The Surajit Sen I like to remember from the late ’70s and ’80s was as imposing and impressive in his personality as in his remarkably deep and resonant voice. In an era before the national television network, when the 9 pm All India Radio news bulletin was the most authoritative source of information about the day’s events across the country, he was one of the pre-eminent newsreaders in English.
It was an age of legendary newsreaders, who were all household names: Barun Haldar, Pamela Singh, Sushil Jhaveri, Lotika Ratnam (Surajit’s sister), to name just a few. They commanded authority and respect with their precise diction and pronunciation, their excellent radio voices, their news sense, their professionalism. Among them Surajit had undoubtedly the deepest bass voice, deeper even than Melville de Mellow’s baritone. It was a great radio voice and in real life too it rumbled quite alarmingly.
Behind this extraordinary voice and equally large personality was intelligence, wit and a sense of humour that were very endearing. Surajit was the Chief Newsreader when I first started reading the news on AIR on a casual basis. He was extraordinarily kind and encouraging to us neophytes, who were barely out of our teens.
I remember that while Surajit was an exemplary professional on air, he could be quite irreverent off the air, sometimes even putting down the fader in the middle of a bulletin to switch off the mike temporarily while he let off an off-the-cuff remark about an annoying news item for the sole benefit of anybody who happened to be in the studio with him at that time. This kind of nonchalance and irreverence, allied with the strictest discipline on air was enthralling for starry-eyed young broadcasters like us.
In later years, he suffered unfortunately from some of the worst afflictions of old age and it was moving to see this larger-than-life personality so reduced. However, his extraordinary voice and personality, his sense of mischief and humour, as well as his kindness and geniality come startlingly alive before my eyes whenever I remember the words, “This is All India Radio. The news, read by Surajit Sen.” I’m sure this happens for all who knew him in his prime and for all the countless admirers who only knew his voice. He will be remembered with great regard and affection.
Sunit Tandon is a radio broadcaster, television anchor, theatre person and former Director General of the Indian Institute of Mass Communication