The lifeline “Fauji Bhaiyon Ke Liye”: The Tribune India

Brig Sandeep Thapar (retired)

THIS will certainly surprise most millennials, who can’t visualize anything beyond their cellphones or tablets, but the most prized possession we faujis could have in the 1980s was a humble transistor. An amazing little instrument that worked even in the most remote areas and brought daily news, entertainment and much more. He kept the soldier, deployed in the most isolated places, connected to home and civilization, helping to maintain sanity.

Officer or jawan, you only arrived when you bought a transistor. By today’s standards, it was cheap at around Rs 200, but as a ratio of take-home pay back then, it was almost half that. The most common brand then was Murphy, later others arrived. One marched proudly wearing the newly acquired possession prominently. Immediately, a fabric camouflage pattern was purchased and a blanket was sewn. His army number was discreetly but permanently engraved to avoid loss or exchange. Needless to say, most owners were extremely possessive about their transistors; no one but the owner could take care of it. And only the programs he liked were broadcast, at the time and at the volume of his choice, whether the others in the barracks liked it or not!

New friendships formed, some old ones turned into rivalries based on the appreciation of radio programs. Among the Sikh boys, it was mostly Gurbani recitals early in the morning, followed by Punjabi songs throughout the day. Some elders liked to listen to the news from time to time. But one program that caught everyone’s attention was “Fauji Bhaiyon Ke Liye” on All India Radio, where troops wrote letters asking for songs and messages to be played to their friends and family. The program was heard in breathtaking silence. Every request read seemed to be his – “coming on leave” was heard with a smile, “Baisakhi/Diwali greetings” with a nod, and “blessings to sister for her marriage” with perhaps a tear rolling down her cheek ! “Forces Request” on Fridays was another such program that most officers subscribed to. At posts where letters arrived in the weekly link, where there was no electricity or newspapers, where twilight meant it was time to sleep, the transistor was an excellent stress reliever. We knew all the programs and stations by heart and what was playing at what time. My love for the songs of Lata, Rafi and Kishore goes back to that time.

The transistor wasn’t just for entertainment, it also helped a youngster like me to control a hectic business. It was 1984, and we were deployed in Manipur at a post along the road. Operation Bluestar had created enormous turbulence among my Sikh boys. The apprehension that someone might get upset and attempt to return home unannounced was paramount in my mind. I made sure the troops were kept together and spent as much time with them as possible. Regular updates on AIR have been released to calm nervous nerves. But, for some, the AIR news was not considered accurate; they wanted to hear only BBC Hindi. In a way, the BBC narrative did not go along the same lines as the AIR version. It took leadership and diplomatic skills for a 24-year-old to manage the censorship and the tide over this fortnight without any untoward incidents.

The fondness for the BBC was widespread in the army. Most senior officers liked to listen to the 6:30 news. In 1986, as a young captain, I was seconded as a liaison officer to a GOC on a three-day visit. HQ made me believe that the success of the visit largely depended on my ability to make everything run smoothly. On the first day, when I was saying good night to the GOC, he said, “I have to go for a walk early in the morning. Can you please tape the BBC 6.30am news for me, I will listen to it when I return at 7am. I immediately arranged a tape recorder, a transistor and practiced some recordings. In the morning I was ready with my gear but was delayed a minute or two and missed the opening. I frantically searched for the station and the moment I heard the news in English, I pressed the record button. The recording lasted about seven minutes before the newsreader said, “It’s Voice of America.” The next BBC bulletin was at 7:30, I was doomed. When the GOC arrived, I walked in and before he could question me, I shyly blurted out my mistake. Luckily for me, he took it sportingly, saving my fledgling career!

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