World as seen by an Indian Radio Broadcaster

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Authorss: Subhash Vohra, US Publisher: Opus, Washington DC (Price: US$ 28) Pages : 333
Indian Publisher: Sanbun Publishers, New Delhi, (Price :Rs. 495)
There are very few Indian journalists who have had the privilege of working actively in many countries for long periods. And there are still fewer ones who have worked as broadcaster with fourleading international public broadcasting corporationslike All India Radio, BBC, Deutsche Welle and Voice of America. Subhash Vohra belongs to that rare breed with firsthand experience of fifty long years of working, living, traveling for various radio networks and having a close look at the social and political life of numerous countries.
His book, ‘Journey of a Broadcaster’ (published by Opus of Washington DC and Sanbun Publishers of New Delhi) is a very interesting, absorbing and, at times, hilarious close peep into the social and political life of these four and many more countries he traveled to on professional or self-assigned journeys. Subhash has his own unique style of storytelling. His choice of easy and simple words to tell even very complex stories and some outstanding chapters of recent history of these countries would never let the reader put down this otherwise bulky autobiography (333 pages) of a broadcaster lesser known to the present generation. This simplicity of his style and language reminds me of late Khushwant Singh who onceshared his wisdom with me in his affable style, “OyeKaake! (Hey Kid!), writing simple is the most difficult thing.”
Subhash is adept at identifying petty looking things to explain the deep characteristics of societies and nations. He walks you through two full pages to share the story of how a public dust bin,which had suddenly fallen down behind a bus stop, was fixed back on the pole after long and tiring efforts by two waiting passengers and a local resident – just to show the sense of ‘civic solidarity’ and pride in ownership of public property among ordinary German citizens.
The book has quite a sumptuous treat for Bollywood fans too. Subhash has gone into details of his personal encounters with popular personalities like Mohammad Rafi, Nutan, Manna Dey, Asha Bhosley, Talat Mahmood, Hemant Kumar, Van Shipley, IS Johar, TunTun and many others for whom visit to BBC used to be a near must during their London travels because of BBC’s tremendous popularity back in India.
Subhash has gone into details of his personal encounters with popular personalities like Mohammad Rafi, Nutan, Manna Dey, Asha Bhosley, Talat Mahmood, Hemant Kumar, Van Shipley, IS Johar, TunTun and many others for whom visit to BBC used to be a near-must during their London travelsss
But some of his most interesting encounters are with the Communist countries like East Germany and Czechoslovakia where he was forced to come face to face with a robot like heartless communist bureaucracy and police. While driving back with his family from Prague to Cologne in Germany, where radio Deutsche Welle was stationed in those years, their car was stopped by the Czech police for overspeeding at 95 kmph as against permitted limit of 90 km. When Subhash pointed point to the officer that there were no speed limit signs on the highway, the officer curtly told him that this information had been put at the entry point from German side. “The rules remain same on your return journey too,” the officer told him in an as clear tone as a robot.
The fine range for over speeding was from 10 to 500 Krones. But he was ordered to pay 500 Kronesfor being an ‘Auto Kapitalist’ for driving a German BMW car in a communist country. However, the officer would refuse to accept cash 500 Krones in the absence of the original receipt issued by the bank to Subhash in Prague where he had purchased his Krones. The family was ordered to deposit their exit-Visa documents with police and go to the nearest bank, 20 km away in a town to bring fresh cash with official receipt of exchange. But the bank had closed by the time they reached the town after asking for the route 15 times along the way. It was only after banging the door of the bank and informing the guard that they had come on police orders to exchange the money that the manager came from his home to issue the Czech money and an official receipt. On their return the family was issued 50 hand written cash receipts of 10 Krone each before their exit-Visa documents were returned and they were allowed to drive further. The book is no less interesting even when Subhash is describing his experiences in Britain, America and other countries. For example he has dedicated one full chapter to the culture of road signs in Britain, Europe, USA, Canada and India to compare the road signage culture of15 countries he drove through with his family. His notes about his radio interviews with many outstanding personalities like Chinese dissident Harry Wu and Prof John Kenneth Galbraith shows how meticulously the author has worked on this book. To say it in a sentence, this book is unique for presenting very interesting and important aspects of life as seen by a radio broadcaster whose only tool is his communicative language.
(The writer is a senior journalist, a veteran China watcher and Chairman, Centre for Himalayan Asia Studies and Engagement - CHASE)