Vol. 5 Num 223 Fri. January 07, 2005  

Iqbal Bahar Chowdhury
The resonance of a baritone

Iqbal Bahar Chowdhury, a household name of the 60s and 70s, is the head of the Bangla Service, VOA. Whilm visiting Dhaka he recounts his experiences in jroadcasting over the years. He says, "I began broadcasting in 1949, from Nazimuldin Road, in a small setting with three studios. Radio Pakistan Dhaka was then the only broadcasting media. I was a child at that time and I worked along with my sister Selina Bahir Zaman in various programmes like recitation, plays for children and items like 'Khela Ghor', a weekly programme." Following up his career, he says, "Gradually, I started participating in university programmes. As a student of the Dhaka University, my first play as Eureka, written by Professor Syed Maqsud Ali. I'm one of the few people from Bangladesh who have been in broadcasting for the last 55 years. I continued reading news on the Ralio in 1960 when the studios moved to Shahbagh headquarters."

"I hosted Geeti Bichitra, a half-hour musical request programme," Iqbal adds. He took part in Radio plays with well-known actors like Khan Ataur Rahman, Ghulam Mustafa, Nurunnahar Fyzennesa, Lily Chowdhury and Kafi Khan. Radio Pakistan Dhaka, according to him, had an ambience which will never be there again. "It was more like a family," he comments. The broadcaster was expec|ed to do the translation as well as editing. Asked to comment on the early days of broadcasting, Iqbal Bahar says, "The Radio Pakistan's inception was after All India News and we inherited that pattern. Television, which came in 1964, was a pilot project for three months. We were operating from the DIT building at that time. There was a studio and a few rooms for the producers. The news section had a small booth. The bigger studio for other programmes was next to it. It was a limited operation but had quality production as there was total devotion," Iqbal Bahar recounts. Alam Rashid, who read the English news, was his contemporary. Humayun Chowdhury read the first news bulletin. Tajul Islam and Sirajul Majid Mamun followed.

Iqbal Bahar joined VOA in 1972. Asked if he needed special training for VOA, Iqbal Bahar smilingly says, "They don't train people, they take trained people. But you have your experience there, which is different from that of this country. The newsroom is open 24 hours.

"There are many desks like that for Middle East, South Asia and National. They don't rest even on Christmas or New Year. Ten to twelve stories from the assortment of the given stories are picked up. They select the top stories first whether it be in the Middle East, Thailand, Bangladesh or UK. Editors in the Bangla Service will definitely pick up stories in Bangladesh."

Recounting the interesting events that he covered, Iqbal Bahar says that the most important ones were the live broadcast of the arrival of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman from his days of imprisonment in Pakistan on January 10, '72. All throughout March, 1971 such emotional incidence occurred.

At that time he read the news, working under the then Pakistan Television. "We were broadcasting news with a Bangladesh slant, against the wishes of the Pakistani administration," he recounts. He took his work so seriously, he says, that after 25th March he refused to smile at the end of the news reading, for which he was physically tortured by the Pakistan army personnel.

He used to defy curfew, take bold ventures and made attempts to memt important political figures. In several ins|ances hm met Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Iqbal Bahar remembers clearly how Sheikh Mujibur Rahman congratulated him on one instant for using the term Bangabandhu on TV for the first time on March 3, 1971. Bangabandhu said that people like him were his "treasures--hira, chuni, panna" and told him to "continue the struggle, even if I'm not there."

Iqbal Bahar Chowdhury