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Melody mission for archives

New Delhi, Jan. 28: Even as diplomatic ties between New Delhi and Islamabad teeter on the brink, the chiefs of Doordarshan and All India Radio are on a quiet mission in Pakistan to seek help to enrich their archives with old melodies from a shared heritage.

AIR began broadcasting in its avatar as the Indian Broadcasting Service in 1927 — 20 years before the Partition. (The service was named AIR in 1936). Later, many singers who debuted with AIR and were regulars on the radio migrated to Pakistan.

Doordarshan director-general S.Y. Quraishi and Prasar Bharati chief executive officer K.S. Sarma, who is also the director-general of AIR, are in Pakistan to enlist support for the information and broadcasting ministry’s project called A Century of Recorded Music. Sources said among the recordings they will seek are performances by Noor Jehan.

Quraishi and Sarma have flown to Pakistan via Dubai because the diplomatic face-off has made it impossible to travel by land or to fly directly to Islamabad. The official reason for the visit is that they have been invited to attend the Saarc Audio Visual Exchange Committee meeting that will discuss, among other issues, the possibility of setting up a Saarc Information Centre.

Doordarshan sources said Quraishi and Sarma have taken with them five video CDs and two audio CDs that have been recently compiled from the archives. As part of the celebrations planned for the 100 years of recorded music, Prasar Bharati has taken up a project to compile albums from AIR and DD’s archives.

Information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj had said the archives of AIR will be thrown open for commercial exploitation after the contents are digitised and preserved.

The sources said Quraishi and Sarma were carrying with them five VCDs — Begum Akhtar’s Live Concert in 1973 (from Doordarshan), Sufiana qawwalis by Habib Painter, Shankar Shambhu and the Warsi brothers, Kathak recitals by Birju Maharaj, Lachhu Maharaj and Gopi Krishna and Bharatnatyam performances by Yamini Krishnamurthy and Alarmel Valli. They were also carrying two CDs of Begum Akhtar and the qawwalis. The CDs will be gifted by the DGs to their Pakistani counterparts.

They will also request that Pakistan exchange treasures from its own music archives and help complete the project undertaken by Prasar Bharati.

“These requests are exploratory and we do not have any commitment. But we have the intention,” the sources said. “We will also offer in exchange recordings the Pakistanis might want.”

Prasar Bharati is also planning a 26-part serial on Doordarshan and is compiling 25 albums of performances by maestros in VCDs and CDs.

AIR sources said the national public broadcaster was currently in the process of transferring the audio content from magnetic tapes to CDs. This was intended to improve its preservation.

AIR is probably the only custodian of the Hindustani classical renditions of Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. Begum Akhtar is one of those artistes who debuted with AIR. Recordings in AIR’s archives date from the time it formally began broadcasting in 1936 — 11 years before the Partition.

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