The humble Radio that has lived for more than a century and moved from the experimental existence to a household commonality is becoming invisible gradually. Globally, radio revolutionised the communication scenario and made it possible for people to remain in touch during war, famine, earthquakes or floods. The modern smart devices seem to gradually lose the inbuilt circuitry, and perhaps the urban, cosmopolitan population will abandon it completely, or so they think.
As a college student, it was a great feeling to be heard on the radio and be recognised for my voice. It brought with itself a little recognition in the city and helped me sustain. My memory takes me back to the broadcast I did from a graveyard in Gwalior back in the winter of 2010. It was perhaps the first and the last time I came across something remotely spooky. I met an old man at the entrance of the graveyard, sleeping wrapped in a blanket who wouldn’t wake up when I tried, I thought I should ask his permission before I enter, it was around 2:30 in the morning, dark and cold, the only source of illumination was a high-mast street light that seemed to get lost in the fog. There was no response from the old man, so I decided to venture in and take a stroll inside the graveyard while I was on-air, inside it was lined with graves, neatly organised in queues, some with fresh flowers and incense some old. I had not entered a graveyard ever in 22 years of my life, but now as part of a world record attempt by Lemon 91.9 FM I was hosting the late show from 1 to 5 in the morning.
I can still distinctly recall the silence, interrupted only by my own voice. After the first brief stroll when I was returning towards the entrance, I saw the same old man standing upright with the blanket wrapped around him, and trying to tell me something, however, I could not understand his language even though I had spent a good three years in the city and had a fair understanding of the local dialect, his made no sense, finally he gestured that he was hungry by pointing his fingers to his mouth. I had some food back in the van parked near the graveyard, so I walked and got him some of the sandwiches that were cold by now, he seemed to like it and sat down and ate them up, while he was at it I decided to take another stroll and describe the graveyard in more detail to my listeners. I started talking about the graveyard and my encounter with the strange old man, and when I came back to the same spot where the man was eating the sandwiches I couldn’t find him. The paper plate was still in the same spot with tomato sauce on it but the sandwich and the man were both gone. Perhaps he had come out from one of the graves feeling claustrophobic and felt hungry. I stayed for a few more minutes and returned to the van from where I completed the rest of my show. I still sometimes think about the incident and try to look for clues of where the man must have gone.
Radio had always been of special significance when I was growing up, TV was a novelty, in Dhenuki, the village Mukhiya, Parmanand Prasad had a black an white TV that would be powered by a battery on Sunday morning when Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayana and subsequently Mahabharata by BR Chopra was broadcast. The entire village would gather to watch the episodes, I was an infant then, but years later I discovered these stories. In those days, and even now, Radio used to be a prominent item in the dowry promised to the groom, I have also heard of stories where a groom would refuse to marry if he did not see the Radio set along with the bicycle as promised. I wondered then if the marital life did not progress as sweet as imagined by the wife, would she be listening to the radio when she wants? Or would the husband carry the radio around with himself in the fields, the markets and to the brief outstation trips he would make? Or would it be a common property and the entire family would devise a certain schedule where they could either individually listen to their favourite programmes, or everyone would sit together and listen, but that could be a bit of a trouble since the bride cannot lift the veil and come out of the house and the father in law and elders cannot simply step into the house. Perhaps they were keeping it on top of the Choukath (the main entrance of the house) so its audible to both areas. While I was growing up, radio was growing out of fashion too, in the late 90’s the radio started going out of fashion, and people now wanted TV sets in dowry. I wonder if the TV could be as mobile as the radio is. My father tells me there are folk songs sung especially in the weddings that categorically mention Radio as an important part of the dowry (gifts) that the bride brings with her.
In the 21st century Radio is equally old a medium as Cinema, perhaps an older cousin whose gradual progression is equally shared by developments in Cinema. It is also vital understanding that between 1920 and 1923 first commercial Radio stations were set up, and this is also the period when films find greater audiences and move towards longer narrative films, sharing technological advancements and becoming commercial pursuits leading to the birth of major studios. By 1950 almost all major countries had a commercial high power station, which was the precursor to having TV broadcast stations. Soon, the image was married to the sound and was broadcast over massive distances making the world a smaller place. When Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay conquered the Mount Everest, they turned on their transistor radio and listened to Radio Ceylon from more than 3000 Km away.
In the last few years we have seen Radio go out of fashion from the urban centres, and from the smartest of devices, however, what we fail to notice is that the medium is all too pervasive now. Our smartphones work on a much-advanced radio communication system that carries not just our voice modulated over GHz frequency but also data and keep us connected to the world through our favourite apps. It has metamorphosed and become ether, the medium that carries and occupies everything. Enables extra-terrestrial communication through high power space radios and allows us to feel entertained in the driving seat when we are stuck in the maddening city traffic.