Monday, March 05, 2007

Wireless in Mumbai.

One thing has always foxed me. While we took to British spellings readily, why didn’t we adapt the favourite British nomenclature ‘wireless’ instead of sticking to ‘radio’? Could it be because our radio was not wireless in the good old days? For instance, our first radio at 233 Khetwadi Main Road was a multi-band, valve-powered Bush, not the more popular Murphy. It was bought just after 1947 from a huge radio showroom at Opera House which is now no more. It had a green ‘magic eye’ to show whether the listener had fine-tuned the station. If memory serves, it was a gimmick, pure and simple. But the point to note is that it was by no means wireless. There used to be an aerial wire not quite stretched diagonally between two poles at the opposite corners of our terrace. The bottom end of it was inserted in a slot at the back of the radio set. The aerial used to be quite a nuisance especially in the kite-flying season snaring the guide thread whenever we flew kites from the front terrace rather than the one on top of the flat, next to the tiled roof. I remember consulting a weekly or fortnightly guide called (probably) The Listener after the eponymous BBC weekly known for its literary content. The desi programme guide used to list systematically all the All India Radio stations in three columns on every page. The transmission would start around 6.30 a.m. and would close down at 11.00 p.m. There used to be a couple of breaks in the transmission along the way. I remember listening to Nehru’s famous eulogy at Gandhi’s funeral (“the light has gone out of our lives”) on our radio. I wrote a moving section about it in my still unpublished novel on Gandhi and Hollywood, The Last Gandhi Movie Our Bush radio also brought us endless hours of entertainment including Binaca Hit Parade on Monday evenings from Radio Ceylon and, later on, film songs on Vividh Bharati. In the fifties, the transistor radio debuted in the US. Our first transistor radio set was a Philips bought in 1967 after I started working on the Philips Radio account at Clarion-McCann. It had a built-in aerial as well as an extendable one and worked on battery cells. So, finally radio had turned wireless. The FM era was still far, far away, though.

All this brings to mind what WH Auden wrote:

Let all your last thinks be all thanks:
… … … … … … … … …
In boyhood
you were permitted to meet
beautiful contraptions,
soon to be banished from the earth,
saddle-tanks loks, beam engines
and over-shot water wheels.
Yes, love, you have been lucky.

('A Lullaby', April 1972)

How very true.

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