[lg policy] How Jasdev Singh Elevated Hindi Sports Commentary
haroldfs at gmail.com
Sun Oct 7 15:08:53 EDT 2018
How Jasdev Singh Elevated Hindi Sports Commentary
Singh carved a niche for himself through his simple but refined and fluent
Hindi commentary. He described enthralling and sensational sporting moments
with great ease and simplicity.
[image: How Jasdev Singh Elevated Hindi Sports Commentary]
Jasdev Singh's demise, in many ways, is loss of an institution which shaped
sporting imagination for decades. Credit: YouTube screengrab.
Abhinava Srivastava <https://thewire.in/author/abhinava-srivastava>
In the parlance of market-led TV media industry, the Doordarshan age is
generally recalled as one of state monopoly with little or no scope for
‘creativity’ and ‘autonomy’ in programming and presentation. The voice of
Hindi sports commentator Jasdev Singh, who passed away on September 25
after prolonged illness, defied this notion throughout his career.
His mesmerising voice, relaxed tone and unique style of narration helped
Hindi acquire a distinct status in an English-dominated sporting world,
helping it become a genre of its own. His demise, in many ways, is loss of
an institution which shaped sporting imagination for decades.
The active career and life-trajectory of Singh coincided with one of most
transformative phases of Indian media. He joined All India radio (AIR) at a
time when there was huge uncertainty over the state broadcaster’s language
policy. Two different approaches shaped this debate. The first approach was
largely developed during the tenure of AIR’s first director-general Sir
Syed Ahmed Shah Bokhari. Bokhari established the authority of ‘spoken’
words over ‘written’ ones, but remained sceptical of providing it a
Also Read: Remembering Ajit Wadekar, Who Will Always Be My Captain
After the first general election in 1952, the third Information and
Broadcast (IB) minister B.V. Keskar proposed another approach. He appointed
senior Hindi litterateurs in key positions and minimised the role of
bureaucracy in programme operations. His proposal of Sanskritising AIR’s
language was met with strong criticism. However, in 1962, Keskar’s language
policy was adopted with minor tweaks. Throughout this period, the style and
functioning of state broadcasting were, therefore, characterised by
bureaucratic control and political restrictions. This was unfortunate as it
shrank the space for vernacular aspirations to flourish through public
broadcasting. The dominance and grip of English press further marginalised
the growth of vernacular domain.
During this period, Singh, however, carved a niche for himself through his
simple but refined and fluent Hindi commentary. He described enthralling
and sensational sporting moments with great ease and simplicity. Singh
maintained a fine balance between colloquial and standardised Hindi and
gave it a form that was capable of transcending the limitations of both
*Ability to invent new vocabulary for Hindi commentary*
Jasdev Singh. Credit: Facebook
His ability to blend metaphors and minute details of an event made his
commentary a living phenomenon in the 1970s and 1980s. What made his
contribution valuable was his ability to invent new vocabulary for Hindi
commentary. He was also able to vernacularise technical terms in sports
such as hockey and cricket with precision and skill that many of his
contemporaries lacked. This helped Hindi commentary, at least in radio,
shed its image of being a ‘surrogate’ version of English Commentary.
Moreover, many socio-political changes also fuelled the popularity of Hindi
as a written and spoken language during the 1970s and 1980s. Although this
change is largely attributed to the dramatic growth of Indian language
newspapers, the contribution of Hindi commentary was no less. The live
broadcast of sporting events with English and Hindi commentary helped the
latter achieve a wider reach across diverse sections of Indian society.
While Singh personified the increased influence of Hindi during this
period, unlike the Hindi press, he did not provide a ‘Hindu’ touch to the
language. With the increasing participation of Hindu nationalists in Indian
politics, the tendency to narrate failure or success of sporting events
through the lens of Hindu nationalist fervour was gaining prominence. It
was during this period that the Hindi press started giving India-Pakistan
matches a Hindu nationalist orientation. Singh, however, refused to be
guided by such impulses during his commentary.
*Singh’s columns elucidated complexities*
Although most of us remember him as a charismatic Hindi commentator and
broadcaster, in the early 1980s, he also earned popularity through his
famous sports column ‘Bari Jasdev Singh Ki’ in prestigious Hindi weekly
*Dharamyug*. The magazine featured his in-depth understanding of a variety
of sporting issues. Like his Hindi commentary, Singh’s columns also created
a vibrant Hindi sports readership. Here again, his ability to elucidate
complex sports terminologies of hockey, cricket and football in simple,
colloquial terms provided his column an unparalleled popularity. One can
recall the discussions he initiated on the limitations of AstroTurfs, an
artificial grass surface which was introduced for the first time in the
1976 Montreal Olympics.
With the increasing participation of Hindu nationalists in Indian politics,
the tendency to narrate failure or success of sporting events through the
lens of Hindu nationalist fervour was gaining prominence.
His columns became an encyclopedia on Olympics for Hindi readers. Singh
also attempted to infuse a true cosmopolitan sense in his readers through
his commentary on Olympic Games. Through his columns, he regularly shared
his memories with overseas sports icons. Singh never interviewed them
rigidly. He, instead, adopted a unique style of narrating their sporting
achievements with interesting biographical details. His columns, very
often, contained an analysis of sporting aspects that were rarely covered.
For example, in one of his columns on May 30, 1976, he expressed his
concerns for the players who either injured themselves on the ground or
lost their lives while playing. In the same column, he stressed upon the
need to insure players.
With the expansion of satellite TV industry in the 1990s, radio and Hindi
sports commentary soon lost its charm. Subsequently, many eminent
personalities of the Doordarshan era, including Singh, disappeared from
broadcasting operations. The introduction of sophisticated audio-visual
techniques further transformed the business. The authority of spoken words
declined steeply and it was no longer possible for Hindi commentators to
enjoy the same degree of popularity they did in the 1960s or 1970s.
Also Read: Like the IPL, Indian Sports Journalism Is a Boys’ Club With a
*Growth of cricket as a sporting commodity*
The post-liberalisation period also saw an exponential growth of cricket as
a sporting commodity. This resulted in the proliferation of private sports
broadcasters dedicated to exclusive live coverage of cricketing events. The
upsurge of these broadcasters was once again characterised by the dominance
of English. The Hindi commentary survived only in poorly planned live
broadcasts of Doordarshan and AIR.
Recently, this has changed and several leading sports broadcasters,
realising the potential of vernacular markets, now have Hindi channels.
These markets have expanded in the post-liberalisation era, but are not a
product of same period. In fact, the growing commercial success of Hindi in
the broadcasting business should be seen in the context of huge popularity
that it gained during the era of state monopoly. Marketers, thus, owe a lot
to Singh for taking the genre of Hindi commentary to a new level.
*Abhinava Srivastava is an independent media researcher and consultant at
Centre for Policy Research (CPR), New Delhi.*
Harold F. Schiffman
Professor Emeritus of
Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305
Phone: (215) 898-7475
Fax: (215) 573-2138
Email: haroldfs at gmail.com
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