Friday, December 3, 2010

Cricket Commentary on the Radio

Before the television era, ball-by-ball radio commentaries of cricket matches broadcast by radio stations were the only way cricket followers outside the ground could get live updates from the field.  Radio commentary continues to be popular ever since the first radio broadcast  (click here) was made.  It was known as 'synthetic broadcast'.  You will be amazed at the method adapted at that time! Today, people can watch live coverage in pictures on their mobile phones!

Suresh Saraiya (click here)

I was inspired to write this blog when I heard that Suresh Saraiya was doing his 100th Test Match as radio commentator (for All India Radio).  It was the Nagpur Test between India and New Zealand (Nov.2010) and a delayed start to the match enabled the commentators to share their views on this great man on this landmark occasion.  It was a very interesting discussion.

Suresh Saraiya is a popular radio commentator whose voice is all too familiar to cricket-lovers all over the country since 41 years.  For players to play 100 Tests in recent times is an easier milestone than doing commentary for 100 Tests.  It may take about 10-14 years for players but it took this commentator 40 years to reach the century, which  is something remarkable.  Suresh Saraiya commands great respect.  His colleagues in the commentary box were admiring that he does not do the commentary for money.  Such is his love for cricket. 

I first heard him during the Bangalore Test Match in 1974 (click here).  We were all equipped with transistor radios at the stadium to listen to commentary to know identities of players.  We did not want to get answers like 'the one in white pants' going by an old joke when Sir Jack Hobbs was touring Australia and an ignorant spectator got that answer when he asked "Who is Jack Hobbs?".  Hobbs was the best batsman in that time (1920s).

Saraiya was among Tony Cozier (the veteran from West Indies), Anant Setalvad and R.S.Krishnaswamy for that match.  His flowing style, almost like singing, (in the 'Saraiya raaga'!) is unique and is renown for his 'back again' thing, what with his great knack of keeping those 'dead moments'  of cricket esp. between two deliveries of an over alive.  He fills this time sharing some interesting facts and figures and then when the bowler begins his run, he would return to the live action with his typically tuned 'back again'.  

In the early 70s I developed a great fancy for listening to radio commentary.  My grandfather used to listen to the commentary with much attention esp. when his nephew was playing for India (B.S.Chandrasekhar), but I could not understand much cricket at that young age, in the 1960s, leave alone the names of the commentators.  Scores mattered much to me then.

In 1973 I was at my friend Shankar's house in the next street one evening.  With much glee, he told me that he had discovered where BBC was broadcasting its live commentary on the Test Match between England and West Indies. I was so thrilled to hear it so clearly on his small valve-radio on the shortwave band.  I virtually ran home to search for that station (he told me where the 31 metre band was) in our Bush 8-band radio. I located that radio station, as reception was very clear at that time.  Goosebumps of joy!  I marked that spot on the dial and thereafter I became a regular follower whenever Test Matches were held in England. 

My Bush Radio (EBS 51, Made in England) that has given me and family many hours of listening joy.  It has been part of the family since 1958.  Still in working condition, but rarely switched on.

Similarly, prompted by my cricket friends, I found that Radio Australia also broadcast commentaries on the 13 metre band.  Not all radios were equipped with this frequency range.  Both Bush and our  National Panasonic transistor had this. I followed matches live from Radio Australia too when any team toured there.  The commentary team provided such fantastic stuff and also the English language itself that I did not want to miss description of a single minute.  I used to carry the transistor even to the toilet and bathroom!  The commentary was on even while studying for exams.  I had made a wire antenna so that the best reception was possible to receive the commentary loud and clear!  Shortwave reception need a good antenna to receive signals.

Slowly I became familiar with the voices and names behind them and I went to Cloud 9 many times on hearing voices of famous old cricketers!  What knowledge and experience they used to share!  

From the BBC, there were Brian Johnston, John Arlott, Henry Blofeld, Chris Martin-Jenkins (CMJ), Trevor Bailey, Fred Trueman, et al.  For Radio Australia there were stalwarts like Alan McGilvray, Lindsay Hassett, Keith Stackpole, Richie Benaud, Bill Lawry, et al.  It was cricket-education to all those who listened to them!  I must tell that I learnt much just by listening.  I was so much addicted that I have made recordings in bits and pieces of those famous voices.  I'm looking at ways to digitize some of those tapes now as e-technology is galloping!

Tape collection - 6 tapes on the top right are clips from radio commentaries by many famous voices at BBC and Radio Australia.

Alan McGilvray (click here)
- knwon as the 'Voice of Australia'!

Richie Benaud

1981 picture. HM The Queen Elizabeth II, Peter Baxter, Henry Blofeld and CMJ.

I've also recorded a few vintage clips from BBC's "Test Match Special".  Peter Baxter used to present this series on vintage memorable matches when the present match adjourned for luncheon.  A clip describing the live moment when Sir Len Hutton overtook Sir Don Bradman's 334, another clip capturing the moment of Bradman scoring a century, Jim Laker taking 19 wickets in that Leeds Test and a few such ones.

During Alan McGilvray's last Test Match (Eng-Aust, 1985) at the Oval in England as commentator, he was recollecting how the commentary was reproduced when there was a confusion during the famous 1960 Tied Test match at Brisbane.  They did not know it was a tie.  Then later, he said, the last ball of that match was redone in a funny way with the correct scores.  West Indies' Joe Solomon had thrown down the stumps to run out the Australian batsman with the scores level!  I have that clip!  I vaguely remember he also described something about that 'synthetic broadcast'.

Alan McGilvray in his last match at the Oval, 1985..... Fred Trueman with pipe (as always)

The BBC commentary box was more lively esp. when Brian Johnston was on the mike. His sense of humour kept both the listeners and those in the box happy and laughing, while he related old stories from his vast experience. He always had something funny to share during the between-ball time in his ball-by-ball description!  Such was the atmosphere when Johnners was there!

Trevor Bailey and Brian Johnston (Johnners)

So much of fun happened in the box and I quote one from my collection. Denis Compton, a fine commentator after his glorious playing era, often got tongue-tied over cricketers’ names. The man who suffered most at his hands [or tongue] was Alan Connolly, the Australian quickie. Compton always announced him as ‘Anal Colony’, despite repeated corrections! In the 70s, I have heard the BBC commentators struggling to get right the name of Srinivas Venkataraghavan and they never got it right but stopped at 'Venkat'!

Famous Indian voices in the old times were Berry Sarbhadhikary, AFS Talyarkhan, Pearson Surita, Vijay Merchant, Vizzy, VM Chakrapani, Dicky Rutnagar, Raj Singh Dungarpur, Ananda Rao, et al.  I'm told that Talyarkhan used to do the entire match solo!!  Found this 2003 article from The Hindu.  Worth reading. Click here.  Talyarkhan also used to present a weekly 15-minute programme on cricket on AIR Vividhbharthi, something like the famous Binaca Geetmala.

A.F.S (Bobby) Talyarkhan

Those were days when Hindi commentary was restricted to Hockey matches.  Slowly they were introduced to cricket also.  Ravi Chaturvedi became popular.  He paired with ....'back again', Suresh Saraiya when they toured to describe the Indian Tests abroad, Ravi in Hindi and Suresh in English. 

Monday, November 29, 2010

AIR goes off the air

Just FYI, in September 2010, All India Radio, Mysore, the first among many firsts in the country, celebrated its Platinum Jubilee (at Jagan Mohan Palace).


There is one radio in almost every room in our house.  I know the value of it from my fancy for it since long.  (Details about my fascination are in this link) An old Radio without FM band is set to AIR (All India Radio) Bangalore on Medium Wave and a cheap one with FM are placed in the kitchen for two options!  There are 2-3 in the living room and one at the bedside.  I switch on the radio in the room where I will be.  The TV (without Cable or Dish connection but only Doordarshan's (DD) two channels) is used selectively.  The radio is my preferred gadget for its various advantages not to speak of the wealth of information and knowledge it provides, besides music and songs.  

I always 'put the radio and ask'!  Direct translation to Kannada - 'radio haakikondu keLu', to actually mean, switch on the radio and listen!

Last week, as usual, when I switched on the radio in the kitchen, I found that AIR's FM 100.6 MHzwas not on the air. I thought the tuning knob must have moved by accident.  Turning it clockwise or anti-clockwise resulted in no signal. I was taken aback. But there was just one channel available.  It was non-AIR.  It was very unusual.

Many thoughts crossed my mind.  Could the transmitters be down?  Was there no standby?  Was there any complete power failure in the studio?  My mind had no other reason to list. That was the limit. I tried AIR Bangalore on 612 kHz Medium Wave, but that was silent too.  Again turned the knob to search for any signal there but no, the entire MW band was silent.  Just like we jab the little kids on their cheeks if they do any mistake, I gave weak jabs to the radios.  Still, there was no sound.  I confirmed that all the radios were in good health and nothing had gone wrong because there was no voltage surge or anything untoward.  So what next? Even the Doordarshan's two TV channels were off.  I was confused to the hilt. Without the radio programmes being heard while we did many things, was indeed weird.  

One day passed with that odd feeling.  The next morning too was the same.  India were playing New Zealand in the Nagpur Test and 74-year old Suresh Saraiya was commentating in his 100th Test Match in his 41st year with All India Radio commentary team.  There was broadcast on the first day which did not coincide with this unusual 'AIR-less phenomenon'.  I was missing the radio commentary on the 2nd and 3rd day of the match.  

 The reason for this 'mouna-acharane' (observing silence) by AIR and DD had been revealed in the paper the following morning. By that time, AIR was back on the air and refilled the temporary void.

It was a rare 3-day strike (country-wide) by Prasar Bharti and All India Radio/DD made to get their demands.  They have announced dates for a second strike in December too!  If that happens at all, I will know why AIR is not on the air.  As listeners, we cannot do much beyond wishing it should not happen. 

I wonder how the staff felt like, outside studios, holding banners and shouting (?) without microphones, photo of those faces behind voices appeared in the press!  It must have been a weird feeling for them too!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Orchestra pollution

Watch the video that only lasts a few seconds.

Noise and music, both are poles apart. Yet, Orchestra Parties produce the former in the name of the latter.  More the decibels, grander they think it is. They appear to be tuned to 'noise levels' and are at a loss to perform on 'melodious levels' on a stage.  The hapless neighbourhood has to undergo 'naraka yaatane’ (hell-experience) from noise!

The autorickshaw drivers' group in the locality organizes the annual 'celebration' of Kannada Rajyotsava (invariably mispronounced as 'RajyoS-Tava'!!), on the last Sunday of November.  November 1, 1956 was when Mysore state was expanded with new boundaries. 

A stage and a pandal is erected right on the middle of the busy road.  They make the traffic police give permission to create such a public nuisance!  When asked, they will tell 'just for one day please adjust' (swalpa adjust madkoLLI). Electric power gets drawn from the electric pole (free)!  Such is the deplorable system that rules!

It is a busy road junction, in fact, only about 3 cricket pitches away from our gate.  Signal lights are switched off and traffic is blocked/diverted for the evening.  Later, some ‘chota pudaari’ (politico) inaugurates it with a short speech.  The programme of noise pollution goes on from about 6 pm-11pm.  We pray for a 'power failure' during that time, but they ensure it doesn't happen!  Peace goes to pieces at this time and when it finally gets over, it seems like the end of a severe storm.  

Improved technology provides blaring speakers with thousands of watts of sound power in smallish boxes.  Weirdly enough, louder, harsher, gaudier, seems to be the taste of this ‘movers and shakers’ generation.  They applaud the high-decibel harsh 'noise', standing close to those loud speakers and getting 'entertained'!  These modern loud speakers contribute to the most horrible and intolerable humming sound created by the electronic drums which makes our window panes and door latches dance, esp. to the ‘dham dham dum’s.  We can feel the hum in our lungs also.  Even my newspaper which I was holding to read felt those vicious vibes, not to mention my ear drums, despite being cotton-plugged!   Water in the glass created circles!  I remembered my maternal grandmother, for, she would have heard nothing at all!

There cannot be 'orchestrated melody'! I'm told that the volume of the loud speakers and the number of instruments in 'play' are kept high mainly to absorb or make up for the tonal lacuna [surely there are exceptions] of the singers.

I wonder why celebrations like these and even festivals come to the streets and create a grand public nuisance.  Isn't there any better, useful and peaceful way of celebrating them so that least inconvenience to others is caused if at all it must.  It only exposes the poor taste and culture, which is atypical of Mysore.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Our trip to S-r-i-n-a-g-a-r

In recent times, when we hear the name of our northernmost state Jammu and Kashmir in the media, we link it to conflicts, curfews and stone throwing incidents.  In spite of this, tourism goes on. albeit at a low ebb. Contemplating a tour to its beautiful (summer) capital city Srinagar was not without risk, because of what we read and heard in the media.  The travel agent convinced us that tourists would be safe.  It was further vouched by those who had just returned from their tours. So we dared to go. Asking about climate was secondary.
On landing there, we saw why many Hindi and Kannada movie scenes were shot in that part of the country, even though it was probably not half as beautiful as we had seen in them esp. in the 1970s and 80s.  In earlier decades it was not easy to reach Srinagar from the south due to the long distance and time taken on the journey which would be really arduous.  Now even air services are more frequent and cheaper.  As such, people are easily reaching distant places the same day!

Let me deviate a bit. My first visit to that state was in 1983, to Jammu, but I could not make the trip to Srinagar as in those days tour-aspects were hard to organize beforehand esp. for such a long journey that itself took three nights from Mysore! That trip was my first long train journey and still remains the longest.  I was traveling with my team-mate who joined me from Bangalore. I had wanted to see the apple tree there but could not.  But then, we had the great satisfaction of shaking hands with the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir state, Dr. Farooq Abdulla who was the chief guest that inaugural day.  "How do you do?" he went on saying that to each and every participant as he shook our hands. There were about 80-100 players!  It was a rare opportunity for us as he posed with our team for a picture too!  I'll not go into detail of that tour, but we used to eat apples every day in our rooms and carried back the dream of seeing an apple tree unfulfilled, but had brought walnuts and apricots along with memories and experience of losing our first match after going all the way!  

Back to the present. Last week of October 2010.

After a stop-over at Delhi it was about 65 minutes flight to Srinagar that afternoon. This is the beautiful scene from my window seat as we neared Srinagar.  Look at the lovely Himalayan ranges with snow-capping!

I've included more photos than reading matter in this blog. 

Ours was a short, 5-day trip and many colleague-families were also traveling (by air). We were taken from the Srinagar airport to the famous Dal Lake.  Shikaras were waiting for us.  A 'shikara' is this boat with comfortable cushioned seats and a shelter on top.

It took 5-10 minutes for us to reach our Houseboat.   Beautiful scenes such as these are enchanting and so calming in the clean waters:

It is renown as a "Venice-like".

Houseboats on Dal Lake - thousands of them are lined on the vast lake as this is their main tourist attraction and business.

This was the Houseboat booked for our families (2).

 The interiors of this beautiful houseboat was lovely.  The boat itself is made of Deodar Wood which has the capacity to float on water for decades without rotting - a unique quality.  The carvings and decoration is from walnut wood. It is harnessed by ropes and poles fixed to the land behind and beside, so that it will not sway or move away!

Meet our care-taker on the Houseboat, Mr.Tanveer, who did a real fine job for the two days we were on it.

Day 1:
After we settled down in the afternoon in our cosy, cool rooms on this houseboat, we were taken to the famous Mughal Gardens. First was Chashm-e-shahi Gardens.  The Zabarwan range of hills make a beautiful backdrop!

More photos in my facebook album here:

Next garden was Nishat Bagh.  The fountains were sleeping.  While browsing, I came across a picture someone had posted.  It showed all these fountain heads jetting out water.  What a sight!

More photos of this garden here:

The sun was sinking by the time we had walked the pavements on the stepped gardens.

The tranquility of Dal Lake that evening belied what was being projected in the media. 

The third Mughal Garden was Shalimar. It was getting dark by the time we were here.  The area is full of Chinar Trees and they are very huge as you can see a couple of them here.

Standing in one of these Gardens, Shah Jahan, the Mughal Emperor, said in Persian "Gar firdaus, ruhe zamin ast, hamin asto, hamin asto, hamin asto" .  If ever there is paradise on earth , it is here.. it is here.. it is here!  

Day 2:
Gulmarg.  It was about 45 kms from Srinagar and about 90 minutes drive. Dream of seeing the Apple tree was to come to fruition as it was on the tour schedule. We were to stop by an orchard on the way, which we did!

 Green apples and red apples - there were many varieties grown there.  Actual harvesting was already over the previous month and these had been left for visitors like us to fulfill their dreams!

 Entry was Rupees five/head.  Penalty was Rupees twenty/apple if we plucked.  But apple was theirs.  We got two when my daughter felled two ripe ones accidentally!

This is the Almond tree.

Soon after, we were in Gulmarg.  We were made to hire thick jackets and wear gum boots before we reached the place, from a shop that serves people on the way.  A pony ride becomes necessary in difficult terrain.  It was quite an experience sitting on horse-back and our backs and spines shaking!  I had got down to take photos of our group.

When they stopped us after a half an hour ride, we found ourselves landing on snow that seemed to have fallen the previous night in that area.

There were snow-throwing incidents witnessed here while I was busy shutterbugging. But the media reports 'stone-throwing incidents'!

In Gulmarg, there are a few 'postcard' scenes like these. It's an absolutely fantastic place. Not for nothing Hindi movies were shot here.

My pony and my shadow.

Gulmarg Gondola was closed at that time.  It was in preparation for the ensuing 'real season' that commences in December when there will be more snowfall and foreign visitors who also come for skiing.

 The trolleys were removed. These looked like brand new ones arrived from Europe.

We were content with looking at the wheels and ice-pillows on the seats of the gondolas, all resting on the ground!

The route where he took us up was like this.  He had taken us through Khilanmarg. 

After returning our borrowed  materials we journeyed to our Dal Lake Houseboat.

Day 3: 
Sonmarg tour. Today's was a longer journey of more than two hours.  The lady sailing here saw me taking a photo and said in English "Good Morning."!  She is probably going to buy some vegetables for the day from one of the 'shop-boats'!

Our Shikaras would wait at our houseboat at the stipulated time and pick us up and take to the road where our vehicle would be waiting.

Before our Shikara reaches the 'port', businessmen in their shikaras would come and attach theirs to ours and try to sell their products.

Sonmarg ranges are visible. 

Again, we had to borrow shoes but they said the jackets we were having would suffice. 

 It was pony-ride again.  More snow was seen here, much to our delight.

Postcard scene in Sonmarg.  The blue sky, the gray hill and the shadows its uneven peaks showed up in such sunlight was brilliant.  More brilliant to the eye.

Lots of snow.  Some wanted to see 'snowfall'.  This is 'snow-already-fallenl'!

We loved this place for its vastness - it was like being in the bottom of a cool basin covered by hills on all sides.

A small snow-man comes up.

Snow-throwing incidents were reported in Sonmarg also.

How I wish we had the time to climb up those higher hills!

The Holy Shrine of Amarnath is only a few miles from here and Sonmarg is the base camp. The smaller ice-capped mountain in the centre is the Amarnath range.

Shoes and ponies return to their places.

We had bid goodbye to Tanveer at the houseboat as we had moved to the nearby hotel in the morning.  From a very enjoyable trip to Sonmarg we returned to 'Dawer Heaven', our hotel which was just opposite to where our Shikara anchors at the steps just beside the road.  Due to curfew, shops were closed but in the evening, a few were open.  The family made the most of it.

Day 4:
Pahalgam.  It took nearly 3 hours to reach.  We were hinted by our driver Mr.Shabir that this place is renown more for its greenery, its natural beauty and a bit of snow.  He was right. 

Crossing River Jhelum.

Today, I could not take satisfactory shots from pony-back.  The terrain was too uneven and the ride was very  shaky and sometimes scary due to the unevenness of the path, slope and slush. 

We were shown the Pahalgam valley (background) as we stopped for a picture together. 

They call this place green stretch of lawn 'Baisaran' and 'mini Switzerland'.  We must have seen this spot in many Hindi movies. From up here, the slope is beautiful.  I had left the group and walked all the way up to take their photos.  Our horses have begun the walk back to Pahalgam. 

I found this rock amidst snow and a little butterfly being frozen.

There was a bit of snow to play with.

On request, we were taken on a different route back to Pahalgam.  This looked a bit easier.  But I got down mainly to have a trek to feel how it would be and also to take photos.  Walking was tough.  The ground was uneven due to the hoof-marks. The ponies too walk faster.  They left me behind!  Sitting on the saddle of a pony it would have been impossible to shoot the party on the move!


 "Glimpses of India" published in 1895 has this photo (below).  I was wondering how these trees (Poplar Trees?) could grow.

 Now I was going through such a 'green tunnel' myself on our way back!

 Kashmir Willow is famous.  (The above picture - they are not willow trees.)  There were dozens and dozens of these cricket (and sports goods) manufactories all along our route back to Srinagar. I had stopped our vehicle, entered one and took a few pictures.

Of course, we never wanted to miss seeing with our own eyes, the saffron flower (Crocus sativa) and the field where it grows.  We were not disappointed.

But the harvesting season was over and only a few remained here and there.  Otherwise, a purple carpet! Our driver got down at another field when he saw a man plucking his yield and got us one flower which we brought home to show others.

We had bought a few grams of this costliest spice in Pahalgam. 

The evening was free.  And a stroll along the Dal Lake with its lovely houseboats glittering in the night presented a great sight.

Day 5, last:
The last thing... we did not want to go without going up the Shankaracharya Hill.  It was just a few furlongs away but the temple is 5.5 kms up the hill.  

A beautiful Shiva Linga is worshipped on this holy spot where Saint Shankaracharya is known to have visited and did penance. It is a fantastic spot.  The place has a very long history even before his visit in the 8th century AD. The following two pictures are not mine - they are recopies from the ones I bought at the site as cameras were disallowed inside the entrance.

A view of Dal Lake from a 'view point' mid way up the Hill. Can you see houseboats?

 It was time to have one last look at the lovely Dal Lake beside which we took a picture with our driver Mr.Shabir,(centre) a graduate in B.A.  His driving the Toyota Innova was an absolute thrill.

 There was curfew that day also.  Our vehicles were allowed further only after they checked and we had to show our air-tickets to the securitymen. There was more elaborate security checks at the Airport in Srinagar.

Fortunately, nothing untoward was reported while we were there in that "troubled area".  One thing we all were convinced.  People were very nice.  May be it was typical Srinagar hospitality, certainly not hostility as we read in the papers!!

On our return flight, I could not get a window seat.  But from the aisle I could see the play of colours that evening as the plane left Delhi in the evening and this show continued for nearly 20-30 minutes! 

We were up there on Shankaracharya Hill in the morning in the northernmost state capital and at night, we were back home. Time flies! 

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