There was a time when Communications travelled by air. By a route called radio waves. For news, cricket commentary or melodious songs, you fumed, fretted and fussed with knobs and dials on a contraption called a radio. The small fella was a pocket transistor and the big one was a radiogram.Between All India Radio and Radio Ceylon, operating at frequencies named MW and SW2, we could hear Dicky Ratnagar telling us the about the sounds of a seamer felling Tiger Pataudi’s stumps. Or a mellifluous Ameen Sayani telling us, his “beheno aur bhaiyon“, why we should all gyrate to ‘Dum Maro Dum’ on his Binaca Geet Mala. Some of these radio contraptions had something called an Ariel that was pulled up and sent up aerially to reduce distortions that sounded like an “OOOOOOOOOO….” that you heard in the preceding lines of RD Burman’s ‘Mehbooba‘ song in Sholay. Rains, sparrows and strikes at All India Radio impacted the quality of these outpourings at times. But then, we were all complacent Indians-resigned to our lot and not the discerning or the demanding devils that we’ve evolved into. If you did not hear Indira Gandhi’s shrill three-time rendition of ‘Jai Hind’ on the ramparts of the Red Fort, big deal! You could catch it at your neighbour’s house if he had a Zenith radio compared to your Blaupunkt, or you could see it in a Films Division documentary played out before the main movie, like Kati Patang, started. Or you could read about it in the postcard/inland letter that Shanta Mausi sent to you to tell you that she was well and hoped that you’re well too.
Life was simple and uncomplicated. You had no expectations and a soul that was easy to satiate. Cricket, music and news was all there was in life. When your fan stopped whirling and started creaking to a grinding halt during a power cut, you immediately pulled out a newspaper to start fanning yourself. That was a strategic back-up plan in an era of low expectations. Back then, battling 44 degrees Celcius, power cuts and resorting to newspaper fans to cool yourself, you raised your BP levels much less than you do now when the AC conks out, generator does not switch on in a minute and the temperature climbs from a 25 something to a 26 something. Of course, we all had heard of something called television that our “foreigner” cousins often boasted about. This was before we started berating and belittling them by calling them NRIs. In a television, as we were told, you could engage your eyes as well as your ears. You did not need to crane your neck and stick your ear to the Murphy to figure out that Meena Kumari met someone while she was chalte-chalte-ing to Kamal Amrohi’s faulty direction. You could actually see her in full glory, albeit a black and white one, and start agitating to get India into visuals in addition to the audios.
Life was simple and uncomplicated. You had no expectations and a soul that was easy to satiate. Cricket, music and news was all there was in life.
Delhi in the 60s, Mumbai in the early 70s, other metros in the late 70s, and rest of India in the early 80s moved to the visual medium that showed that the silly point we all heard about in cricket stadia was not so silly actually. Not at least in the black and white renditions manufactured at ECIL. The covers and the slips that we had heard about were not lingerie items, but something that Eknath Solkar and Gary Sobers dived into. Watching Dhoondo dhoondo re saajna’ was definitely more erotic than listening to ‘Raat akeli hai…’ Madam Gandhi would sound more convincing if she talked about India’s heritage before she hid her vintage pimples with rouge and rogues. Well groomed, convent educated Dolly Thakore, Luku Sanyal and Gitanjali Aiyer read out in faultless diction that Skylab was about to fall on a hapless population. (There’s a story about alumnus Soumitra Banerjee who met Luku Sanyal in a Durga Puja pandal, did not recognize her, walked up to her and told her that she was familiar and she replied that she was a newsreader. Soumitra asked her why her lipstick looked red now and was grey on TV…but that’s a different story about colour technology.)
There was a socialism that was attempting to manifest itself. Lohia or Fabian, there was a revolt against the special privileges enjoyed by our American cousins. They have TV. We too can have TV. They have twelve channels, we have one and that too part time. They have colour, we have black and white; but socialism levels, and we were about to level. Asiad 1982 was a great opportunity to showcase our corruption and inefficiency in full colour glory. Our athletes ran and stumbled in colour before an amused audience. We now realized that Sunil Gavaskar’s bat was English willow wood and not made from white canvas. Lalitaji, the model for Surf actually wore soiled yellow sarees that were rendered white with detergent. This was a magic moment for India-one of upheavals and awakening. Sadly, Ameen Sayani had to bow out to Chayageet. Nobody really competed it. We just know that a clothing store called ‘Babubhai Jagjivandas’ sponsored it. But in colour, it was still a Government controlled Doordarshan that sold us scripts they wanted us to hear.
Asiad 1982 was a great opportunity to showcase our corruption and inefficiency in full colour glory. Our athletes ran and stumbled in colour before an amused audience.
Now, as the world advanced from picture tubes to plasmas to LCDs, from 4:3 ratios to 16:9 wide angles, the content has moved faster than the technology that caused the content in the first place. You can marvel at Amitabh’s henna hair in the backdrop of his “Deviyon aur sajano” line, watch kangaroos and giraffes in vivid colour and see everything and everyone faster than your fingers can work the remote, provided you can grab it from your spouse’s hands. A problem of plenty? It’s a good problem to have! But what happened to good old fashioned news reporting? That depends on whether you’re talking in Hindi or English. In Hindi, you moved into “sansannis” where you see the minute by minute account of a “Prince” who fell into a hole and was rescued by an emergency relief operation in Patna before the Collector, who was rewarded by the CM. In English, you can watch a boxing match in the name of news. There are spokespersons who battle, gripe and insult!
Just try this for fun. Call up Arnab Goswami during Newshour and pretend that you are from the ICICI sales team and that you want to give him a home loan. Start your stopwatch. He will answer and, before you even say “Hello”, he’ll start with “No! No! No! Just hear me. Just listen to me. The nation wants to know. Let me ask you…wait, wait, listen! Manish Tiwary! Please listen. Let me ask you Pawan Verma, Sambit Patra says that…wait, will you not listen? So, tell me Maroof, why should I take a home loan from ICICI? Nation wants to know!” 20 minutes later, after Arnab pauses for a micro-milli second, and Manish, Pawan, Sambit and Maroof all start speaking simultaneously, and before you dare to try to speak again, you’ll be steamrolled by cacophony version 2015.
Just try this for fun. Call up Arnab Goswami during Newshour and pretend that you are from the ICICI sales team and that you want to give him a home loan. Start your stopwatch.
Everything in this world is good, bad and ugly like Clint Eastwood and his movies. But watching the present day news reporting does take you back into the good old radio world and make you wonder like a Sayani sponsored Mukesh… “Jaane kahan, gaye woh din….”
Hic! Hic! Hurray! To radios and mirchis.