Sports broadcaster Jasdev Singh’s animated voice will always be missed

Jasdev Singh was versatile. He loved grabbing a microphone and in his lucid style with a good mix of Hindi and Urdu, he would describe a hockey match, a cricket match and even the Republic Day parade

Photo courtesy: Twitter
Photo courtesy: Twitter
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Prakash Bhandari

Aur lambi seeti baj gayee aur iske saath hi Bharat ne doosra Vishwa Cup Hockey ka kheetab jeet liya!”. (And the whistle has been blown and with this India has won the Hockey World cup for the second time!) These words uttered by the doyen of sports broadcasting from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, that hosted the third Hockey World Cup in 1975, thrilled even India’s then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who was hearing the running commentary of the pulsating final between India and Pakistan, which India won 2-1.

When the triumphant Indian team landed in Delhi with the World Cup, the team was feted by the Prime Minister. During the ceremony at the PM’s residence, Jasdev Singh was also introduced to Indira Gandhi. When she was told that it was Jasdev who broke the news of India’s victory over Pakistan, Indira ji paused for a second and excitedly told Jasdev, “Aapne to ek baar hamari Sansein hi rok dee thi, lekin jab aapne commentary mein bataya ki Bharat jeet gaya hai to maano saans phir se chalne lagi”. (We held our breaths listening to your commentary. But when you told us that India has won, it was as if we came back to life!)

Jasdev along with Melville de Mellow teamed up together to broadcast at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, and the hockey buffs in both India and in Pakistan, with ears glued to the radio, heard India regaining the hockey gold that it lost to Pakistan in 1960 in Rome. Jasdev, with his speed excelled in describing the pulsating final, with late Mohinder Lal scoring the winning goal. Jasdev made his mark as a commentator and the broadcasting journey saw him covering nine Olympics, eight hockey World Cups, six Asian Games and numerous Test and international cricket matches.

When the triumphant Indian hockey team landed in Delhi with the World Cup, the team was feted by the Prime Minister. Jasdev Singh was also introduced to Indira Gandhi. When she was told that it was Jasdev who broke the news of India’s victory over Pakistan, Indira ji paused for a second and excitedly told Jasdev, “Aapne to ek baar hamari saansein hi rok di thi, lekin jab aapne commentary mein bataya ki Bharat jeet gaya hai to maano saans phir se chalne lagi”

In the era of radio, when major sports event like the Olympics, Asian Games, World Cup hockey and Tests, and international cricket matches were covered by the All India Radio (AIR), millions of sports buffs would tune in to the AIR for following the radio commentary. Several generations grew up listening to the radio commentary that became more and more popular with the advent of transistors in the early sixties.

Sports broadcasting became popular with such a large following all over the country. The sports commentary began with English, but an announcer in the All India Radio ventured to do the sports commentary in Hindi. Jasdev Singh, who began his career in 1955 from AIR, Jaipur with his speed and accuracy gave the Hindi sports commentary not only respectability, but Jasdev Singh himself also excelled with the microphone through his deft description of the play in the middle. He excelled in hockey commentary as he followed the ball with his super fast description that people wondered whether he had a motor in his mouth. Sitting in the commentator box, Jasdev would often stand up to see the movement of the ball and describe it. He would describe the exciting moments with such flair and clarity of words that often, the English listeners would prefer to hear the Hindi commentary that was broadcast on the second radio channel.

Thus at a time when people ridiculed Hindi commentary, Jasdev Singh was heard even in the remotest southern part of the country where the listeners glued to the transistors. Whenever India and Pakistan clashed in an international hockey fixture like Asian Games, World Cup or Olympics, the hockey fans in Pakistan would tune in to AIR to hear Jasdev. He used both the Hindi and the Urdu words while commenting that was easily understood in Pakistan. Such was his popularity in Pakistan.

Once when he had gone to Karachi to do an assignment and was roaming in the market, a blind person requested him to help him cross the crowded street. When Jasdev Singh spoke to him, he asked whether he was Jasdev Singh as his voice resembled the Indian commentators. When Jasdev, said yes, the blind man could not believe his ears. He was a great fan of Jasdev ’s commentary

Jasdev shifted from radio to television and he retired as Doordarshan’s Deputy Director General (Sports). Radio was losing its listenership and that forced Jasdev to shift to television which was a different ball game, but he was quick to excel there also.

Hindi sports broadcast gained popularity because of Jasdev Singh, who along with Sushil Doshi of Indore, Joga Rao of Delhi and Ravi Chaturvedi also of Delhi worked very hard with the various sports’ terminology. They did find some solution for the Hindi terms of sports, but without losing the spirit of description while commentating on the game. Jasdev was versatile as he was a professional and did not suffer from the microphone phobia. He loved grabbing a microphone and in his lucid style with a good mix of Hindi and Urdu, he would describe a hockey match, a cricket match and even the Republic Day parade. He would not only describe what was happening in the middle but would also give the background that would inform and entertain the listeners. Often, the listeners would feel as if he was not listening to a running commentary but would feel as if he was watching the match in the ground.

Jasdev did his first cricket commentary in Hindi in 1969, but he loved doing hockey commentary and the Republic Day parade more. Born in Baoli village, near Jaipur in the family of an overseer of the Jaipur state, Jasdev Singh was fascinated to radio commentary after hearing Melville De Mellow’s marathon commentary in English of Mahatma Gandhi’s funeral in Delhi in the winters of 1948. He made up his mind to become a broadcaster and after doing his graduation, he joined the AIR, Jaipur as an announcer. He would do sports commentary on the public address system ( PAS), during the sports events in Jaipur and his romance with sports commentary began in a humble way.

He shifted to Delhi and then established himself as a sports commentator not confined to sports, but also do a commentary of the Republic Day, Independence Day and other mega-events. Jasdev made his mark as a commentator and the broadcasting journey saw him covering nine Olympics, eight World Cup hockey, six Asian Games and numerous Test and international cricket. He shifted from radio to television and he retired as the deputy director general (sports ) of Doordarshan. A recipient of Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan, his biggest honour came when he was given the Olympic Order, the highest award of the Olympic movement. This was a unique honour as very few people earned this distinction from the broadcasting world.

He also acted in a Hollywood film, the Dirk Bogarde starrer The Wind Cannot Read, a film based on the second World War that was filmed in Jaipur in the late 1950s. He acted as a Sikh soldier.

Jasdev Singh is survived by his wife, a son and a daughter. His son Gurdev, an engineer and an entrepreneur, is also a sports broadcaster.

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