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Radio Cylon

By Nickunj Malik - May 18,2016 - Last updated at May 18,2016

“When I was young I’d listen to the radio, waiting for my favourite songs. When they played I’d sing along, it made me smile.” Hearing ‘Yesterday Once More’ from the track of The Carpenters, really made me smile. And then, before I could stop myself, my memory went into an instant flashback. 

During my childhood, the radio played a very important part in our upbringing. It was a period when the television had not made an appearance in the small town where I lived. So, the radio was a focal point towards which all members of my family gravitated. Various tasks were also earmarked according to the timings of the programmes. For instance, when the English news broadcast was aired at eight in the morning, I knew I had to present myself at the breakfast table precisely. In case I was not ready by the end of the show, I had to rush straight to the bus stop or miss the ride to school.

If an Agony Aunt kind of recording was blaring, that solved problems from selecting the right jars for storing pickles, to curing suntan with a mixture of yoghurt and lime juice, I was sure that it was three in the afternoon. My grandmother would be in rapt attention, ostensibly shelling peas or knitting booties, but in fact, storing all that information, for later use.

From sports commentary, in depth interviews, short stories, advertising jingles to the weather report, I had the entire timetable at my fingertips. The best of it was when Radio Cylon played the popular catchy numbers and we all joined in, from various parts of the house. Now, this radio station was not even based in India but was situated in nearby Sri Lanka where a lot of money, in terms of advertising, came from my home country. The station employed some of the most admired Indian announcers who were responsible in establishing Radio Ceylon as the “King of the Airwaves” in South Asia.

For some reason that is incomprehensible now, All India Radio and other Indian radio stations at the time banned Bollywood songs. Therefore more listeners were attracted to “Binaca Geetmala”. Binaca, that sponsored the show, was a toothpaste brand and Geetmala, literally meant a “garland of songs”. It was a weekly countdown show of the top songs from Hindi cinema and Ameen Sayani, the man with a magical voice, hosted it. 

On particular weeknights, during the half-hour duration of this transmission, my entire household huddled together around the radio. There was no way we could do anything but be hypnotised by the magnetic voice of the host. I would try to do my homework along with, but I could concentrate on nothing other than the songs.

My brothers would loudly predict the chartbusting numbers and I would join in. If we were right, we celebrated by jumping up and down on the floor cushions. When we made the wrong forecast, we pretended to be upset and refused to eat dinner. One sharp look from our mother would have us trooping towards the dining table, but here I digress.

Suddenly I came back to the present and realised that the Karen Carpenter song was still playing. 

“All my best memories,” she sang. 

“Come back clearly to me,” I hummed along. 

“Some can even make me cry,” she crooned sweetly. 

“Just like before,” I joined in, sniffing back tears. 


“It’s yesterday once more,” both of us sang out.

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