The shankha blower from Bichour

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Radio listening has changed so much that most take it as an one-trick pony that just plays FM stations. SW and MW (short/medium wave) stations, though still active in the air, remain largely forgotten. SW/MW listening was the only source of information or entertainment in the period gone by. A radio set gets cracking on receiving the vibration sent out from a transmitting station. Vibration as expressed in number of cycles per second and radio wave is essentially an electromagnetic wave. The length of radio wave has a direct bearing on its range, shorter the length - further it travelled and vice-versa. Therefore SW transmissions had much further reach than MW. But there is limit to which this is applicable.

At very high frequency (vhf), it is a different story altogether, as the reach gets even more localised as with FM reception. The reception remains good only if there is a clear line of sight between the transmitting antenna and the receptor. But FM provides much better audio quality unaffected by vagaries of weather. Proliferation of FM was facilitated by the change in media policy. Besides, small FM transmitters were less expensive and for being simple to install and operate, just caught on. Even as countrywide FM penetration is deep, there are still large areas with terrain induced blind spots. And to tide over that issue Radio Nepal relies on one/SW and six/MW transmitters.

The reason for penning this piece is essentially to reveal the circumstance behind the melodious shankha dhwani in making of Radio Nepal’s signature tune. The ringing of temple bells accompanied by blowing of conch presents a lovingly melodious soft tune fit for early morning opening. In fact, the shankha dhwani is heard skilfully played in three continuous bursts of about 15 seconds each. There is fairly good chance that there is no official record regarding the artists involved in its composition and rendering after so long.

I happen to accidentally tune into Radio Nepal’s FM station on the very first morning of 2074 needing to scan through a whole range of receivable stations as unplugging had deleted the preset spot in my radio. Accidentally again, digital device got stuck momentarily at 100 MHz as the said signature tune was just about to begin. This brought back nostalgic memory about the person who blew the shankha in that instrumental rendering. I knew who it was but to most listeners he remained a person with no name. I knew him as Hari since over 60 years; his formal name was Subhakhar Dhakal. He hailed from Bichour village in Lamjung and worked as a bhanse-baje in our house at Pyukha, about 100/120m North of Naya sadak-Khichapokari junction. He looked after the puja kotha and handed both morning and evening cooking for a traditional Nepali nucleated family that comprised of about twelve adults and four/five children.

My mother (90) revealed, in course of collecting facts, that it was she who brought the shankha but was not sure if it was from Banaras or Calcutta. It had been lying unused until Hari started blowing it during early morning and evening puja. Coincidentally, Ram Lal Joshi, the Radio Nepal singer had his house adjacent to ours and had been hearing him blow it every day. Hari worked as a bagainche in Singha-durbar during day. Ram Lal got him to blow the shankha as a part of musical instrument for Radio Nepal’s iconic signature tune.

 But he needed a bit of prodding as he had no experience paying along with others let alone in a musical composition. Playing for a tune, with all discipline and timing, was too big a thing unlike his daily ritual. He must have had few practice sessions with the team perfecting the timing and style of blowing as required. It was recorded in Radio Nepal studio possibly in one sitting as was common in those days. Hari later went back to his village, got married but returned to Kathmandu on being sick for treatment after many years. As per his son, Hom Nath, he died in Shrawan of 2031 BS at a relatively young age of forty-one. He is survived by his wife, three daughters and a son.

I, on my part, can do nothing more than revealing the name of the shankha blower who had otherwise remained an unsung hero for so long. It would be nice to do the same for other members in the team if possible. Ram Lal Joshi could have shed more light as to how it actually did happen, but he too is no more. His sons Bhairab Lal Joshi and Dwarika Lal Joshi got established themselves as singers in their own right but both died young for their age. It brings out a sense of sweet nostalgia every time listening to the tune. Thanks to the internet, it is available at anytime and anywhere for listening without having to wait for Radio Nepal. My only wish is that Radio Nepal keeps this signature tune unchanged as it is surely iconic.

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