One of the closest friends during my growing-up days was Murphy. A loyal friend, always reliable. Well, almost always! It was ready to sit up with me through the nights as I struggled with my exam preparations. And Murphy was one loyal entertainer! Never a dull moment with Murphy around.
Now a long forgotten name, Murphy used to be a leading brand of radios in those days. Remember?
We had the most gorgeous set ever, valves and all. Squarish one, with circular knobs for volume and frequency setting. A knob for navigating from medium wave to short wave 1, 2 and 3. The radio panel had a neatly printed list of broadcasting stations: Dacca, Hyderabad, Delhi, Lahore, Karachi etc. It amazed me as to why some cities long separated from India still found a mention on the panel. Maybe the radio was produced so long ago, maybe not. I wonder why I never questioned this of my parents.
It took some two minutes for the valves to warm up before we could hear any sound, and a few more minutes to zero onto the radio station of our choice. And then the somewhat unpredictable nature of the antenna which had to be coaxed into action during inclement weather by dexterous realignment. Some brave souls, like me, would clamber up to the house terrace to fix the antenna.
Jamshedpur had no local dailies then and no television, of course. So we would tune into our radio for any breaking news. Indo-Pak war of 1971, unseating of Indira Gandhi in the Allahabad High Court judgment, the notorious emergency of 1975, the general elections of 1977 and so on. All India Radio (AIR) was government controlled, full of government propaganda. Hence we would turn to the Hindi service of the BBC at 8 pm for authentic news. Our journalist heroes those days were Mark Tully, then the India correspondent for the BBC and the broadcaster Ratnakar Bharatiya who had an amazing voice.
And of course the commentaries of cricket and hockey matches. Does anyone remember Jasdev Singh’s electrifying description of a sudden center forward move; precise, speedy, accurate. And ending with the excited shout, “aur yeh goal!!” And Dicky Rutnagur with his clipped accent commentating on cricket. I followed India’s famous cricket World Cup victory in 1983 on the radio. When I told this to my sons, they were aghast! How could anyone follow a live cricket match via an audio commentary!
While news and commentaries were important, film songs were a key attraction. Good- old Murphy was the only source of entertainment we had. No TVs those days in Jamshedpur, record player with its 33 1/3 speed discs out of reach for most of us, cassette players very new. (The days of WaIkman, iPod and MP3 players were far away!!). Over time, I gained expertise in coaxing Hindi film music out of our radio at virtually all times of the day. And night!
The biggest attraction of course was Binaca Geet Mala. We would wait the whole week to listen to this Hindi film song countdown at 8 pm on Wednesdays, paper and pen in hand to make a note of each of the sixteen top songs of the week. The ‘sartaj” geet, given a farewell from the weekly countdowns with blows of a trumpet, was marked with an asterisk in out list. Sharp at 8pm, Ameen Sayani mellifluous voice would breeze in through the airwaves, “Bhaiyo aur behno…”, and the weekly magic would commence. In between the songs, Ameen Sayani would alternately promote Binaca toothpaste- and toothbrush, advice a young lover how to handle unrequited love, give a teaser of songs which could be a part of the Geetmala or deliver homilies on how to be a better person. All delivered in his friendly and soothing voice.
How easy it is now for kids to just press a few buttons on the radio and get their favourite FM channels going. And flip to the next one with total ease! Will they ever understand the joys of coaxing a radio to action!
Will they ever understand the joys of a radio?
When I was growing up, the refrigerator was a rarity in most middle-class households. It was something to be inspected with great admiration and awe when visiting a rich uncle’s place! Kids would hover around the ‘fridge waiting for the hostess open the door and enjoy the sudden gust of cold air. A delight to the senses!
The source of cold water in those hot and humid days in the summers of Jamshedpur was a “surahi”. We rationalized this by telling ourselves that the surahi water was much more “natural” compared with the ‘fridge water. Could the ‘fridge ever replicate the delectable earthy flavour of the surahi water? Never!
Just at the onset of summer, a new surahi would be purchased and installed in a corner of the kitchen. The narrow opening of the surahi would be covered by a little clay lid to keep the dust and flies away. You come home, take a steel tumbler, tip the surahi at an angle on its base, fill the tumbler and enjoy the elixir! In a few days the lid would slip from someone’s hands and would promptly be replaced by a steel katori or a small steel saucer.
Those days guests would arrive unannounced. A knock on the door and there were the guests! Real ‘atithis‘. These were the days when the mobile phone was not there and even the now humble BSNL (then called “P&T department”) a phone connection was hard to get. Well, nearly impossible, unless you knew someone in the P&T department.
Mai, my mother, would quickly prepare for the visitor a glass of “saunf-ka-sherbat“. She would get on to the sil-lodha set and grind some saunf. This would be stirred into a stainless steel glass filled with two spoons of sugar and water from the surahi. I forgot, the saunf concoction would get filtered by the nearest available clean piece of cotton cloth (an old, washed cotton sari piece or a clean handkerchief) and off it would be sent, to the guest. I still remember the taste of this divine drink. Clear, tangy and with just a hint of an after-bite.
Over time saunf was replaced by Kisan Orange Squash, perhaps due increasing peer pressure! Family affluence had no part to play, that I can vouch for, as this professor’s family hardly saw any influence.
Surahi’s cousin was a ghada, a larger pot. But it worked on the same principle of cooling. With a view to stabilize the ghada on the floor, and to maintain its cooling efficiency, it was placed on a little bed of sand.
Surhais would come in different configurations. While the basic style was the most popular, there were those which had designs on the surface while some even had a tap at the base of the surahi. And this great device was also portable. Like when you undertook a long train journey, you would carry a surahi along with you. And if you had forgotten to carry it, there were vendors at the rail station where you could buy one!
My sons would probably now see a surahi now only at a museum, maybe when inspecting the remains of Mohen-jo-daro civilization!
I was hoping to conclude this story with this second piece. But like part 1, part 2 too has been longer than planned. And there have been a lot of suggestions from some of you suggesting other devices. So, perhaps, I will write about more than five of these devices. But I promise to conclude this in the next post of this series.
(To be concluded)