It is possible that the current generation of the country wouldn’t believe it. Before the advent of the news channels, the majority of the Indian population, meaning crores of Indians, used to carefully listen to the news broadcasts from the All India Radio at their homes, markets, and various other places. The entire nation knew and recognized the immaculate voice of the popular personalities of the All India Radio such as Mr. Devkinandan Pandey, Mr. Ashok Bajpai, Smt. Vinod Kashyap, Mr. Anadi Mishra, Mr. Ramanuj Prasad Singh, and Smt. Indu Wahi. Most parents used to advise their children to listen to the news being read by Mr. Devkinandan Pandey and other newsreaders who did so with a view to brevity and clarity so that the children could learn the correct pronunciation of the words from them. There was a time when the entire nation ardently listened to the news broadcast from All India Radio and followed through with significant discussions centered around them. Although Devkinandan Pandey Ji had read the news thousands of times, his hands were trembling while reading the devastating news of the death of Nehru Ji and Smt. Indira Gandhi Ji. The companions of Mr. Devkinandan Pande used to learn the appropriate use of Nukte (points) and the correct pronunciation of words from him. Pandeyji was a native of the present-day state of Uttarakhand, India.
The recent demise of Mr. Ramanuj Prasad Singh, who worked in Akashvani for decades alongside Mr. Devkinandan Pandey, can be said to have bid a farewell to the last sign of the golden era of Hindi service of the All India Radio. He travelled from Patna in 1961 and joined Akashvani, Delhi. Mr. Ramanuj Prasad Singh, who was the nephew of the nationally acclaimed poet, Shri Ramdhari Singh Dinkar, had a unique technique of reading news. His pronunciation was also incomparable. He was from Patna Law College. His wife, Manibala Ji was a newsreader in the Nepali language service of All India Radio.
Among the popular newsreaders of the All India Radio, Mrs. Vinod Kashyap was very widely known. For more than thirty years, Vinod Ji, broadcasted news from door to door with her voice, and finally retired from the All India Radio in 1992. She later passed away in 2019. It was Mrs. Vinod Kashyap who conveyed the grave news of the Indo-China War, the Indo-Pak War (1965, 1971), and the dismal news of the death of Lal Bahadur Shastri Ji to the nation. Mrs. Vinod Kashyap was also seen as the most popular newsreader of All India Radio after Mr. Devakinandan Pandey. Mr. Devakinandan Pandey and Vinod Ji often read the 15-minute bulletins of All India Radio at 8 in the morning or 9 at night. Millions of people were able to garner information regarding the happenings of the country and the world by listening to these two bulletins. Apart from Mrs. Vinod Kashyap, Mrs. Vindu Wahi, Mr. Jaidev Trivedi, Mr. Manoj Mishra, Mr. Anadi Mishra, etc. were also popular newsreaders during that period.
It is true that one’s command over language and vocabulary saw a tremendous improvement due to listening to the news bulletins of Mr. Devkinandan Pandey, Mr. Ashok Bajpai, Mrs. Vinod Kashyap, etc. It appeared as if their speech was blessed as the abode of Saraswati. It is impossible that the great newsreader of Akashvani is discussed and the name of the English language news reader Mr. Melvin DiMello is missed. With a sore throat and a heavy heart, Pandit Jawahar Nehru gave the heartbreaking news of Mahatma Gandhi’s departure from this world on 30 January 1948 at 8 pm via All India Radio. Shortly thereafter, 35-year-old Anglo-Indian youth, Mr. Melville de Mello, detailed the news of the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi a.k.a Bapu in an English news bulletin. He had narrated the story of Bapu’s great journey that he witnessed with his eyes.
It was for the first time that the All India Radio was broadcasting commentary on the last journey and last rituals of a person. A young man named Jasdev Singh in Jaipur was also listening to that funeral procession. On the same day, he decided that he too would join the profession of radio commentary. Eventually, that did happen. Jasdev Singh Ji claims that Mr. Melville de Mello had recited commentary for 7 hours continuously on that day. He had brought the whole atmosphere alive with his words. There was an abode of Saraswati in his speech. Crores of Indians cried due to his soulful commentary. That day forth, the entire country became well-versed with the name of Melville de Mello due to his vivid and emotional description of the journey. In years to follow, he also passed commentary on the Republic Day Parade. Melville de Mello Sahib passed away in 1991. Mr. Surjit Sen and Mr. Varun Haldar were also some of the excellent newsreaders in English.
Of course, apart from All India Radio, Doordarshan also had a very high standard of newsreaders. In this context, the name of Telugu language news readers J.V. Raman is noteworthy. He was a Professor of Economics at the Shivaji College of Delhi University. He used to go to Doordarshan in the evening. He gained recognition at the all-India level as a Hindi newsreader. As long as he was associated with Doordarshan, the 8 o’clock bulletin at night was considered very vital. The whole country used to listen to the bulletin read by him at 8 o’clock. News then meant the events of the day being presented to the audience without any personal opinion, point of view, or any biases. The news was presented as it was. This was the time when proper pronunciation and presentation on Doordarshan were of great importance.
There was also a newsreader named Salma Sultan who read news on Doordarshan. She used to read the news decently. In those days, the newsreaders of Doordarshan were convinced of the style of news reading of Mr. Devkinandan Pandey and Mr. Ashok Bajpai. Then the Bhishma Pitamah of Doordarshan News was Gangadhar Shuklaji. He had a solid stronghold in the world of news and literature. When someone made a mistake he did not scold or humiliate instead helped them understand their mistakes and be better. He played an irreplaceable role in preparing many generations of Doordarshan News Readers. I don’t understand why we don’t have great news readers nowadays. The question requiring an answer is, at what level does the shortage lie? The country again wants to know the various happenings of the world only from that level of newsreaders.
(The author is a senior editor, columnist, and former MP. The views expressed are personal opinion of the author.)