Today, when I ask Alexa to play a song of my choice, she obliges readily. However, I can’t get over the charm of the old times, when I waited in anticipation for my favourite song to play on radio. There was an element of surprise in the playlist that added to the appeal. As the singers crooned, I hummed along and tapped my feet to the peppy numbers. Nothing but nostalgia! I remember dreamily my college days when I would lie down at night with a book in my hand and a transistor by my side playing old melodies on Vividh Bharti. These are Suhani yaden, the golden memories of soothing music that lulled me to sleep.
Going further down the memory lane, I remember a big Murphy radio, as big as an old time television occupying a place of pride in our drawing room. That was the time when we had, one and only one, All India Radio to depend upon for all the news and entertainment broadcast, albeit Radio Cylone for its highly popular ‘Binaca Geet Mala’ by Ameen Sayani. My father would never miss news, especially the 8 O’ clock morning English bulletin that we, as children, were least interested in. However, the iconic lines, ‘This is All India Radio. The news is read by…’ are etched in my memory and the sonorous voice of legendary news readers like Melville de Mellow and Surajit Sen still echoes in my ears.
Program preferences in the family differed. However, there was one program that the entire family enjoyed together, a half-hour skit ‘Hawa Mahal’ aired at night that coincided with our dinner time. My personal favorite in my teen years was ‘Sound Track’, an hour-long program based on a film story. Much to the annoyance of my father, every Sunday, with my ears glued to the radio, I would listen to the film story at a volume so low that no one else could hear.
Radio taught us to see through our ears. Without visuals, with just the commentary we could visualize every scene, be it the Republic Day parade, a cricket or a hockey match. In those days listening to radio commentary was equivalent to watching a match live. Absolutely magical was cricket commentary, giving explicit details of the action on the ground. Every ball, every hit, every catch created a ripple of excitement as we listened to the running commentary with rapt attention, sitting around the radio.
With the arrival of transistors in the early 70s, radio became mobile. Transistor, the portable radio run on battery became our constant companion to give us company everywhere, including study time when songs played in the background. As the transistors became more and more compact, we started carrying these around in our pockets. I can’t forget how we would discreetly smuggle pocket-size transistors to the classrooms to have a sneak peek at the score and wickets. Most remarkable is my memory of a fire-brand friend of mine banging her transistor when India lost a test match against Pakistan in the last over.
With the advent of television, radio may have lost its prime place in my life but continues to occupy a special place in my heart. Even today, my mornings begin with the radio alarm playing bhajans. While on a drive, I like to tune in the radio; though most of the times, I fail to trace Vividh bhatri in the FM jungle. Constant chatter of RJs and flurry of new songs with jarring music, at times, gets on my nerves. My heart still beats for the old melodies on radio.
(Published in Woman’s era October 2023 issue)