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Not in news…

Veteran Sanskrit newsreader Baldev Anand Sagar has compiled a list of everyday Sanskrit words used in AIR news. Photo: R. V. Moorthy   | Photo Credit: R_V_Moorthy

Let me begin with a singular experience I had some years ago. It was nearing eight in the evening and I was in the market place of my hometown Golaghat in Assam. Yes, the same Golaghat that recently hit national news for border skirmish with Nagaland. All of a sudden, the sound of a newsreader from All India Radio, Delhi, pierced through the market — otherwise with depressing dim lights because of perennial low voltage in that area. He was delivering news at the end of the day in Assamese. Walkers, cyclists, shoppers suddenly became all ears to what was ‘coming from Delhi’. I don’t know how many North East towns have this facility for publicly broadcasting AIR news but I quietly saluted the effort of the local civic body for sensing the pulse of the people and installing speakers to facilitate its delivery.

I also saluted the reach of AIR news in regional languages, even in the times of television. So, when the other day, well-known Sanskrit scholar from Delhi, Baldev Anand Sagar, said that he has regularly received listener response from across India for news that he has been reading in Sanskrit from AIR Delhi, I could very well comprehend it. Little known to most Delhiites, AIR Delhi has been broadcasting news in Sanskrit twice daily for the last 40 years and Sagar has been an important part of this journey. According to the 2001 Census, India has roughly about 15,000 speakers of Sanskrit, and this service — being the only one on the radio — has been attracting the attention of its lay speakers and scholars alike.

Sagar, hired to deliver the news when it began in 1974 “on a trial basis”, remembers saying for the first time to the microphone, “Iyam Akashvani. Samprati Vartaha Shruyantam (This is All India Radio. And you are listening to the news.)

“In 1976, H.C. Bhatt, AIR Director General, News, created three permanent posts of News Readers and Translators (NRT) in Sanskrit. Along with two others, I was recruited. After each bulletin, we used to think up new words in Sanskrit to make it comprehensible to lay listeners,” recalls Sagar, a process which led him to write a book “Sanskrit Journalism: History and Its Modern Forms” four years ago interspersed with Sanskrit equivalents for words like countdown, digitisation, smart cards, et al. Sagar retired as the head of the department in 2012 but continues to read the news as a consultant.

Yet another initial recruit was Mangala Kavthekar, a postgraduate in Sanskrit from Delhi University. Kavthekar, who too reads the news still, remembers it as a novel experience. We were taught sahityik Sanskrit in university. But we needed loukik Sanskrit with lok pratilik shabd for news.”

Sagar points out the “immense possibilities” for new words in Sanskrit. “Because, unlike some other languages, Sanskrit has 2000 roots of the verb, 22 prefixes and 200 suffixes.” Culling out from his inbox a listener email he received before he retired, Sagar highlights their involvement in word selection, “how he has argued for words by giving examples.” The bulletins have been uploaded on the AIR website for some years now, which “have been well received. It has also helped many to learn loukik Sanskrit.”

Unfortunately, the Department is now a pale copy of what it was. The three permanent posts lay vacant; the head of the Kashmiri news department — who doesn’t know the language — oversees it. Mohan Chandak, Director-General (News), informs, “Right now, there is no regular NRT in Sanskrit unit. However, there is one contractual NRT and the remaining casuals (eight on the panel) who are booked as per requirement.”

The casuals include Sagar and Kavthekar. Having seen better days, these old timers feel the Department should do more. “By being a casual employee, you don’t have the same responsibility as a regular. It had a good start, now it should encourage more creativity, like, why not have a regular feature on any topic?” Sagar adds, “The time given per day has been five minutes each in the morning and evening for the last 40 years. Doordarshan began the Sanskrit news as a weekly and became a daily five-minute bulletin since 1999. I wonder why these timings can’t be increased?”

Good question. Wonder whether publicly broadcasting the news in parts of Kerala, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh — where Sanskrit is a spoken language — will do some magic!

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Printable version | Mar 6, 2021 2:19:38 PM |

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