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Harjap Singh Aujla

There are always certain milestones of historic dimensions, which go unrecorded and buried under heaps of sand over a period of time. Many times such milestones remain buried forever. One such milestone concerns the evolution of East Punjab’s first television station, which opened in East Punjab’s largest city and the financial and industrial capital of those days. And  that is the television centre of the city of Amritsar.  

If we talk about the evolution of television services in undivided Punjab, then we automatically start thinking of Lahore Television Centre, which opened in 1965. When Lahore Television centre launched its broadcasts, the wealthy businessmen and industrialists of Amritsar started buying television receivers. A few imported their television receivers through their relatives living abroad. Some bought their television sets in Delhi and installed those in Amritsar.  

The height of the television tower in Lahore and the power of its transmitter was sufficient to reach every part of Amritsar district and half of Gurdaspur district. Soon directional VHF receiving antennae started mushrooming on the roof tops over the houses in the wealthy localities of Amritsar including Lawrence Road, Mall Road, Kennedy Avenue, Court Road, Maqbool Road etc. Within 1966 thousands of TV receiver sets could be seen in Amritsar.  

The programmes of Delhi Television Station were very much primitive and lackluster, compared to those coming out of Lahore. The finest male singers of Pakistan, including Mehdi Hassan, Ghulam Ali, Amanat Ali Khan, Tufail Niazi, Sain Akhtar Hussain to name a few took pride in appearing over Pakistan Television. Similarly the first grade female singers including, Malika Pukhraj, Tahira Sayyed, Iqbal Bano, Farida Khanum, Naheed Akhtar and others found it prestigious to sing over the airwaves of Pakistan’s television stations. On the other hand, the biggies of Bollywood were clearly disinclined to appear on Delhi Television Centre. In addition the dramas and serials of Pakistan Television became very popular in India.  

Then came the 1971 Indo-Pak War. The signal of Delhi Television could not reach Punjab and the signal of Lahore Television was just like local in Amritsar. All the television set owners in Amritsar and its vicinity got their news and information from Pakistan Television Lahore. Soon after the end of the war in 1972, the Government of India decided to open new television stations in Bombay and Amritsar. The construction of the television tower in Amritsar started in 1972 itself, but it took more than one year for completion of the entire work.  

For training and other purposes, the entire production staff of Amritsar Television Station was kept in New Delhi. When the time for inauguration of the station came, nobody knew as to where the three day inaugural carnival should be held. Three places were shortlisted to be the expected venues of the opening gala. These were the one hundred and seventy year old Ram Bagh Gardens (also known as the Company Bagh), built by Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the modern concrete campus of the Guru Nanak Dev University and the magnificent historic building complex of Khalsa College Amritsar. Finally the decision went in favour of the lush green front lawns of the Khalsa College Amritsar with the backdrop of the heritage architectural masterpiece educational institution. The choice of becoming the master of ceremonies was between Delhi Television’ senior-most news anchor Pratima Puri, a Punjabi lady by origin, or Minu Talwar, the youngest and the most glamorous announcer cum news anchor of Delhi Television. Minu Talwar also belongs to a Punjabi Khatri family and she speaks the language fluently. She can effortlessly shift from English to Urdu, Hindi and Punjabi. The main reason for according so much importance to glamour was that all the female announcers and news anchors of Lahore Television Centre were extremely glamorous and India had to match them. Minu Talwar could match the charm and charisma of any Pakistani TV anchor. During the opening gala, Minu Talwar stayed in Amritsar on all three days. According to reports received from across the border, Minu Talwar impressed every viewer in Pakistan too.  

Legendry Ustad Bismillah Khan played Shehnai on the very first evening. Other great artists like Surinder Kaur and Parkash Kaur also performed. The finest Gidha dancers collected from all over Punjab and the most talented burly Bhangra dancers of the state performed during the opening ceremonies. Giani Zail, the then Chief Minister of Punjab, gave the inaugural speech. The three day opening ceremony was watched by everyone, who had a television set in Amritsar and its vicinity. Reports from across the border indicated that there was a huge response to this opening ceremony in the city of Lahore and its vicinity also.  

During the teething days in the initial stages, the programmes were all canned in New Delhi and dispatched daily by air to Amritsar. Sardar Albail Singh Grewal, a senior bureaucrat of All India Radio based in New Delhi became the designated Station Director of All India Radio Television Station Amritsar. Under his guidance more than eighty percent of the programmes of Amritsar Television Station were produced in Punjabi. In comparison, the Lahore Television Centre, although located in the heart of Standard Punjabi speaking area of Pakistan has not been according any importance to Punjabi. More than eighty percent of the programs of this station are made in Urdu and English and hardly ten to twenty percent programmmes are in Punjabi.  

All India Radio television station in Amritsar has always led from the front as far as the Punjabi content in its programming is concerned. This station has been producing the finest programs of poetry, drama, talks, discussions, news, views and music. Later on when the mother station or the capital station was moved to Jalandhar, the Punjabi content was never compromised. At present christened under the new name Doordarshan Jalandhar, as many as seven daily news bulletins in Punjabi are broadcast. The standard of Punjabi drama has always seen an ascendency. Amritsar’s famous Wadali Brothers, Puran Chand and Piare Lal have always been significant figures at this television station. The other stalvarts include Sardul Sikandar, Hans Raj Hans, Sabarkoti, Master Saleem and Kanth Kaler.