IN the 1980s, love came to a young fauji deployed on the frontier through letters or via All India Radio (AIR). While FM channels are a rage today with their cacophony that passes for music, it was AIR’s medium-wave transmission that ethereally brought the fragrance and touch of your loved ones to those lonely locales.
The Leh valley is beautiful beyond words. In those pre-cellphone days, it was distant too in more ways than one. During the day, we would fly our Chetak helicopter to places with exotic names such as Daulat Beg Oldie, Chushul, Turtuk and Demchok, while the evenings were spent downing Old Monk or holding a soft drink in the bar, with an LP (long playing record, for the Gen Z and millennials) belting out songs.
After dinner, as you would enter your room from a frigid -20°C, a blast of hot air hit you, courtesy the bukhari — the cylindrical metal contraption (the same one that was seen in the popular M*A*S*H comedy series of those times) whose shade of red depended on the kerosene flow rate set by your orderly. If you were a junior officer, you had the ‘Sridevi’ bukhari. If you were up the hierarchy, it was ‘Hema Malini’ bukhari that warmed the room quietly. You see, idle young minds had nothing to do in the evenings and hence were adept at such verbal novelties.
A quick change and you dived into bed with your transistor, pulled the razai over and tuned in to Vividh Bharti from AIR, Delhi. The medium-wave transmission reached Leh only during late evening due to the ionosphere moving up etcetera etcetera. Through the static crackle, you waited for the Chhaya Geet programme to start at 10 pm. Those melodies transported you back home to your parents, wife, fiancée, crush… whoever.
Imagine, in pitch dark, with the ‘Sridevi’ bukhari gurgling close by, Mohammad Rafi starts crooning, ‘Abhi na jao chhod kar, ki dil abhi bhara nahin’. And then Asha Bhosle teases you with ‘Chura liya hai tumne jo dil ko, nazar nahin churana sanam…’ For the next 30 minutes, you relished the warmth that came with the thoughts of your special ones, especially if you were engaged to be married, as I was. Even today, Chhaya Geet brings back the euphoria of those courtship-period evenings spent in the razai, listening to tender love songs.
And yes, there was a competitor — the Monday evening’s ‘Forces Request’ programme. For sure, there were guys who liked listening to English numbers, but try beating ‘Aap ki nazron ne samjha, pyaar ke kabil mujhe’ in the lonely silence of Leh, where your companions are the bukhari, your transistor and some sweet memories. Thank you, All India Radio, for you kept us in touch with our loved ones.
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