Bonds Over Radio Waves
Frayed but surviving the test of time
Radio is a powerful means of communicatio, oft neglected and overtaken by the visual spectrum. But even so it has not lost its space as the authorities have failed to check the transmission of radios across the political and social spectrum, and the people have continued to reach out to each other through the broadcasters in different ways through Radio.
All who have worked in the radio services, have many anecdotes to relate. This reporter is no exception - in Gujarat representing an international news service at the turn of this century. Without delving into the divisive politics of the time, there is a need to recall some of the most humane experiences with the listeners playing akey role.
An incident that instantly comes to mind is the assignment to cover Shabari Kumbh in Dangs district of the state in the year 2006. The event had gained international attention because of obvious reasons of the area having witnessed the targeting of tribal population in the name of religious conversions for the past few years.
To make matters worse the three day event was organised at a remote spot some 35 km away from the district headquarters of Ahwa. To add to this there was no hotel accommodation or internet connectivity available in Ahwa at that time and one had to travel from Valsad to Ahwa covering 110 km before doing the additional 35 km to the Shabridham where the event had been organised.
Things became all the more miserable when I realised on the second morning in Ahwa that the electrical lead that connected my mini disc, the microphone for recording in audio format, had gone bust. There being no shops selling such leads in Ahwa I felt dejected and disoriented till the moment I remembered that one of my listeners, Shabbir had contacted me on the telephone on a couple of occasions in the recent past after somehow obtaining my number.
The owner of a small tea joint where a journalist friend and I were having tea while discussing the problem overheard our talk. Ahwa is a small place and the owner went on to tell Shabbir that I was in town. Within five minutes, Shabbir arrived on his scooter.
Receiving us with immense warmth, Shabbir goaded us to come to his shop which to our pleasant surprise turned out to be an electrical repairs shop. The man not only worked overtime to repair the electrical lead wire but refused to charge for his labour.
Shabbir even offered a meal to us which we refused citing paucity of time. Such is the bond this pure medium creates between people and it also establishes the fact how precious a reader, listener or viewer is for a journalist.
The second interesting instance that comes to mind is about a two minute interview recorded with an aged woman from the denotified tribe of Dafers. Her simple plea that she was deprived of water in her hamlet on account of her caste had got the reporters’ antennas alive. “I am told to fill my water containers after everybody has done so because of my caste and by the time my turn comes the water supply timings come to an end,” she had said.
It was a routine job, done and forgotten till the time a person approached me saying, “The old lady and her community members listened to her recording while moving with their animals somewhere in remote Banaskantha. She sends you her thanks and blessings.”
Talking about water there was yet another episode that remains etched in memory after almost two decades. A radio report was to be done on the socio-cultural dimensions of water scarcity relating it to an international round of talks in the Mexican city of Cancun.
A couple of interviews were lined up with two women, a Muslim and a Rabari (shepherd) in a remote corner of parched Kutch. Accompanied by a woman interpreter since Kutchi was incomprehensible, the two were picked up from Nakhatrana town where they had come for some personal work.
We first went to Hukumaben’s house where she explained what all was being done to conserve water and the hardships the villagers faced. She related that an abuse in those parts was to call a person a resident of ‘napaniya mulk’ (village with no water). She also explained that people used to mention on wedding invitation cards not to waste water.
A radio listener who was excited to get her voice recorded, she just asked out of the blue at around 4 pm whether I had my lunch which I had not. She immediately rushed to her kitchen bringing two bajra rotis with a bowl of milk. She even offered to pack some more.
Leaving her home we then went to the Rabari village some 15 km away where Bijiben further enhanced my knowledge by showing certain plants and saying, “If they flower by a certain date we know that the rainfall will be normal else we prepare for scarcity. We also organise social gatherings with minimal presence to save water.”
Her family were also ardent radio listeners and having a reporter from their favourite service was something they were very happy about. But after a couple of cups of tea I was stunned when they invited me for a meal. “I just had it in the previous house we visited right before your eyes,” I said.
“But that you had in her house not mine,” was her reply as she forced me to have a meal. The two women were excited to hear their voice on the short wave service and became immensely popular in their respective villages, I was told by the interpreter later.
Then there were scores of daily wage labourers who used to call from public telephone booths putting hard earned coins into the telephone box just to talk to the reporter who brought them unfiltered news from the remote corners of the state. This was largely the news about common folk that did not find much space in mainstream media because of obvious commercial, and at times political, reasons.
But what stood out was their honesty and faith. In one such call a migrant labourer calling in the middle of floods from somewhere around Sachin near Surat complained that the sole shopkeeper in his hamlet was selling daily necessities like flour and rice at a premium. He then went on saying,”Should I tell you something? We plundered his shop today.”
A question often asked these days is why are the authorities reluctant to allow news on private and community FM radio stations that have sprung up in the last two decades across the country. The answer is anybody’s guess in the face of the purity and popularity of radio as a medium.