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Amita Malik

By Nihal Ahmad
Oxford University Press, Karachi, 2005, pp. 314, Rs. 495.00


One would expect any history of Radio Pakistan to run parallel to that of All India Radio. But there are differences, some subtle and some not so subtle in this history by Nihal Ahmad. Mr. Ahmad was educated in Delhi and Karachi, joined Radio Pakistan in 1951 and retired as Director of Programmes in 1992. And one cannot deny that he has meticulously researched the history of radio (and, of course television) on the subcontinent from its early beginnings to the time he wrote the book. In fact, he has been much more factual than some of the chroniclers of All India Radio, such as retired Directors-General P.C. Chatterji and U.L. Baruah and other officials such as Hansraj Luthra and N.L. Chowla who certainly enlivened their books with personal experiences while in office but stinted a bit on the duller institutional history of their organization. Ahmad, on the other hand, sticks more or less to the organization, referring to the staff only when connected with institutional problems. Which is why I consider it a pity that particularly when referring to the change-over of power following Partition, and what went before, Mr. Ahmad has been carried away by myths which were possibly a little before his time, but which, nevertheless, remain myths. And in the process he has ignored facts he has not known, or conveniently omitted.   This comes out worst in his opening pages, where he lays more stress on AIR’s “anti-Muslim and anti-Urdu” bias, going to the extent of asserting that Muslim artistes were ignored so that “more than the question of language the real concern was the attempt to deny expression to Muslim musical heritage” (whatever that might mean) “and talent”. I happened to be a member of the staff in AIR around Partition and can testify to the fact that most of the leading artistes of that period, beginning with Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and right down to a then young Ali Akbar and a host of women announcers and anchors were Muslims; many of them like Saeeda Bano actually stayed on in India and some later expressed regret about crossing over to Pakistan. And if by “Muslim music” is meant ghazals and quawalis they flourish to this day, not only on radio but also in the Hindi cinema. I wish that Ahmad had mentioned not just the joke about the BBC—the Bokhari Brothers’ ...

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