On November 12, our dear Akashwani celebrated its annual Public Service Broadcasting Day. On this day in 1947, when Mahatma Gandhi could not reach Kurukshetra for a scheduled address to thousands of refugees from Pakistan camping in the Haryana city, All-India Radio (AIR) had carried his voice to them.
Radio has been a bosom friend - I grew up listening to its Lahore, Jalandhar and Delhi services - so at the very mention of the word "Akashwani", a few anecdotes bounce up in my mind. Such as this: The godsend sound engineers from Chandigarh AIR recorded and aired our school group song. I finished school in 1980, and still fascinated by music and radio in the college days, took two tests to be a part-time announcer, tests that I failed instantly and convincingly.
And this one: Only a few years later, as a journalist in Indore, I had an opportunity to be on the AIR to speak for five to seven minutes about that beautiful and at-the-same-time chaotic city, as I saw it. Elated that I was on air, finally, but unsure of the challenge, I jotted down a few points to build speaking confidence, but it was gone in jiffy when the studio's interiors, its men and machines, and the tiny mike inside the innermost small room took me in their awe.
Even though my friend and then producer Rakesh Joshi was by my side, I couldn't get the words out of my mouth, forget make simple, natural modulations. Several (dozens of) retakes later, the test of nerves was over and I was paid something around Rs 200. Once outside the radio station, I touched my ears and promised myself I wouldn't try it again at any cost.
The radio, nevertheless, gave me so much - news, views, hockey and cricket commentary, debates, songs (for the soldiers on the border especially), "Hawa Mahal", and more fascinating content. When I first met legendary Sufi vocalist Abida Parveen in Chandigarh for an interview in the early 1990s, I told her how so many songs I had heard on Radio Lahore in childhood haunted me since, though I knew neither the singer nor the entire lyrics. "Like which?" she asked me, and I said: "Such as 'hum na khat hain na gul hain ke mahakate jayen'." With a twinkle in her eyes, she told me it was her. The interview from thereon was informal.
Friends from the AIR, like Jainendra Singh, now in charge of FM Rainbow, Delhi; former AIR feature writer Ganeshdutt Bajaj; and, of course, Rakesh Joshi tell me about the people whose work and voices popularised radio, as they informed, educated, entertained, and inspired generations. About some of today's FM channels, friends feel sad about their vile voices, corrupting content, jarring jargons, and lurid language. Abject commercialisation, they contend. I remember the popular Freddie Mercury number of the late 1980s: "All we hear is radio ga ga, radio goo, goo".
It went like this: "Radio, radio, I'd sit alone and watch your light, my only friend through teenage nights, and everything I had to know, I heard it on my radio, you gave them all those old time stars, through wars of worlds invaded by Mars, you made 'em laugh, you made 'em cry, you made us feel like we could fly, radio, all we hear is radio ga ga, radio goo goo, radio blah blah, radio, what's new?, radio, someone still loves you…