Writer’s block Society

Missing Doordarshan — and still not missing it

The evening M. Balamuralikrishna died, I expected my Facebook feed to be overflowing with tributes to the legendary Carnatic vocalist and composer — and sure enough, it was. At 86, he was the melodious roof under which several generations had sought refuge, and with his passing, the roof had suddenly collapsed.

Many updated their status messages paying rich tribute, some others posted clips of his songs, and a fortunate few shared pictures in which they had posed with him. And then, I noticed something extraordinary.

A Facebook friend from Ahmedabad — a Gujarati man called Bhavin Adhyaru — had posted a lengthy tribute, in the Gujarati script, to the maestro. Since the hashtag was in English, I knew he too was mourning the loss. But why him — a young man living in faraway Gujarat for whom Carnatic music must be as foreign as Timbuktu is to me? Then I stumbled upon more tributes — from a Bengali friend living in Bangalore, from a Punjabi friend living in Delhi, from a Bihari friend living in Bareilly, from a Kanpur friend who now lives in Himachal Pradesh. What had suddenly awakened their interest in an 86-year-old Carnatic vocalist? The answer wasn’t difficult to guess.

Nearly 30 years ago — when we lived in simpler and less-cacophonic times and when the Prime Minister happened to be the young Rajiv Gandhi who wanted to promote national integration — Doordarshan would telecast a six-minute long musical, Mile Sur Mera Tumhara, that intended to show how India, in spite of the different languages and cultures, sang the same tune.

Bhimsen Joshi and Lata Mangeshkar too sang in the video, and several Bollywood stars, including Amitabh Bachchan, also made an appearance, but what people still remember most about it is the short Carnatic rendition by Balamuralikrishna. In those few seconds allotted to him, he combined his powerful vocals with a boyish smile to touch even Gujarati and Punjabi hearts.

I too paid my tribute to him — in the form of a status message, of course: ‘Had private TV channels existed 30 years ago, the rest of India would have never known who Balamuralikrishna is/was.’ I felt pleased with myself because that is the truth. Private channels have no space for the classical, only commercial (and commercials). They serve you noise in the name of news, Bollywood-related masala in the name of entertainment, and zilch to enhance your cultural awareness. As a result, they are producing an intellectually- and culturally-bankrupt generation.

Ask a 20-year-old who India’s most famous author is and s/he will promptly reply: “Chetan Bhagat!” But ask him or her who is India’s most famous sitar player today — oh well, even I don’t know the answer.

I may lack the depth to appreciate classical music or dance, but even as a child, thanks to Doordarshan, I knew who these people were: Ravi Shankar, Amjad Ali Khan, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Bhimsen Joshi, Shiv Kumar Sharma, Zakir Hussain, Birju Maharaj, Raja and Radha Reddy. I have even watched them perform — on Doordarshan, of course — which, in hindsight, was such a privilege. Today, I have no idea who in the current generation has stepped into their shoes.

I suddenly miss Doordarshan: how beautifully it held the country together. It had one flaw, though. Since it was (and still is) run by the Government, it blacked out the voice of the Opposition: basically the ruling party decided what was being aired. And, therefore, at the same time, I am also glad that Doordarshan has been elbowed out by private channels.

Today, we live in the age of social media, which already has a large number of people vociferously supporting the government (as opposed to the general human tendency of being critical of the Government), and in such a scenario, imagine the country having just one TV channel: the Government-run Doordarshan.

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Printable version | Feb 21, 2020 9:51:04 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/Missing-Doordarshan-%E2%80%94-and-still-not-missing-it/article16700599.ece

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