“Main Jasdev Singh bol raha hoon,” said the familiar voice on the other end of the phone — a man who has been for an entire generation or two the voice of Republic Day celebrations in the national Capital.
At 80 years, veteran radio and television commentator Jasdev Singh’s voice retains the characteristic warmth, lilt and resonance that belies his age but also betrays a feeling of hurt, of being a forgotten icon.
From 1963 to 2003, Singh was the official commentator for about 50 Republic Day and Independence Day celebrations, apart from commentaries at nine Olympics, six Asian Games, one Commonwealth Games and numerous sport tournaments.
In 2003, he was removed from the official commentator’s panel, called back for the Republic Day celebrations in 2009 and then forgotten again. And now Singh, who divides his time between his Delhi and Jaipur residences, doesn’t even get an invite.
“I still can and want to do commentary but they don’t ask me any more. One can’t go and beg,” Singh said.
Singh’s journey began in 1948 when, as a 17-year-old, he heard the legendary Melville De Mellow’s marathon commentary on Mahatma Gandhi’s funeral. Though he belonged to a family of engineers, Singh decided to become a radio commentator.
He career started with All India Radio and he moved to Doordarshan. A recipient of Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan, the country’s third and fourth highest civilian honours, Singh was also honoured with the Olympic order.
“I did commentary in Hindi even though I had not studied the language in school. I learnt its nuances, correct pronunciation, where to put emphasis and when to pause,” he said.
Singh initially worked with AIR’s Jaipur centre but with praise of his commentary reaching Delhi, he was called to the Capital in 1963.
“I trained myself by listening to senior commentators. In radio, commentary is tough as you have to paint a picture and create the atmosphere for the listener who can’t see the event,” he said.
“It became tougher with TV as the viewer can see what’s happening and the commentator had to add something extra.”
Singh said live commentary during Republic Day celebrations doesn’t have the “josh” anymore. “There is no public participation due to stringent security. Earlier, children were allowed to sit near the President’s saluting base and even mungphali wallahs (peanut vendors) could be seen around the venue,” he recalled.
“I used to study all the tableaux two days before Republic Day to add value to my commentary but now everything is scripted,” he said.
“I have never used a script — it’s a sin.”
The veteran said commentators these days aren’t good and there’s no one to train them. “I can train other commentators and I will not take money for it,” said Singh. He has trained commentators in Sri Lanka and Malaysia.
An assurance has come from Director General of Doordarshan Tripurari Sharan. “We plan to start a process of assignment-based recruitment of commentators and we can use his experience for that purpose and also for training,” he said.
How does he take care of his voice? “Others go for throat and neck exercises, gargle, etc., but these are all ‘nakhras’. In fact, I’m very fond of pickles.”
After many years, he will hold the microphone once again for Republic Day celebrations on Saturday but at Jaipur’s Sawai Mansingh Stadium, where he has been invited to do live commentary.
Though he has received many honours for his commentary, what he cherishes most is the compliment then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi gave him: “Aap hamari dil ki dhadkane tez kar dete hain.”