I have no doubts that some of you, once upon a long time ago, listening to the radio at the break of dawn, have heard this tune. It was a time when the lady of the house would be up, starting up the activities at home, after her bath, with wet hair hanging loosely tied, slightly damp sari with the one end tucked into her hip, getting the coffee & breakfast ready, the wood fire in the kitchen up and going nicely, smoke tendrils creeping up the chimney, clinking sounds of various brass & steel utensils in the background, while the man of the house and his father would be shaking themselves out of their beds, the younger anxiously ready to face life, the elder cursing his arthritic creaking bones and the various indignities of life as one gets older. Through this all, the child of the house would be fast asleep under his thin blanket, dreaming of animate & inanimate things; the boy had at least another two hours to dream before he started off for school.
The younger man would move slowly, still drowsy and with unsteady legs, to the living room. He would reach up to that wooden plank on the wall steadied by the two L brackets, where the old valve radio set was placed and turn the brown stained knob to click the radio on. It took a minute for the EL 84 vacuum tube valves to start up and glow as the man could see it through the cloth front of the radio. But it was not yet time; he heard only the hiss of static. Sunlight had started to streak through the gap between the wall and the roof, also through the glass tiles, and the man idly looked at the dancing dust particles in the beams for a while as his body warmed up. One could not help but notice the webbed antenna of the radio near the ceiling, where a number of spiders were busy with their own lives, spinning webs and waiting for their flying prey.
Then he did what his father had once routinely done during his entire life time, he walked across to the other side of the room and wound the wall clock, always remembering his fathers words ‘Son! Not too much or the spring will break…never should you move the needles back. If the time has to be changed, move it only forward – and as you move the needles make sure the pendulum is stopped carefully’…It was a clock imported from the old blighty (bilayath), and Papaji had to wait a two full months after placing the order at the local Spencer’s. It had cost all of fifty rupees in those days.
The magic eye tuner of the radio narrowed to a slit like cat’s eyes, the station came on air and the Akashwani signature tune started. Kaufmman’s immortal work composed on the resonating Tanpura, Viola and Violin echoed in the room. The Indian day had started.
It was now 0530 AM, and the lady of the house called out from the kitchen ‘coffee is ready, come and have it before it is cold’. Papaji had also come out after his ablutions, he would touch food only after all that was done and after he had finished his bath, and like he said every day, he grumbled “the younger generations are not right, ugh! They drink coffee without brushing teeth”.
And thus the many millions woke up to a new dawn in the teeming Indian villages, towns, cities, metropolises to toil & hustle to reach their own dreams…Many would remember the AIR signature tune in their lives, at some moment or the other – like I did today!!
The fledgling Indian broadcasting company which later became the All-India Radio employed two European musicologists, John Fouldes in Delhi and Walter Kaufmann in Bombay, to oversee Western musical programming. The signature tune of All India Radio, familiar to all Indian Radio listeners, was composed by the composer Walter Kaufmann (1907-84). Walter Kaufmann had left Prague after Hitler’s invasion, for India in 1934. He lived for twelve years in Bombay and worked in the music department of All India Radio and also did significant research into Indian music and with his friends, even worked for Hindi films. Kaufmann later worked as conductor and teacher in Canada and USA
An interesting extract - Unfortunately the start for AIR was not auspicious. Read Shabnam Minwalla’s Times report of 2002 - On a rainy Saturday, 75 years ago, Bombay’s swingers eagerly made their way to the Sir Cowasji Jehangir Hall. The evening promised not just dinner and dancing but an encounter with a magical technology — the wireless. .Some distance away at Radio House in Apollo Bunder, the new studio with its grand piano and unfamiliar equipment was a flurry of VIPs and violins. At 6 pm, Lord Irwin, the viceroy of India, stepped up to the clunky microphone and inaugurated the services of the Indian Broadcasting Company. History, as well as some hiss and crackle, was created on July 23, 1927. But crowds who had paid eight Annas and gathered at CJ Hall heard none of it. A defective wire pooped the wireless party and The Times of India reported: "The audience left the hall disappointed". The disgruntled crowds may not exactly have gone radio gaga. But that brave, little enterprise survived, grew into the omnipresent All India Radio (AIR) and is today celebrating its Platinum Jubilee.
Deccan Herald’s GV Joshi provides a very interesting tidbit - Children from Karnataka should be proud of the fact that the vernacular name for ‘All India Radio’, ‘Akash Vani’ originated at Mysore, a place well-known for silk and sandalwood. In 1935, Dr MV Gopalaswamy, Professor at Mysore University, started an experimental radio station using a low power transmitter from his residence. Subsequently a 250-watt transmitter was imported for better coverage and this station was named Akash Vani. The station survived with support from the municipality and private grants. In 1942, the station was taken over by the then Mysore State. The designation of the Indian State Broadcasting Service was changed to All India Radio (AIR) on June 8, 1936. All India Radio adopted the name ‘Akashvani’ in 1958. Note however that there were a number of experimental stations before all that. GV Joshi provides details in this Daily excelsior article. Prof BB Mohanty recalls those days in his own words, here.
The provider of the AIR tune file is Soumyadip of Cutting Chai. He has a wonderful blogsite, check it out.
If you did not hear the tune – turn up your speakers & refresh the page
Edit Feb 2009 - One year later after this was posted, a keen reader Mr Chakravarthi provided me with this clarification.
At the risk of being called a revisionist, let me say that Walter Kaufman did compose the AIR signature tune but not as a signature tune. In fact, it was an extract from a sonata commissioned by Mehli Mehta the well-known violinist who later became the first violin of the Halle Orchestra in Manchester, and ended his days in California at the tender age of 92. He was, ultimately, better-known as the father of Zubin Mehta, the conductor. Mehli Mehta also played the violin for the signature tune . He remained justly proud of this fact to the end of his long life. There is no viola audible in the signature tune, contrary to the assertion in your blog.
So Mehli bhai - Thank you for this wonderful tune..