Once upon a time, there was radio, the unrivalled one, and news was still about decorum and not high drama and TRPs. This is when, in the ’70s and ’80s, Barun Haldar’s voice — “a composed baritone” — broadcasted news to the people of a new India. And the nation heard, in rapt attention, “This is All India Radio. The news, read by Barun Haldar (he pronounced it as Borun Haldar)”. The voice was calm, poised, and had impeccable diction. The influence was substantial on a nation that heard Haldar’s broadcast as much for information as they did for his nuanced presentation. Haldar, one of AIR’s chief newsreaders, and a household name that inspired a generation that was in thrall of his reading style and art of broadcasting, passed away in Kolkata on Wednesday. He was 87 and ailing for a while.
Tributes and condolences for the veteran news broadcaster poured in from many on social media including President Ramnath Kovind.
Haldar’s friend, colleague and veteran AIR news broadcaster Minoti Chatterjee, remembers Haldar as “a very emphatic voice but at the same time it wasn’t like a cannon”. “There are a few things that go into the making of a news broadcaster on the radio. There is the voice that you are born with. Then you train this voice, you modulate accordingly, take phonetics training, enunciate, aspirate, and elongate. And Barunda was a perfect 10 in all these departments. His voice was mellifluous and velvety with perfect accent and diction,” says Chatterjee, who adds that back then the image that the news reader projected was extremely significant.
Legendary AIR Chief Newsreader, and Haldar’s senior, Sushil Javeri, the man known to be a taskmaster for “how to speak English correctly”, remembers Haldar as a fine newsreader, “who never participated in criticising anyone”. “He was a very popular newsreader, with a good clarity of voice. His broadcasts were liked by a majority of people in India,” says Javeri, 89.
Haldar began his broadcasting career in the ’60s at Calcutta’s All India Radio, with an extremely popular western music programme called Musical Bandbox. Sunday afternoons changed after that show began. And the love-struck listeners — of the voice and of a music show about English songs — would tune in and never fail to keep their date. “It was more so because of him and his voice. There would be these fans dying to know who he was. It was a beautiful voice and presentation,” says Chatterjee. When someone, usually a woman, managed to tell him that she was head over heels in love with his voice, the private person that Haldar was, would just shy away. “He was very different from how you thought he’d be because of the image you’d built of him in your head through his voice,” says Chatterjee. In 1971, his measured and balanced English war commentary of the Indo-Bangladesh war found much attention with millions cocking their ears to listen to him speak.
In the ’70s, Haldar shifted to Delhi and joined the General News Room of All India Radio, finding there an array of legends such as Melville de Mellow (still remembered for his seven-hour live radio commentary on the funeral procession of Mahatma Gandhi), Devki Nandan Pandey, Surojit Sen, Pamela Singh, and Roshan Menon, among others.
Chatterjee, a political science teacher, met Haldar in the ’80s when she joined AIR and did a slew of dual bulletins with him. “I was lucky enough to read alongside him. At that time there was no electronic media, so we bridged election programmes through telephones, did live shows in the studio. You needed to remain unaffected despite being shown plycards of ‘now Jaipur’ and so on in quick succession. I learned from him, to keep your head on your shoulders, and take each session like a performance. I grew up under him,” says Chatterjee. Haldar retired as Chief Newsreader in 1990 but got two back to back extensions. The designation does not exist anymore.
Every time there was a new voice, he’d joke, “This one will give you a run for your money. He’d never tell me that I was good. I’ll always remember him fondly,” says Chatterjee.