A woman from Lahore rang up Radio Kashmir’s Jammu station to meet Fateh-din, her favourite character from a Punjabi programme. Mehmood Ahmed, who scripted the story and enacted Fateh-din, dressed up and met the woman. Overjoyed, she broke down.
This was 1985-86. Fifteen years on, forget personal interaction, even letters from fans across the border have dried up. Such simple give-and-take has come to a stop after General Pervez Musharraf’s rise to power.
Indian radio programmes are popular in Pakistan. In fact, Jammu Radio’s Punjabi and Gojri programmes elicited hundreds of letters from both Pakistan and Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK).
Three years ago, the letter traffic tapered off. Nawaz Sharif was Pakistan Prime Minister then. But the full stop was yet to come. Radio Jammu Director Dr Ashok Jerath said: ‘‘Letters trickled in even after the Kargil war. But when Gen Musharraf took over, the letters stopped. They are probably censoring the mail.’’
Radio programmes have always broken through border barriers and sour relations. Radio staff, especially programme comperes, say the audience is a large family that transcends political boundaries.
Indian audiences and radio staff still await word from listeners across the border. Letters from both sides inquire about friends who have been silent over the past one year.
A Pakistan citizen even found a way to overcome any likely censorship in his country. He asked his friend on a India tour to post his letter for him. The letter from Muzaffarabad, PoK, said: ‘‘Because letters from here don’t reach you, I am sending it through a friend who is visiting India.’’
The admiration has been so ardent that programmes for Indian soldiers have attracted letters from Pakistan border towns. But now, fan mail has trickled down to an average of a letter a month.
Yet unlike Jammu, the Suratgarh station still receives a few letters from Pakistan. ‘‘But on the whole the numbers have dipped everywhere,’’ Ravi Razdan, a regular writer to All India Radio (AIR), said.
Radio staff believe that Pakistan audiences’ criticism of their own programmes may have prompted the sudden drying of fan mail.
A letter from Punjab province, for example, lauded an Indian programme and wished Pakistan would go beyond propaganda. In fact, Pakistan audience’s involvement with Indian programmes runs deeper. Two years ago, when a boy in a radio drama was refused crackers for Diwali, money came promptly from Pakistan.
Punjabi characters such as Chacha and Guddi have for long been a rage in Pakistan along with programmes Tohadi Chitthi Mili and Gojri programme Sanjhi Dharti.
The sudden drying up has hurt fans across the border. Ali from Pakistan’s Bahawal Nagar district complained that his letters were being left out though his Indian radio friends Gurdip Singh and Satpal Arora were getting air space. The compere concerned said: ‘‘We are sad. But the truth is we didn’t receive any of his letters.’’ Till letters start pouring in again, people across the border will nurse yet another grouse.
Published in Kashmir Live of Indian Express. Though films are regarded as cheap media by many, they indeed are the binding forces between people seperated by troubled borders.