Radio through which I learnt quite a lot of spoken urdu. Aha the usual greeting of adaab to 'Khabateen-o-hazrat' (Ladies and gentleman) and the polite reading of 'Tameel-e-Irshad( fulfilling the request song) of the samayeen( listners) . I still remember a wonderful program titled "आवाज़ दे कहाँ हैं ”(Call me where you are) which started after partition of India. Many people lost contact with their friends and relatives who migrated to India/Pakistan . The program used to play very old songs of 40s and 50s along with letters where people were asking their loved ones lost during partition to contact them . There were cases where the program did manage to unite lost friends and people came specially to India to meet their friends . Another program based on the memories of yesteryears was “धरती को आकाश पुकारे”. Both these shows started with two superhit songs with these words from old Hindi movies ‘Anmol ghadi’ and ‘Dharti Ko Akash Pukare’. The haunting voices of Noor jahan and Mubarak begum made the longing and the pain of separation sound so much more real. It was lovely to hear about those pre-independence days and somehow while listening to these program and many others on AIR-Urdu service, places like Lahore , Rawalpindi or Islamabad appeared very close . The station had equal number of listeners across the border too. Similarly some names of announcers and presenters like Mariyam Apa, Tahira APa, Mohd.Yunus etc sounded almost like a family. I don’t think people who started their radio listening only after advent of FM will be able to appreciate the quality of content of these programs. Those were the days, after all, when presenters’ narrative were still sensible (sometimes with sprinklings of urdu couplets or hindi poetry and on others with interesting trivia ). There are no loud RJs, talking nonsense all the time, not much of Ads either (only the famous Vicko Vajradanti, Indian Oil), and not only the chart busters-the evergreen stuff, you found all the dark horses, black sheeps, under dogs songs of the Hindi Cinema from time immemorial too. Some of the songs I am unable to find anywhere else even how. You wouldn't get a chance to come across so many songs in your life time, VB is such a treasure house. In fact I would really attribute, my knowledge of songs, lyricists, Music Directors, Playback singers, films and productions to VB . There was another favorite called Hawa Mahal. It was about a one act radio play every evening for 15 minutes. I and sister were crazy about it. The pleasure we got from listening these 15 minute plays was many times more than the current TV sitcoms . Then there was an evergreen hit show of Vividh Bharti called ‘Chayyageet’ . In this 30 minute show , every night from 10PM to 10.30 PM , a presenter will play 5-6 songs based on a theme. There was amazing variety of themes- it may be about a particular director’s movies for one show or about songs played on piano on the other, about songs picturised in Kashmir in one show and about songs with foreign words in it the next.. People used to put in a lot of effort and research before presenting the show. The other favorite shows were Jayamala(a special show for army men where a celebrity would present his/her favorite songs), Pitara (variety show which included women’s program to Radio play and from instrumental music to political talk) and Chitralok – the morning show of newly released flicks. It was definitely a heavily entertainment loaded package but in the modern lingo it was –infotainment in the true sense. Even today if I hear the authoritative voice ‘This is All India Radio the News read by….”, I want to stop immediately and listen. There was another show for youngsters called ‘Yuv-vani’ and its quiz show on thursdays was in our ‘not-to-be-missed’ list for years.
Taking my relationship with radio on the next level, in 2002 I got my first posting in Akshwani Bhawan, New Delhi and for a very brief period edited a business news magazine called 'Market Mantra' on AIR-FM-II ( now called FM-Gold) .I was part of Indian Information Service in those days. Being inside that building was like going to a temple. The work culture was amazing. Despite much degradation in standards, in AIR newsroom and recording rooms you can still find a newsreader/editor calling a friend or consulting an embassy to get the correct pronunciation of a foreign name. There were legendary presenters, people who’s voices become their best introductions for millions of listeners and whose style was copied by many future RJs . There were some people well established in their careers otherwise but working as casual announcers/news readers just to taste the romance of being on airwaves. O yes, it is intoxicating.As insider, I also got a chance to see the archives which can any day make a music lover faint with excitement. From the 40s and 50s the AIR archives have a unparalleled collection of Indian Music-including classical, folk ,regional and of course, the film music.
My radio listening habits were almost lost when I got busy with my career of a civil servant but my connection with Radio continued surprisingly . This time, to complete the circle, I got my first major assignment of a Performance Audit on Revenue Generation at AIR.. Now the focus was changed for me as I was certifying their accounts and counting revenue which the radio station received from sponsorship of Chayyageet and Jayamala. Suddenly a realization dawned that in this changing world the content part of radio was no longer the criteria of its success. It was cut throat competition with mushrooming private FM channels and the quality was stuff being aired no longer bothered the organization. Choice of words and their correct pronunciation was no longer stressed upon. Of course, there were some old timers still continuing with the well formed traditions of the place but the charm and enjoyment of being on radio was lost. New People joining the recording rooms were just doing a job-the feeling of responsibility or being a public broadcaster were absent . Even FM radio was more of a revenue generation venture than an infotainment channel . But even if it is just a shadow of the original, the old charm is yet to wear out completely .
These days the first thing I do in the morning after pushing my morning alarm back , is tuning the good old Vividh Bharti on my Dish TV. It is almost like going back to my childhood. familiar style of presentation and the similar sounds of opening music. The songs, of course, have changed with time. The emphasis is now more on new songs. At times the discretion of selecting right songs for the right time and mood is also missing but still there are few shows maintaining the standards . I religiously tune to them in the late nights and early mornings. I think now time is ripe for me to end the years of separation with my childhood friend . I have promised myself that I will subscribe to the digital satellite radio as soon as I get a house in Delhi. I guess its now time for me to sing “Awaz de kahan hai….” for my lost companion, my radio.


Abhiroop Banerjee said...

what a lovely article!

MARCH said...

Each word in your article is true and i got nostalgiac reading it.
I still listen to BBC 7:30 pm program. It gives better news and news magazines than any other indian tv channel. Its better than Aaj Tak atleast where even 'commissioner's dog gone missing' is a new.

MARCH said...

Sorry! The last word in my comment should be read as news.


A heart touching article.