My Father’s Murphy Radio

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This radio is a monster

It goes endlessly, talking about death

When will it die?

Shhh! Don’t pull ears of the radio

You are not The Murphy kid

Radio remembers

Fear it

Someday, it may go endlessly, talking about your death

This Radio is a monster. Remember.

- From a conversation with my father.

Father had a Murphy radio. He bought it perhaps in his student days or later when he became a teacher, in early 90’s. The radio would lie on the windowsill in the kitchen, snuggled in dark-brown leather case. The leather case was old and ragged. The color of the round dial of the radio had flaked off; the continuous and slow spinning of the dial had left fingermarks on it. Throughout the day, the radio remained untouched.

In the evening, father would turn on the radio. He would tune into the news bulletin at 6:30 p.m. from All India Radio. And at 7:30 p.m. there was another news bulletin from Radio Kashmir. Father listened to these news bulletins with visible agitation; they don’t speak truth, he would say. 

At 8, the radio would be turned off; it was the time when Radio’ Kashmir’s Wadi Ki Awaz, a state sponsored propaganda radio show, would air and in my father’s voice it was “a pack of lies. It boils my blood.”

After dinner, father would retire to the living room, taking the radio along with him. He would light a candle; there were frequent power cuts. Sometimes there was no electricity for day’s altogether. Or the light was turned off out of fear that the army would discover the light and it would make them suspicious.

Soon, I would join him. Under the ghostly flicker of the candle light father would fiddle with the dial, changing bands. He would reposition the radio or haul up its antennae. I would hear many voices; often many radio stations, or complete silences in between.

After a laborious process, finally, the familiar signature musical tune would find its way out of the radio, followed by, “Yeh BBC London hai!”

Father would stop fiddling with the dial right there. And for the next hour or two only the radio talked.

Father would keep his ear near the speaker of the radio. Any disturbance or even a cough would meet with an angry look from my father.

I listened in silence, hearing about different wars all over the world and subsequently getting familiarized with the names of journalists reporting the wars. Rahimullah Yusufzai would report from Peshawar about Afghanistan, Khalid Hameed or Haroon Rasheed would read reports from Pakistan. And finally I would be hearing news about the armed struggle in my home, Kashmir.

“Yusuf Jameel, BBC London, Srinagar”.

I have never met Yusuf Jameel. But I am familiarized with his voice and his particular way of reporting, first with BBC and later with Voice of America (VOA).

He always came up with “bad” news, the news about militant killings, the news about civilians getting killed at the hands of Indian army, the news about grenade blasts, the news about latest political developments happening in Kashmir at that time, the news about villages being gutted, the news about civilians getting disappeared, and much more. The news reports sometimes had sounds of gunshots. It felt as if I was hearing it all live, as the shots were being fired.

There was something sinister about the radio and about the BBC show. I have always listened to it in the dark, usually late at night. Outside, the dogs would bark. And inside, the radio would blare out the news of death.

The news about death had me thinking about death throughout those days.

After listening to the radio, I would lie in my bed, thinking about what is happening around. I didn’t understand anything. I only thought about death and would hear voices, as if from the radio, in my sleep.

The military can barge into the house anytime and kill us all, I would think. And it was during those days that I developed the habit of getting up from the bed and checking whether the outer gate is locked, whether the door is locked properly, again and again for many years.

Father always said that, “Radio is an untamed monster”. I didn’t understand him at that time. It had some kind of double meaning for me. It was a monster, because it disturbed something deep in us. And even the state cannot tame it.

During those times, and still today, the state run radio stations are full of propaganda. Wadi Ki Awaz, for example, is one radio programme dedicated to dishing out propaganda. Fouji Bhaiyun Kay Liye is the radio version of operation Sadbhavana. And in Kashmir, the Indian armed forces have been spending lots of money on providing free radio sets to the people, especially in villages. There is a scene in Sanjay Kak’s film Jashn e Azadi where Army is handing out radio sets to villagers and promising to ‘work together with them’.

The timing of these programmes is well thought out. Wadi Ki Awaz airs at 8 in the evening, when people would most likely be listening to the radio. And as a part of the “taming” the young, the Radio Kashmir started many radio programmes, like live game show Dhadkan, where the youth were encouraged to participate in the civil services.

However, as the days went by, these programmes lost their credibility, like everything Indian in Kashmir. People stopped listening to state radio stations. Like everything in Kashmir, listening to the radio became a political act. Radio Pakistan was and is the first choice among radio listeners of the valley. Then comes BBC followed by Voice of America.

Our Murphy radio kept on talking. It became a metaphor and a symbol of freedom in the times when people feared to talk.

During World War Two, the radio was an important tool of the Nazi propaganda effort and it has been argued that it was the Nazis who pioneered the use of what was still a relatively new technology.

Goebbels claimed the radio was the "eighth great power". And he, along with the Nazi party, recognized the power of the radio in the propaganda machine of Nazi Germany.

Recognizing the importance of radio in disseminating the Nazi message, Goebbels approved a mandate whereby millions of cheap radio sets were subsidized by the government and distributed to German citizens. It was Goebbels' job to propagate the anti-Bolshevik statements of Hitler and aim them directly at neighboring countries with German-speaking minorities. In Goebbels' "Radio as the Eighth Great Power" speech, he proclaimed:

 “It would not have been possible for us to take power or to use it in the ways we have without the radio...It is no exaggeration to say that the German revolution, at least in the form it took, would have been impossible without the airplane and the radio… [Radio] reached the entire nation, regardless of class, standing, or religion. That was primarily the result of the tight centralization, the strong reporting, and the up-to-date nature of the German radio.”

As I grew up, I thought that the days of the radio were over. Internet had taken over. The television was already there. However, the Internet boom and reliance on web for news and analysis might be true for other societies but not ours.

In 2008, as popular mass uprising broke out against Indian rule following transfer of land to Amarnath Shrine Board, the stifling curfews robbed most households of reading newspapers. The TV was the other medium. However, for the “serious” news people, mostly in villages - they relied on the radio. This time listening to BBC was difficult or may be people just didn’t deliberately listen to it. People listened to Yusuf Jameel and he reported for Voice of America. In 2010, again the radio was the primary source of news for the swathe of Kashmiri population living in villages and towns.

Again in 2016, as the state intensified its crackdown on information and banned internet, TV and newspapers - the radio, that untamed monster, again took center stage and carried on with disseminating news of death.

More than any time in the past, in 2016 uprising, radio played an important role in providing news to the people. In the villages, I saw people eagerly waiting for the news, mostly waiting for Yusuf Jameel’s voice. And next day on the shop front’s people would say, “Yousuf Jameelan woen 100 gaye zakhmi (Yusuf Jameel said 100 people have been injured.)”

It was poetic justice of sorts. Remember what Goebbels’s said about using radio as a propaganda tool. However, like always, the radio has resisted to be confined to censorship. The state cannot tame it.

In the evenings of summer 2016, from 7:30 p.m. I would be fiddling with the dial of the radio until I would hear the signature tune of VOA. It immediately reminded me of the 90’s; waiting for signature tune of BBC, akin to what I was waiting for today. And news wise, nothing had changed. What the radio said in 90’s, it said again in 2016; the news about death.

In Kashmir, time is a flat circle.

Radio became a time machine. It transports us back into time and forward into time. It foretells news about the times to come. In Kashmir in 2020 the radio, I am sure, will have the same news. It will be talking about death; that is radio’s monstrosity.

I too listened to the radio in 2016, throughout the nights sometime, repeatedly listening to VOA. However, I listened to the news not on my father’s Murphy, but on a new one that I had bought from New Delhi.

The Murphy radio died a long time ago. Father smashed it on the wall. It was during a cricket match between India and Pakistan, and Pakistan lost, and with it our Murphy lost its voice. 

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