Ameen Sayani—Voice extraordinaire!

“Behno Aur Bhaiyo…main aap ka dost Ameen Sayani bol raha hoon! Aur kitne saalon se bol raha hoon…aap sunte rahe hain na? Ji haan main December 1952 se bol raha hoon, jab main bees saal ka tha. Aur aaj…lekin arre, maine to shaayad apni umar bhi bata di!…”

The above statement is accurate, even if the ultra-shy Ameen Sayani is hardly likely to say it himself. Let’s keep him out of this then and consider the extraordinary run in this extraordinary broadcaster’s career.

Ameen was born on 21st December, 1932 to Kutchi parents who had migrated to Bulsar. His brother was the celebrated Hamid Sayani who hosted the popular Bournvita Quiz Contest in his wonderful rich baritone voice. Little Ameen learnt his early speech fundamentals like inflections from his brother. When he was 7, they put him on the air, to participate in a children’s show. His mother, a strong Gandhian, was advised by the Mahatma to start a magazine to educate people, which she did. This fortnightly, called Rehbar (meaning guide), is where young Ameen became a peon, as also a writer. The magazine was brought out in Hindi, Urdu and Gujarati, and here the impassioned lad picked up some understanding of languages. Somewhere along the line, Ameen also started loving the poetry of Rabindranath Tagore, becoming deeply immersed in Rabindra Sangeet too, yes!

But talk about poetic justice now. As we know, sometimes small events cause huge repercussions. The young man could not have imagined that he would owe his own phenomenal success in some part to a letter written by the same Tagore in 1940. This letter, addressed to All India Radio, urged the authorities to desist from using the harmonium in their studios. This was a foreign instrument, and as such did not serve our cultural interests well. The instrument was already banned in Shantiniketan, so then, how about it?

The harmonium was banished from the AIR studios for 30 years. And dispatched with it were a whole slew of ‘foreign’ instruments. It is another story that some of the most tenacious exponents of Rabindra Sangeet, like Pankaj Mullick and Hemant Kumar, always practised and performed on a harmonium J

Now consider how, at a popular level, things were soon headed the other way. A great number of bi-cultural Goans were coming into the recording studios of Naushad and SD Burman, OP Nayyar and more, bringing with them their euphonic sounds in brass, the guitar, violins, mandolins and more. All these were lifting our music into a high orbit. What a strange anomaly then that people were enjoying the Accordion in say, Naushad’s Dil mein uttha ke pyaar ka toofaan le chale (Aan, 1952), and were being denied hearing it on radio. Or Madan Mohan was offering Kishore Kumar’s Rock n Roll of Dil gaya dil gaya (Ada, 1951), but again, you couldn’t hear it on the radio!

This AIR’s divorce from reality was why business rushed to Radio Ceylon, just as a young man was clearing his throat to become destiny’s elected one. Would there have been an Ameen Sayani had there been no popular Hindi music on Radio Ceylon is at least a moot point. In the heady days of the ‘50s, ‘60s and later, Ameen Sayani scripted, spoke on and helped produce several thousands of Geetmala shows coming out of Ceylon. These airwaves took our music and his super interviews to millions in Asia and parts of Africa, and his music paayedaans became a rage. Come 8pm Wednesday, and for the next one hour you twiddled the dial for the shortwaves to behave!

Ameen Sayani also hosted hundreds of stage shows, and conducted as many advertising workshops, making many a cameo appearance in cinema too. His many CD sets called Geetmala Ki Chhaon Mein, tracing great songs that did not bust the charts, have kept him busy the past few years. But his weekly heart-stopping Behno aur Bhaiyo, that’s where he won us over. He still hosts a weekly show on a Mumbai radio station, and you can bet your last Rupee you can’t figure out if you are in 1962 or 2012! There is no question that many have been been nannied from the cradle to the grave with his music shows.

Isn’t it time the Guinness people should include him as by far the world’s longest serving radio broadcaster?


Originally published: 28th October, 2012

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