Maswood Alam Khan
In the 1960s, when I was a high school student, the voice from Radio Pakistan that I still fondly remember was of Anita Ghulam Ali, the prolific and legendary English news broadcaster. Every morning, perhaps at 8 o’clock, the first sound of our big radio, mounted on a mahogany pedestal, that used to fill our house was the English news broadcast, my father would religiously tune in to, with the familiar intro: “Radio Pakistan the news read by Anita Ghulam Ali”.
Since my childhood I am fond of radio broadcasting. During my stay in Bangladesh I was an avid listener to Bangla services of both BBC and VOA and during my commuting and driving time in Dhaka radio has always been my constant audio companion.
Voices from a radio set seem to me more articulate than audio-video scenes from a television set. When you watch something on a television your attention is divided a piece of your mind is focused to audio and the other to video and, of course, you enjoy TV program in its real-life vivacity. But, still, radio feels—at least to me—livelier than television. When you listen to a radio you are not only a listener to a program, you are also a creator. You are continuously creating a mental picture by visualizing and painting based on what you are listening to.
To those of us who have been listening to Bangla service of Voice of America (VOA) for years together, there are some famous broadcasters in the VOA Bangla service who are very close to our souls. For days, for months and for years these broadcasters have tirelessly and continuously been presenting to us what we are eager to hear at the particular time of their broadcasting. They have become more intimate to us. Once a listener starts liking a broadcaster s/he falls in love with his/her voice and persona. A listener thus becomes a broadcaster’s avid fan.
If you ask me to say who was or is my most favorite broadcaster in VOA Bangla service I would be pulled by diametrically opposite forces of attractions while choosing my favorite broadcaster. I would perhaps think Masuma Khatun is my most favorite broadcaster as her voice bears an avuncular tone. But, at the same time I would be tempted to choose Iqbal Bahar Chowdhury to be my most favorite broadcaster as his voice is vibrated with an amazing metallic tenor and radiates a personality of big size. By the same token, I may also choose Dilara Hashem as the best because she is not only a broadcaster she is a great litterateur too. Syed Ziaur Rahman, Rokeya Chowdhury, Sarkar Kabiruddin are no less attractive celebrities in the world of broadcasting. All these broadcasters are extremely popular to millions of listeners in Bangladesh and West Bengal in India.
But a time comes when these celebrities in the broadcasting world have to say goodbye to their fans as they find themselves too tired and they have to go into retirement. Such a time is poignant to them and also to their fans.
Iqbal Bahar Choudhury, a legendary broadcaster of Voice of America Bangla Service, has retired in 2010 drawing an end to his checkered career in broadcasting that spanned more than 60 years. He began as a child radio actor in Dhaka in the late 1940s, and was one of the first newscasters to appear on screen in Dhaka when television was introduced there in the mid-1960s. Iqbal Bahar Choudhury served as the editor-in-chief of the Bangla service from 1992 until his retirement.
Another prodigy in the broadcasting world, Dilara Hashem of VOA Bangla service has also retired just the other day. Dilara Hashem used to present her weekly programs, Matir Gan and Manusher Gan (Songs of the oil, Songs of the People), based on country and folk music popular in the United States. Dilara Hashem, a renowned broadcaster whose career spanned about 35 years, is a published novelist and poet, who translated lyrics of many American songs into Bangla. Winner of the prestigious Bangla Academy Literature Award in 1976 plus other notable literary and cultural awards in South Asia and North America, Dilara Hashem has maintained a steady literary output for four decades, totaling some 30 volumes of novels, memoirs, short stories, poetry and transliterations.
Syed Ziaur Rahman, another veteran journalist and renowned broadcaster, has of late retired from Voice of America (VOA) after serving its Bangla Service for 35 years as a senior editor. Syed Ziaur Rahman began his career as a journalist in 1955.
Iqbal Bahar Chowdhury, Syed Ziaur Rahman and Dilara Hashem during their tenures as broadcasters in Voice of America had interviewed many important personalities, heads of states, singers, economists, sportsmen, literary figures and artists. They must be treasuring those interviews in their memories which may have occupied spaces in their diaries and may find rooms in future memoirs of broadcasters. What they had enjoyed the most was love of their fans.
Broadcasters are like singers. Both, to my opinion, are vocalists as they are gifted with special vocal cords to make sounds that resonate with all the right harmonicas. They know how to get their voice connected on to their breath through good breath management and attention to linguistic details. They are masters in connecting their voices with the ears of their audiences.
The main focus of a broadcaster, as of a singer, is to win the audience by his or her appealing voice. Listeners are naturally drawn into the magic that their voices create: a true resonance blended with lyrics and sugared by music when a singer sings a melody and another resonance created by words and sweetened by the modulated tone of a broadcaster announcing news or narrating an essay or telling a story. Making this happen is not an easy job.
Like a singer, a broadcaster too has to perform a tough job to stand and deliver a consistently good resonant sound while attending to all the other aspects of a performance that demands physical, emotional and psychological efforts. There are singers and broadcasters who can do this incredibly nimble and effortful thing and make it seem effortless.
In the 1970s and onward people of Bangladesh have been fond of two radio services: BBC in Bangla and Voice of America in Bangla. Both the Bangla services of BBC and VOA were very popular during our liberation war and people were very fond of some voices which told them about what was happening in the war fronts in those turbulent months of 1971.
The strength of popularity of these two overseas radio services in Bangla can be gauged by the name of a market at a spot in Pakshi on the bank of the river Padma: BBC Bazaar. Before our liberation war, nothing existed on the site where BBC Bazar stands today. One Abul Kashem Mollah had set up a tea-stall at the spot under a Koroi tree where hundreds of villagers would gather to listen to Bangla news and views broadcast every night by BBC and Voice of America from a 3-band radio Abul Kashem Mollah got as a wedding gift from his in-laws that informed the villagers about the latest developments of our liberation war.
The naming of the Bazaar would have been more appropriate had it been called BBC-VOA Bazaar as both BBC and VOA used to broadcast impartial news about the war fronts during our liberation war. But, BBC was more popular than VOA, especially after America dispatched their aircraft carrier USS Enterprise to the Bay of Bengal with an intention to intimidate the Indian government which was supporting our liberation movement and radio listeners in Bangladesh wrongly thought whatever VOA did broadcast was what American government thought. Many listeners were however ignorant about a fact that Voice of America was, and still is, an autonomous body which broadcast their programs without any censoring by the US government.
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