‘AIR to cut cost with shutdowns,’ I looked incredulously at the news clip in Sunday’s TOI. It opened a floodgate of memories. As a child I woke up every morning to ‘Yeh Akashvani hai’, my father would turn on the radio at 6.30 a.m. for the morning bulletin and that was our que to leave bed. Ameen Sayani’s Binaca Geetmala and various other music programs that my mother would routinely listen to, plays that were aired on the weekends and of course the matches. Be it test cricket, or Mohan Bagan vs East Bengal football matches, the AIR commentators brought them alive. We could feel the excitement in the air!
For a long time, Radio was the main source of entertainment and information, TV came only in mid-eighties. There were many AIR stations available at different frequencies airing variety of programs. I vaguely remember there was a room assigned to Radio back then – Radior Ghar or The Radio Room. The room had a table with a Murphy Radio plugged in. The whole house would gather in that room for important bulletins or football matches.
Mohan Bagan vs East Bengal matches were a big draw then. People would either bunk office or leave work early to listen to the live commentaries. Hailing originally from Bangladesh, every member of my family was a staunch East Bengal supporter. We kids were made to offer flowers to the Radio with a prayer for East Bengal’s victory. The excitement and the tension in air during those matches is something that I haven’t witnessed even in stadiums. My father, uncles and sometimes uncle’s friends would sit together to listen to the commentary – the Radio would be playing at full volume, the shouts and the cheers whenever East Bengal scored a goal, the tension and the dejection when East Bengal played badly or lost, are integral part of my childhood memories. The atmosphere would get further heated if relatives or friends from West Bengal (Mohan Bagan supporters) were visiting during those times.
Then came the battery operated and portable transistors (Philips I think), one for my grandmother who was hooked to the plays, and one for my mother for her various musical programs. I developed quite a knack for the plays and would sneak into my grandmother’s room on Sunday afternoons to listen to them. Those plays were really well made, the actors bringing the plot and characters alive just through dialogues. There was a special show for children as well – Shishu Mela where children would perform, recite a poem, sing a song – that we would religiously listen to every Sunday morning. There were informative shows like talk shows on agriculture and farming. My father who was a senior official with the state agriculture department would be invited often to talk on those shows. Sitting around the radio, listening to out father’s voice reverberating in the room, we would feel no less than celebrity kids!
Growing up, I found the world of radio or the world behind it enigmatic and magical. Those voices in the air – sometimes deep, sometimes sonorous, sometimes sweet and melodious – transported me to a magical world. I would try very hard to give them a physical shape, to imagine what my favourite anchors and commentators looked like.
Then one fine day there were televisions, and music systems and VCRs and what not and Radio lost its place of prominence. My father still listened to the AIR bulletins and my mother to her select music programs. When I left home, Radio vanished from my life all together, the only form of Radio that I now know is the music system in my car that plays the FM channels, and also a few AIR stations that I rarely tune to.
But All India Radio still holds an iconic status for me, the news of AIR downsizing is like an era coming to an end. I really hope AIR uses this opportunity to reinvent itself and connect with the millennium. Waiting for the day when the tech savvy urban Indian will say, ‘Shut up Alexa, I am tuning into AIR!’