Yesterday, after more years than I can count, I returned to the radio. The commentary came squeaking over the air, the voices rising and falling like a sea wave, sometimes loud and clear, them fadling into the ether, then re-emerging. Radio, it would seem, has technologically not kept pace with TV. On television, the pictures come bright and clear from anywhere in the world, as if the match is being played next door at the Brabourne Stadium, but not the voices on the radio.
Still, it was good to get back to the radio. It took me back several ages.
The news at 9 o'clock. "This is All India Radio. The news - read by Melville Demellow." Or Surabjit Sen or Jotika Ratnam or Pamela Singh or Sushil Jhaveri.
Melville Demellow was the soul of AIR. His voice was as familiar and as admired as Lata Mangeshkar. He did a conmmentary on Mahatma Gandhi's commentary that, if you were to hear it today, would give you a better idea of the tremendous emotional upsurge than Attenborough's film scene with a cast of thousands of extras from UP and Haryana.
I met Demellow many years later, during the Asian Games in New Delhi. He told me about the submersion of Gandhi's ashes in the Ganga at Allahabad. The ceremony was performed after sunset. Either that or in the pre-dawn, I forget which. Hundreds of boats were in the river, with their lights on. The waters reflected these bobbing lights and the lights of the stars in the sky, making one large bright patch. Then, as the ashes were submerged into the water, the people in the boats simultaneously emptied milk into the water, and the river turned white.
Melville Demellow reported all that. Just his voice, no pictures, and he made the whole scene come to life.
There was another piece of radio reporting by him that I remember. It was during the India-Pakistan war, the first, I think, or the second. I have forgotten how many wars there have been between the two countries, I only know that all of them India has won.
The first military hero of that war was an Indian soldier called Abdul Hamied. Single handed, he destroyed enemy tanks with grenades and died in the process. The fact that he was a Muslim made the event more singificant.
Melville Demellow did a feature on him for AIR. I recall sitting in the dark room in the dark city (there was blackout, a precaution against Pakistan air-raids), as Demellow recaptured the scene guns firing, Pitton tanls rolling. Then back to Abdul Hamied's village, a cold winter morning, the cry of the mullah in the mosque calling the faithful to prayers.
Sometimes, I think, the radio was superior to TV. Though I am happy we have got TV and I am stil hoping they will show the matches on TV.