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Column: A Requiem For BBC Hindi Radio

By Sandeep Sahu

As the world prepares to usher in the New Year, I am steeling myself to say, with a heavy heart, goodbye to the BBC Hindi service radio. By the time this piece reaches you, the iconic service on 25 and 41 meter band of short wave radio that had kept millions of listeners across the world informed and enthralled for decades would have come to an end. The all too familiar introduction of the presenter – “Yeh BBC ki Hindi Seva hai” – will not be heard anymore from the first day of 2020.

The demise of BBC Hindi would no doubt be mourned by its devoted listeners across the world. But for this writer, it is as if a part of me has died. If others will miss their tagline “Yeh BBC ki Hindi Seva hai”, I shall miss my signing offline “Sandeep Sahu, BBC, Bhubaneswar.” I was eagerly looking forward to celebrating 25 years of a glorious and highly rewarding association that began early on the morning of March 11, 1995. But alas! That was not to be!!

As I look back on the long journey with BBC Hindi, the many wonderful memories I have had along the way keep flooding back to the mind in a torrent: the sleepless nights, the early mornings, the tension and challenge of meeting the deadline; the treks through inhospitable terrain, working non-stop for days – and nights – together. In a way, it gave me my identity as a journalist. Even now, I get goosebumps when I occasionally run into a stranger who immediately recalls my reporting during the Super Cyclone in 1999 once I introduce myself. BBC also gave me the confidence to stay away from a regular job for close to a decade at the start of the millennium.

The long stint with the BBC has taken me to the farthest corners of my state – from the ‘cut off area’ in Malkangiri to the thickly forested areas of Similipal, from the Maoist den in Kandhamal to the lush green paddy fields of Bargarh, from the theatres of man-elephant conflict in Dhenkanal and Keonjhar to the theatre of man-crocodile conflict in Bhitarkanika. In October 2014, it even took me to Vishakhapatnam to report Cyclone Hudhud. Thanks to BBC, I got to know my state better and see much more of it than I would have done otherwise.

It was a matter of immense pride that even in the remotest part of the state, I never had to explain what BBC was or what its full form was. The abbreviation itself was enough. I doubt if any other media organization enjoys that kind of familiarity. It was my passport to the high and mighty: from a sitting Deputy Prime Minister of the country (LK Advani) to a former Prime Minister (VP Singh), from my childhood hero Rajesh Khanna to celebrated writer VS Naipaul, from successive Chief Ministers of the state to the mercurial Laloo Prasad Yadav.

It also gave me my ‘fan moment’. On my first visit to Bhawanipatna after I started working for BBC to report on starvation deaths, I was pleasantly surprised to find Suresh Agarwal (now Sureshbhai to me), a long time, faithful listener of BBC Hindi who had come all the way from Kesinga just to meet the person he had only listened to on radio till then. On another occasion, while returning after interviewing Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda deep inside the forests on the Kandhamal-Ganjam border, I was not-so-pleasantly surprised to find an AK-47 wielding young Maoist woman from Chhattisgarh tailing me. “Aap hi Sandeep Sahu hain na?” asked the girl who informed me that she was among the around 300 odd armed cadres who had been summoned from the neighbouring state for the ‘Nayagarh operation’ in February, 2008 and among the handful f cadres who had stayed back. She said she had been listening to my reports on the ongoing Kandhamal riots. “Yahaan jungle ke andar na akhbar hai, na TV. Isliye ham BBC radio ke jariye hi bahar ki duniya ki khabar rakhte hain. Aap ke report roz sunte hain,” she said.

It was the first time I realized that radio – and BBC Hindi radio, in particular – was the only medium available to millions of people in far flung areas with no access to newspapers or TV even in Odisha, not a Hindi speaking state by any stretch of magination. The realization got further buttressed during the hostage crisis three years later. In February 2011, the crisis managers of the Odisha government sent me a desperate SOS one evening. After rushing to the state guest house, I realized that they wanted a recorded appeal to the Maoists, who had taken Malkangiri Collector Vineel Krishna hostage, to release him by Prof Hargopal, the chief negotiator from the government side, to be aired in the next morning’s bulletin since there was no way they could reach out to them at that late hour. The appeal was duly aired and Vineel Krishna was duly released a few hours later. It is hard to describe the feeling of immense satisfaction in playing a small role in defusing a crisis.

It would take a whole book to narrate all the wonderful experiences I have had as a reporter for the best-known media organization in the world. But as Hindi radio reaches the end of the road, I would just like to place on record my deep sense of gratitude to the organization for the opportunity to be part of it for so long and to all my wonderful colleagues, former colleagues and seniors who have guided and encouraged me over the years. It has been a huge honour to be part of this crowd for someone whose other tongue is not Hindi. It has had a huge role in the making of me as a journalist.

To end this rather melancholic piece on a positive note, I am happy to inform that all is not over yet. While today marks the end of the road for BBC Hindi radio, BBC Hindi online and TV are alive and kicking!

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same)

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