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Tuning into neighbourly bonding, courtesy AIR

The medium and the message have both hit home. Aimed at audiences in neighbouring Pakistan, All India Radio’s (AIR) Urdu service is the most popular of all its 27 language services broadcast outside India, shows data, reaffirming the language-culture connect between the two countries.

Following the Urdu service in the popularity charts is Akashvani Maitree, a newly-launched language service dedicated to Bangladesh.

Broadcast by AIR’s external services division, the Urdu service is among the five language broadcasts in Pakistan. The others are in Punjabi, Saraiki, Sindhi and Balochi. DNA had reported last month that India’s national broadcaster was planning to revitalise its internal Punjabi channel and come up with a special channel called Des Punjab for viewers in Pakistani Punjab.

AIR data shows that the Urdu service receives about 5,000 feedback letters every week, while the dedicated WhatsApp number for the service receives more than 100 messages every day with suggestions and requests on specific programmes.

Notwithstanding the advances in tech communications, senior officials say the number of letters was higher about 10 years ago when there was a post box facility available from Islamabad.

“Over the years, people have increasingly moved on from writing letters. Then, the diplomatic bag facility was also withdrawn. Yet we continue to get a tremendous response for our Urdu service,” a senior official said.

He clarified that while 30 per cent of the letters come from Pakistan, the rest are from states like Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka that tune into the Urdu service. This ratio has been reversed over the years, sources say.

The Urdu service is broadcast through short wave and medium wave transmitters and is also live-streamed on the internet. “With better reach, the service has become as popular is India as it always has been in Pakistan,” officials said.

The Urdu service packages together entertainment, information as well as programmes aimed at perception management. Amongst the popular programmes are the daily Aaj Ki Baat and Jahanuma, the weekly Fikr-o-khayal, the fortnightly Manza-pas-Manzar and the monthly Baazgasht.

While Aaj Ki Baat features discussions on topical issues, Fikr-o-khayal is a script-based programme dealing with topics such as internal issues, contradictions, conflicts, dissenting and subaltern voices inside Pakistan. Manzar pas Manzar is based on analysis and countering of Pakistan’s media reports and reports of world press about Pakistan.

In the spirit of Maitree

In the same vein, Akashvani Maitree provides content both from India and Bangladesh and has also gained huge popularity since its launch in August.

As per data, the channel received 1,156 feedback/suggestion letters last month and its WhatsApp number receives anywhere between 800 to 1,300 messages per week.

“The channel receives several requests over songs, enquiries and feedback on a regular basis from Bangladesh,” a senior official said.

Popular programmes include Chhere Asha Gram, which revisits the memories and nostalgia of those who had to shift across borders in the wake of partition and Porte aashun Bharote, which invites students from Bangladesh to study in India. Also in the package are Ghure Daranor Golpo, inspirational stories on best practices in the country and Setu Bandhan, including topics like disaster management and inspirational stories about women.