Remembrances of ‘71 War when radio was king: And I was cutting my teeth
Bliss was it to be in the newsroom of All India Radio Simla this day 49 years ago. And it was heaven to be a young sub-editor listening to the relay of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi addressing Parliament on the fall of Dhaka garrison after the 16-day long Bangladesh liberation war. Clapping and celebratory gestures erupted as she announced, "Dhaka is now the free capital of a free nation".
It was a bigger bliss for me as I was to read that evening's regional news bulletin as our regular newsreader veteran Ramkumar Kale had taken ill since the eruption of war itself.
A senior announcer had been very keen to read a news bulletin. He frequently demanded to be given a chance but Assistant News Editor Puran Chand didn't oblige.
In his usual jovial manner, the announcer would plead that he had been PA to actor Premnath and was experienced enough.
The first reason to deny him reading a news bulletin was that he was a perpetual paan- eater and we non-paan eaters were scared of his spitting paan while talking.
"Paan is essential for a clear throat. An announcer has to speak a lot. Paan, therefore, is a must for him. Your newsreader Ramkumar Kale speaks only for 10 minutes. That is no job. I speak for six hours".
When the December 1971 India- Pakistan war broke out, Newsreader Ramkumar Kale fell sick and the Regional News Unit Simla did not have a panel of casual newsreaders.
It was decided, reluctantly, to try the senior Announcer for newsreading as he only was available on announcer duty that day.
The jovial Announcer was thrilled. "You should listen to the bulletin today. You may forget Ramkumar Kale".
We pleaded with him to practice hard as this was his first chance. He didn't care much.
I , as standby news editor in the studio, wished him all the best.
Hardly two minutes into the bulletin, he closed the fader switch and said, " this bloody thing is choking my breath".
I gestured him not to talk and concentrate on the bulletin. He opened the fader and read the next item but to close it again saying, "you will kill me today".
I showed my eyes hinting that he should calm down and read the bulletin.
At half time, he rose from his seat after closing the fader. I was shocked. I just got hold of him by his arm and gave a big rap on his back dragging him to the seat.
There was a gap of about half a minute or so. The Duty Officer and the Engineer on Duty rushed to the studio. By that time a humbled Announcer was in the chair and reading bulletin at a much slower speed. He threw no tantrums .
As he, somehow, finished the bulletin, one wanted to know what had happened. The Announcer mumbled something that wasn't much audible.
They turned to me. I told them it may be a short studio failure. Check it up tomorrow.
I told the factual story in the newsroom. Everybody laughed. ANE Puranchand said, "No more chance taking with announcers. Ajeet Singh, you will read bulletins from tomorrow. Take these old bulletins home and practice. Will record you off air tomorrow at 2 PM".
The jovial Announcer was friend from the following day but he never pestered for newsreadering.
And I read the bulletins for the next about three months.
1971 war had ended after 17 days. We had started an additional daily bulletin that continued long after.
The bulletins were also used to be relayed through a public address system on the Mall road Simla where people would crowd to listen to the latest on the war front. It was still the Radio age. Television had arrived but was still in its infancy, confined mainly to the national capital Delhi.
Due to some strategic consideration, Jalandhar and other stations of All India Radio used to stop transmission early as the enemy could locate the position of their transmitters and bombard , especially during night when engaging them was rather difficult. Simla located among hills didn't suffer this disadvantage. So it was listened to even in the plains of Punjab and Haryana.
It did give some sort of image or recognition to me. People in my home village near Panipat would tell me having listened to the bulletins from Simla. It did please me.
Every experience makes one a better person. By and by I became more confident.
Newsreader Kale joined after about three months. He trained me in voice acculturation.
Joint Director of News Jag Mohan Lal Mathur rang me up once to say that one of my Samayiki programme was appreciated in the Director's meeting following its newspaper review. I asked him if he had listened to the programme, he said none had. Newspaper reference only thrilled everybody. Now tape was being located to listen in the evening meeting.
Instances are numerous but I think this grinding must have shaped me to be awarded the Akashvani Award for the "Correspondent of the Year" for 1990.
It was all very thrilling that took me through about 20 years in J&K. The Kargil war, Hazratbal shrine seize and a lot more.
Thank you dear jovial Announcer, thanks Puranchand ji, Kale ji and everybody who helped me shape what I am.
(Writer Ajeet Singh is a retired Director of News from AIR/Doordarshan)
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