I remember my grandfather, a former estate officer of the Jammu & Kashmir Forest Department hustling to find the batteries of his Philips Tiger-Deluxe DL 273 Two-Band Radio when it needed a change. His anxious self would be pretty reluctant to miss any news broadcast from AIR/ Radio Kashmir (103.5 FM) and Radio Sharda (90.4 FM).
His transistor, as shown in the picture has a black box with radio stations and frequencies written on the left side and on the surface of the other side, it has a speaker attached to it. A few rotating knobs are fixed adjacent to the frequency readings, to change the radio stations. The transistor operates on three dry batteries, R20RDG(UM-1P) of 1.5 V.
To examine the theme of migration, or perhaps the exodus of 1990s Kashmir with respect to media technology, it is crucial to, partake in the geopolitics of Kashmir. The late twentieth century Kashmir was the time period when radios, transistors and cinema had become deeply engraved in the culture of the Valley, ‘but a cinema hall in Kashmir was not just about entertainment and viewing habits. It was a tug-of-war between the conflict ecosystem and that elusive Kashmiri fragrance called - normalcy’. In July 1989, a bomb exploded at the Khayam Cinema in Srinagar, followed by a call made by an armed outfit Allah Tigers to shut down cinemas, beauty salons and liquor shops in Kashmir while also putting restrictions on women’s clothing and censoring video tapes available to the public in shops. Finally on January 1, 1990, all cinemas (about 15 of them) fell silent and more than a century-old cinema culture died.
My family members fled Srinagar during the exodus of the 1990s and hence, had to live in abandoned factories in the outskirts of Jammu region. They stayed there for about five years till they could save enough money to rent a house for a family of seven. Growing up in Jammu, most of my friends belonged to the Dogra community, which forms a dominant part of the population in Jammu city; so I got fluent in speaking English and Hindi, I could understand Kashmiri spoken at home but couldn’t respond. I faintly recall old Kashmiri songs and news being broadcasted on the transistor, during the afternoon and the evenings.
While my grandfather casually sipped Kahwa tea on the balcony or took an afternoon nap, listening to the radio-stations. I used to come back from school at around 3 p.m and could hear crisp Kashmiri spoken by the Radio Jockeys’ at these radio-stations.
The mutual connection shared by older generations of Kashmiris and the younger generation like mine, with the transistor has lately become a major point of investigation for me. I look at this object, transmitting crisp spoken Kashmiri language and culture and am in awe of it as a young person born after the exodus. The songs and the news, tuned in by my grandfather, brought back the local mother tongue into the sphere of ‘public’ when at the same time, I used to tune-in to 92.7 BigFm while solving my math homework.
This transistor and its carefully-tuned radio-stations by my grandfather was an interesting way in which the national and local merged themselves into one, through this object in my household. The transistor shares a history with my family, as it traces itself back to Kashmir. Our connection is so strong that when I recently asked my mother if she knew anything about its history, she laughed and said, “Take it to your in-laws as an heirloom”. Since the transistor is a subject of history that had survived the migration safely just like the Panjab University and Kashmir University graduation certificates of the family members.
The coming of transistors in the history of telecommunication in India and how Kashmiris received it, can be traced by taking a quick look at the history of telecommunications and its intrinsic linkage with nation development. Keval J.Kumar and Amos O. Thomas in their work, Telecommunications and Development, The Cellular Mobile ‘Revolution’ in India and China reflect on the massive spread of radios in the 1950s to 1970s in the country making radio a tool for social change and development. They argued that “Each new technology held the promise of acting as a catalyst for national development before it was quickly realized that the entertainment potential outpaced the development potential. In the first two to three decades after independence (1950s to 1970s) when centralized planning was the norm and ‘Nehruvian socialism’ reigned supreme, radio was that technology”.
A resident of Kulgam, a small town in South Kashmir when asked about his attachment to transistors exclaimed in delight that the love affair of his grandfather with the transistor radio was profound especially when it came to sufiyana music/Gyawun. But for him, as a young 90s-born child from a lower-middle-class family in a remote village in Kashmir, he couldn’t afford any other luxurious gadgets. In circumstances like this, a humble radio acted as a lifeline and a gateway to a world beyond the village. As a devout cricket fan, he would clinch onto the transistor, soaking up every word of that beautifully articulated cricket commentary pouring out of the device. "I used to stroll into school, hiding a radio in my bag and almost always getting caught by my teachers. I don’t remember how many times they broke it, but that would never deter me from showing up with a new one, another day!"
Sania, a resident of Srinagar reminisces about this old relic of the ‘90s and shares her memories of lazy Sunday afternoons listening to Bollywood songs broadcasted on Radio Kashmir (now called ‘All India Radio’) during the ‘Fauji Bhaiyon ke Liye’, a programme which aired song requests made by soldiers for their families and vice-versa. She adds that this programme which aired at 4 p.m. would compliment women of her household especially her mother, who made rotis for afternoon tea while listening to these songs. But Sania’s most cherished memory of the transistor was listening to dramas, especially ‘Baital Pachisi’ which was broadcast around 10 p.m. These dramas were mostly written and narrated by Kashmiri playwrights. Mumtaz Mohiuddin, a student of age group 20-22 adds to this and says, that these dramas that aired on Radio Kashmir were remnants of Kashmir’s Indo-Persian literary traditions and hence, were often translated into Kashmiri.
During my research, I also received crucial insights into the history of transistors and linguistic traditions of Kashmir by Ghulam Mohiuddin Lone, former Editor of Radio Kashmir and News Reader (Kashmiri) for Doordarshan. Ghulam Mohiuddin Sahab shares the developments of the early 1960s radio industry which successfully turned a radio, then the size of the television, into a more portable device called the ‘transistors’ which could be easily carried. According to him, the transistors and Kashmiri culture and language shared a symbiotic relationship. Those days, Radio Kashmir broadcasted programmes like ‘Grameen Bhaiyan Kheter’ (For our farmer brothers), ‘Fauji Bhaiyon ke liye’ (For our Soldier Brothers) and some Kashmiri musical programmes. The latter consisted of eminent Kashmiri voices of folk music like Raj Begum (often referred to as the Nightingale of Kashmir or the melodious Queen of Kashmir), Ustad Ghulam Ahmad Sofi, popularly known as ‘Ama Sofi’ among many others. Among his favorites was a Bangla programme which helped the audience translate Kashmiri into Bengali.
For members of the Kashmiri community, the loss of personal identity has been relatively spoken more about due to the exodus. A study titled “Psychiatric morbidity in adult Kashmiri migrants living in a migrant camp at Jammu'' published in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry revealed that psychiatric morbidity was more common in the migrant population, with major depressive episodes being the most common diagnosis. Additionally, mental health conditions of Kashmiri Pandits living in the valley too have been researched in the past few years. Aarti Tickoo Singh deploys the Theseus’ Paradox to understand the issue at hand. She cites the study conducted by Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti (KPSS) over a period of 2 years and argues, that the dilemma of ‘Who am I?’ in the absence of one’s ethnic community and in a conflict-ridden society was not only present in migrants members of the Kashmiri Pandits but ‘compromised self-image’ exhibited itself at alarming rates within Kashmiri Pandits residing in Kashmir. The study discovered that all Kashmiri Pandits in the valley faced ‘identity crises’ and over 99% of Pandits did not find their identity the same as it was before the 1990s. To place this object of a two-band transistor radio sociologically and to analyse its user experience, the sense of loss, hope and love for the Kashmiri language, community experience and land become important as we understand the sociological and psychological placing of the object that I have chosen.
The object of transistor-radio also has a highly gendered experience linked to its user experience. My grandfather was the head of our household and he followed a rigid routine with dietary instructions. This routine of the family’s head could only be followed if my mother woke up at 5 a.m and prepared the meals exactly how he needed them and placed them on the table according to his time routine with my grandmother’s help. He followed a linear time schedule wherein no amount of housework and mental load of planning/organizing housework was done by him, and hence he could take out time of leisurely entertainment and tune in to the transistor radio at the same time for most of his old age.
My grandfather’s schedule and the existence of radio and the entertainment it brought forth can be understood by Julia Kristeva’s theory of women’s time as contrast to “masculine” or linear time. Kristeva divides women’s time into Cyclic and Monumental Time; she explains how women across generations follow the same housework and childcare patterns in repeated order and their lives are marked by monumental moments like that of motherhood.
Furthermore, Karen Davis introduces the term ‘process time’ to describe the plural, relational and context-linked nature of time that care work entails and how ‘process time’ can be seen as time enmeshed in social relations and in fact, a part of several ongoing non-abstract processes. Men, on the other hand, follow a linear time, like the clock time, their lives move forward: taking new projects and hence engaging in new progressions throughout their lifetime.
Thus, in order to understand and deconstruct the object of the transistor-radio and its gendered experience, it is important to look at how this object lies at the intersection of Kashmiri identity, migration and subjecthood of relational time which forms a coherent explanation of its user experience.
Radio Sharda is a radio station by PIR PANCHAL (CESES Organization) is a Community Radio For Displaced People of KASHMIR at, Jammu, J&K. On its Facebook page, I found the reasons listed as to why its origin seemed crucial to the organization. The reasons are listed as: “Why community Radio? To preserve cultural values. To learn about our history and civilization. Academic information - career and admission counselling.To promote ways of healthy living.To entertain through modes music, drama, humor and much more.To empower youth and females. A companion for old age. Catering to social welfare and community development issues through discussions, talks and interviews”. Source: https://www.facebook.com/RadioSharda/about/?ref=page_internal
Ali, Sajid. ‘Are there Kashmiris in the hall?’ — Palladium to INOX, Kashmir’s love for cinemas is back. ThePrint, 2022.
Philips logo 1938 image, source: https://1000logos.net/philips-logo/ . Its the same logo as the logo on my grandfather’s transistor. Philips changed its logos over time, a brief history of the logos is available at the link attached.
Banal, R., Thappa, J., Shah, H. U., Hussain, A., Chowhan, A., Kaur, H., Bharti, M., & Thappa, S. (2010). Psychiatric morbidity in adult Kashmiri migrants living in a migrant camp at Jammu. Indian journal of psychiatry, 52(2), 154–158. https://doi.org/10.4103/0019-5545.64597
Bryson, Valerie. Gender and the Politics of Time. Bristol,UK, The Policy Press, 2007.
Kristeva, J., Jardine, A., & Blake, H. (1981). Women’s Time. Signs, 7(1), 13–35. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3173503
Kumar, Keval J., and Amos O. Thomas. “Telecommunications and Development.” Journal of Creative Communications, vol. 1, no. 3, 2006, pp. 307. 10.1177/097325860600100306.
About the writer:
Muskan Dhar is a Qualitative Data Scientist based out of Jammu and Kashmir.
"I primarily transcript, translate and analyse data for research scholars and international organisations. My research interests span across themes of memory, sexualities, military and masculinity, religion, politics of languages and resistance movements. I am also keen to explore the medium of documentary filmmaking."