All India Radio: A fading memory

Classical music today is suffering from a space crunch. There's too little space which is why the press does not want to talk much about it. Youth want to listen to less of it because their space is filled with other music. Traffic discourages people from moving out and attending concerts and many recitals have empty seats.But the government machinery is more or less loyal to the classical network. Government television channels, Doordarshan and the regional ones, oblivious to the taste of advertisement money, beam classical concerts.

And then there is the All India Radio, the common man's source of communication, untiringly playing music ever since it existed. There was a time when the All India Radio's daily schedule would be up on the daily newspaper. People would diligently mark out the A or B channel and the waves — short waves, medium waves and listen to concerts. In many households, the day would begin with Vividh Bharati and Hindi film songs. It is still popular I guess. In the Western world, radio is a very strong means of communication and music. World Space was a good Indian paradigm, with endless hours of dedicated classical music. Thanks to this, I had begun listening to classical music at the dentist's, in people's kitchens, in living rooms. It unfortunately had a sudden unexplained death.The FM and the Internet radios are catching up these days. But if there are staunch defenders of classical music, it would be the All India Radio, whose service to classical music can be termed "yeoman". We don't see their schedules in the newspapers any longer. Few people talk about it. But the radio still is on, not only with their recordings but the once a year live Sangeet Sammelan concerts in different cities.

I have been visiting the All India Radio in Mumbai for more than thirty years. First as an onlooker along with my mother for her recordings. Those are nice memories. We were always received warmly by the Kalyanaraman, the mridangist and Bharata Natyam guru who looked after the Carnatic music section.There was also the violinist called Kalyani Varadarajan, who passed away some years back. She was a Carnatic composer as well. She never spoke much and as a child I would find her weird with funny mannerisms. I would often wonder what kind of compositions she composed and how. There was also the gracious Radha Warrier who later moved on to Doordarshan. There was no politeness lacking and they made every artiste feel welcome and at home. After the recording, Kalyanaraman would personally accompany the artistes to the duty officer's room, procure them their cheques and see them out. Then we would wait with bated breath for the day when the recording would be broadcast. The whole family would gather in front of the radio, my proud grandparents especially. There would be pin-drop silence as the familiar announcement "Yeh Akashwani hai" heralded my mother's lovely voice.My association continued later as a singer and I enjoyed doing some interesting programmes for the music archives and hosting programmes live for the several Sangeet Sammelan programmes. And in the wings had many pleasant conversations with Brij Bhushan Sahni who dabbled in theatre in his spare time. Harsha Bhogle was a regular with his sports shows. I remember having worked for hours with a particular feature called Saga of the Raga, which we sent as an entry for the SAARC countries contest.

I continued several years doing music-based and other features. All this surprisingly for the English section, not for the music section! I spent Sundays hosting live shows and between the programmes, would spend hours in the music library listening to spools of vintage music — Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Voleti, MS... And when I stepped out, would notice the transformation of Churchgate from a bustling, crowded area on weekdays to a deserted, eerie zone on Sundays.
Once in a while you came across an interesting Station Director with whom you could empathise. I still go to the All India Radio, though nowadays solely for my music recordings. You are welcomed by an ugly metal detector at the entrance, which you can easily circumvent without trouble; it does not even beep. The building looks more decrepit than ever and attitudes have degenerated. Pan-stained stairs, cobwebbed ceilings welcome you. The desolate looking rooms with withered furniture add to the atmosphere. What is worse, the music departments are looked after by staff having little knowledge of music and those who know a bit, are kings in the kingdom of the one-eyed. Artistes are treated shabbily to say the least, rudeness and stiff behaviour being the order of the day. The ambience does not help produce music at all, leave alone good music. What a far cry from the All India Radio of those days ! If this is one body that upholds Indian classical music, then its needs a thorough top-down revamp — personnel need training on communication and interpersonal skills, a transition from frustration to motivation and lessons in innovation to make the good old AIR a warm place once again and in keeping with times.If not, they are definitely going to be losers in the long run. But like everyone says 'yeh government hai'. What are the chances of AIR regaining its old values? Anyone's guess.

Dr Vasumathi Badrinathan is an eminent Carnatic vocalist based in Mumbai. She can be contacted on


Forwarded by:-Shri Mitul Kansal,

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