The channel that mesmerised India

On a cold November morning, in a tiny lane of the ancient Patan Pol locality in Kota, Rajasthan 19-year-old Vidyaratan was seated on a chair in his living room, sipping hot tea from a kullad. It was a very common routine across India’s northern belt during the winter, especially in the year 1957, when one could buy a load of kullads for a few annas. What was not so common was the large Ecko radio sitting beside him, near a large window. It had a big light on the top right corner, which glowed green when the radio was on. Vidyaratan gingerly turned the huge knobs on the lower part of the radio until he had tuned in to India’s latest radio service, Vividh Bharti, which had commenced only a month ago on Gandhi Jayanti.

An ‘announcer’, the predecessor of today’s DJ, was telling the listeners which song they were about to hear. Vidyaratan could not contain his excitement. It was a song he just could not have enough of – ‘Ho udein jab jab zulfein teri, kawaariyon ka dil machle…’ from the latest blockbuster film, ‘Naya Daur’. The film, starring Dilip Kumar and Vyjayanthimala had released on Independence Day that year and was still drawing huge crowds.

The same evening, Mahesh Korgaonkar in Mumbai’s BDD Chawl in Worli also tuned in to Vividh Bharati. And the moment he heard the opening music of his favourite programme, he called his wife to sit beside him. It was time for the family to listen to another riveting story on ‘Hawa Mahal’. Just like the Hindi film songs, this was also a programme that was rapidly drawing an ever growing number of people to Vividh Bharati from across the country.

Just a decade earlier, while leaving the country in 1947, many British politicians and officers stationed here had disdainfully declared that there was no India – it was just a motley gathering of different countries with an array of cultures and languages, and it could never be a single country. In 1952, film songs were banned on All India Radio because the then I&B Minister BV Keskar felt that they were degenerate. Only classical music was aired instead, thus alienating large swathes of the country’s population, almost proving the British officers right.

But ironically, it was Hindi movie songs, and Vividh Bharati, which had now unified the country as nothing else could. From Kashmir to Kanyakumari and from Gujarat to Orissa, India was one. In fact, this unification was far more solid than the political merger of princely states into the Indian Union.

This bond became unbreakable after the 1962 war with China. And once again, Vividh Bharati was the single biggest force that made this possible with its iconic new programme, Jaimala. It had India’s living legends like Lata Mangeshkar, Dev Anand, Pran, RD Burman, and Geeta Dutt directly addressing army personnel and dedicating songs to them. And both Vividh Bharati, and India, never looked back since.

The service rose from strength to strength with its long list of programmes that soon attained iconic status, such as ‘Sangeet Sarita’, ‘Pitara’, ‘Chitralok’, ‘Bhule Bisare Geet’, ‘Chhaya Geet’, ‘Inse Miliye’, ‘Hit Super Hit’, ‘Indradhanush’. “Whatever knowledge I have acquired of the ragas on which film songs were based on, is thanks to ‘Sangeet Sarita’, the 15-minute programme that used to be played on Vividh Bharati at 7.30 in the morning. I used to get ready for school at that time. My bus would arrive at 7.45. I would internalise the song construction based on the raga of the day and would then rush for my bus,” recalls R. Sridhar, a music-lover and die-hard fan of Vividh Bharati. Such was the popularity of the service that people could tell the time just by listening to a programme playing on Vividh Bharati.

In 1999, during the Kargil war, it started a programme, ‘Hello Kargil’, through which the family members of soldiers as well as the general public could directly convey their wishes to those fighting for the nation in remote border areas.

Another highlight of the service was its ever popular programme, ‘Aapki Farmaish’, which had the anchor patiently reading out names of people of from tiny, remote villages with names like Jhumri Talaiya, Chikhkli Budruk and Jambusar, to name just a few. Listening to those names was even more amusing than the songs all of them requested. In fact, listeners tried to gauge the popularity of the song by the number of requests for it.

Today, Vividh Bharati covers 97 per cent of the Indian population – more than Doordarshan and Cable TV. Always in keeping with the times, it now has a dedicated website where its fans can listen to live streaming programmes and also surf through old programmes and interviews of legendary artists. It continues with many of its iconic programmes such as ‘Chhaya Geet’, ‘Jaimala’, ‘Hawa Mahal’ and ‘Pitara’, which means some of

these programmes are now 62 years old! Let a modern FM channel beat that.

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