Stories from Tripura

It’s all in the AIR

A tribal Lady in Tripura listening Radio

* Jaydip Chakrabarti

February 07, 2018: It may sound a little unusual, may be surprising, especially when a septuagenarian tribal lady, living in an obscure hamlet claims that she and her husband are well aware about ensuing Assembly poll schedules, campaigns of the major players, keenly anticipated contests etc. The lady – Sombati Reang – who doesn’t have any formal education, is also aware about a host of government schemes. I wondered how this rustic lady kept herself updated about the goings on which many city slickers would not be aware of. Her wrinkled face soon melted into a smile as she pointed to her ‘Radio’ which is her one stop shop for information and entertainment.

“I got this radio as gift after my marriage from my father in-law many years ago. Although it needed to be repaired several times, it is still in fine tune and I treasure it greatly”, she muttered. Sombati -wearing traditional tribal ornaments and attire – is an inhabitant of  Raihamsa Para – a relocated tribal hamlet under Mungiyakami area.

“I am an avid radio listener – I love music and songs. After having my lunch, I tune in to my transistor and listen to songs – Hindi, Bengali, Kokborok”, she said while deftly switching the channels. “Music has no age bar, my heart still silently dances with songs and listening to songs on the radio gives me peace of mind”.

Sensing that Sombati is getting all the attention, her husband raised his voice and intervened. “Radio has become an essential part of our lives. We listen to radio together after having lunch and share a hukka”  he proudly said, “I bring batteries for the radio and I have made this bamboo hukka – both I and my wife spend leisurely hours together with radio and hukka”.

Her fondness for Radio – or rather music was revealed further, after Sombati said that she never misses the “music” Indian Radio stations play every day before commencement of their daily programme. I was left wondering which music Sombati was talking about, but I soon realized that she was referring to the signature tune of AIR.

The musical sense and sensibilities of this so called uneducated lady is so distinctly formed that I averred by what she said – music has truly no bar. By the way, the signature tune of AIR, which Sombati hears every day, was composed by a Czech born Jewish refugee – Walter Kaumann in 1936.

Not just songs and entertainment, Radio plays such an integral part in the life of this elderly couple that it also gives them necessary information, news on several issues. “We came to know about elections from Radio only. We also knew what the ministers are talking about, what govt schemes are announced.  Moreover, Radio tells us when the temperature will dip or pick up in winter or when the rains will start – and accordingly we plan our agricultural activities”.

Does that mean, Raihamsha Para people have no access to TV or smart mobile phones? Sombati raised her finger once again and pointed towards the large dish TV. “While watching TV, we tend to lose our focus because simultaneously we are watching and listening to something. For us, Radio is better option”, Sombati felt muttering to herself while looking at her husband.

Her son is using a smart phone and enjoys watching movies on TV, but he too and some neighbourhood youths often join them in the evening to listen to Kokborok news.  “Staying informed is necessary in modern era”, says Sombati underlining the importance of information and knowledge.

But she was not done yet! Puffing over hukka, Sombati hummed the AIR signature tune which she has been listening for decades now. Listening to her humming the tune was certainly a surreal experience.

The phrase “listening to the radio” may sound anachronistic in today’s times where we are bombarded with 24-hour live TV channels, but there are still people living in our rural hinterland for whom the Radio still occupies a pride of place in their home and they won’t swap it for the idiot box any time soon. So when people say Radio is dead, they need to spend some time with people like Sombati to realize that Radio is indeed alive and kicking! (First Published in Tripura Times)

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