TRANSMITTING RADIO WAVES OF CULTURE
By Sundar Iyer
This is All India Radio. “Welcome to Aakashwani, Mumbai. You have tuned into 287.4 MHZ on Bombay A. Now follows the weekend Sindhi series.” These are the announcer’s words that have regularly hit our ears over the past many years! Or do they anymore? The irony for this great medium of information and entertainment remains its reducing and ever declining listenership. The emergence of the television in the early 70’s and the subsequent accelerated invasion of satellite television certainly seem to have created a huge dent in this, once sophisticated and superior medium of communication, radio, whose aura was magical.
As one thinks of Radio and its vast reach, from the Indian perspective, the instance that highlights the reach of this medium is the voice of the first Prime Minister of Independent India, Shri Jawaharlal Nehru addressing an entire nation during his speech in the constituent assembly on the midnight of August 14 -15. This special broadcast was being heard on every available radio set across the country. The famous words, “At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom,” reached every Indian through the radio and sprung hope across the nation and left an imprint in the minds of the people. This instance is cited purely to project the huge impact that radio has managed to create over the years.
At a time when Sindhis find themselves at the crossroads of cultural oblivion, efforts have sprung across all mediums to contribute to this renaissance. It is a well understood fact that the language is the crux of any community. The community in unison concedes to the fact that the wide usage of the Sindhi language would primarily step up the revival process. Various forums have been utilized to aid the community’s revival. The Internet has been prolifically used to reach out to the scattered Sindhi audience across the globe. Likewise, the print medium too has been handsomely contributing towards the same cause. A few individuals and organizations are exploring the medium of television too.
It all augurs well for the community and the revival process. But as the other forms of communiqué have been extensively used, the first medium of ‘virtual reality’, Radio, seems to have somewhere been dwarfed. The radio with its extensive penetration can play an important role in promoting the culture and primarily the language.
A Sindhi septuagenarian, an avid listener of Sindhi radio, says, “In the 50’s, our family didn’t have TV, so we would often sit around in the evening, armed with a mug of tea and some biscuits listening to a radio play. That’s definitely not the same experience as TV. . . . . Television reduces the space in a room, radio expands it because you start to travel and you start to create those spaces and images that the broadcast sound unlocks. You can go anywhere (anywhere that makes a sound that is) . . . . Radio was subtle, sophisticated and immeasurable from the start . . . unlike a modern computer game.” In due course of the conversation, it became increasingly clear of how the older generation preformed the daily ritual of listening to the radio. Listening to the radio was an exercise, which each member of ever family eagerly looked forward to. It was a routing that bore the seeds for a family discussion. A tradition that is today practically dead with the invasion of the other electronic media.
The radio could play a pivotal role in aiding the cultural renaissance. If more and more talent is exposed to this medium, then at a fairly low cost, their performances can transcend man made boundaries and reach all corners of the globe. The radio airs programmes on music, from traditional folk to film music, poetry and short story recitations, plays and a wide variety of other programmes including talk shows on women, children and youth related issues. Programmes of similar variety are being currently aired across the various zones through All India Radio. Sindhi radio seems to be having very little preference with the authorities and that seems evident with the minimal airtime that has been offered to Sindhi radio. Currently, apart from the Delhi radio station of AIR, Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Bhuj and Mumbai stations beam Sindhi programmes. The Mumbai station broadcasts an hour of programme in a week, which accounts to 4 hours in a month, 48 hours in 365 days, which accounts to only two full days of airtime in a year. Isn’t that rather baffling?
But the community as a whole seems to have been the least bit perturbed about this precarious situation. Listening to radio seems to have lost its charm among members of the community. Apparently, less than 1/3rd of the listeners are current generation Sindhis. This is something that needs to be looked into with utmost priority. Members of the affluent section of the community hardly tune on to the radio neither does the youth of the community either because of their lack of interest or due to their ignorance of the Sindhi language.
But the All India Radio needs to be commended for its efforts in the External Services Division (ESD). The ESD airs Sindhi programmes for the Sindhi-speaking citizens of Pakistan and the other neighbouring countries. Over the past few years, the ESD has been successfully beaming approximately 3 hours a day of programme for our neighbours across the border. There have been regular performances from known Sindhi poets, litterateurs, music artists and dramatists. The AIR with its ESD seems to be the right route, but it also leaves many a question unanswered. Can the authorities justify a larger airtime for our friends across the border, but deny Indian Sindhis the same benefits? On the outset it certainly seems irrational to perceive that a particular language programme of a local country needs to be aired to an international audience for time slots, then the local audience itself? Shouldn’t this open a Pandora’s box?
According to reliable sources the decision of allotting programme slots lies solely with the Director General, AIR, depending upon the population of members of that community in that region. But the same certainly would not hold true for members of the Sindhi community, keeping in mind their scattered presence across the country.
The lack of finances is another reason for the setback to this medium. Sponsorships have been far from coming and virtually non-existent, rather surprising considering the business acumen of Sindhis. This would be another area where members of the community could come forth and contribute handsomely to help the radio stage rewarding programmes.
The current scenario prevalent in the radio is far from encouraging, but all is not lost. When the radio first made its appearance there was this once famous quote, “The tyranny of distance has been turned from the all encompassing disadvantage into the powerful mother of invention.” The radio may be an apt solution for members of the community in faraway lands to keep in touch with their native lands. Earlier, the radio faced restrictions on being transmitted to geographically distant locations, but the emergence of the Internet can now help the AIR to do away with these age-old ills.
Not the Internet helps erase all these hurdles and reach out to all parts of the globe. The Internet radio seems to be an ideal solution especially for members of the Sindhi community who are spread across the globe. These members living in various countries, would certainly crave to hear some programming in their native language, or maybe just homesick for their old hometown radio station.
While an old-fashioned radio would give them access to perhaps a couple of dozen local stations, a computer with a sound card and an Internet connection can give them access to an unbelievable variety of programming, anywhere in the world. Not only music, but also a huge variety of news, sports, talk shows and other audio programming is available. Thus, Sindhis across the world would have reason to cheer at the expected enhancement of the medium of radio. The very fact that radio can transcend manmade and natural boundaries could help revive a culture, as much as the usage of this medium will help revive the radio.
The advantages that this potent medium offers to the Sindhi community needs to be understood and not underestimated. It needs to be optimally utilized as one of the aiding mediums of the cultural revival process. But the million-dollar question remains, would Sindhis across the country come forward and vouch for an increase in Sindhi programmes on the AIR? For the moment tune onto your respective radio stations to catch on air the current array of Sindhi programmes as your consistent listening would also act as an encouragement for many a Sindhi to come forth and exhibit his talent with exuberance through the radio.