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Talk and Discussion: Radio Berlin International in India

Radio Berlin International began its journey as the German Democratic Republic’s foreign broadcasting station in 1959. Its Hindi Division, which started broadcasting in 1967, had several loyal listeners all across the Hindi speaking belt in semi-urban and rural India. This talk will take audiences from locales in East Berlin where the station was based to those in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, to the homesteads of avid listeners. Radio was one of the most popular means in 70s- 80s India to insert oneself into world news. Tracing the mobile trajectories of souvenirs and gifts (from posters to pens, peak caps and pennants) sent by the radio station to Indian listeners, has also revealed that photographs were a crucial object of exchange among presenters in the GDR and listeners in India. From passport-sized profile photos, replicas of photos used for bureaucratic reasons, to elaborate studio photos, photos of exhibitions organized for radio stations in homesteads and family photos– listeners’ private collections provide an affective view into memorabilia and photographs as autobiographical objects. What do they tell us about the camera and its gaze in the 1970s-80s? How did these become material performers of love, recognition and solidarity? And how did they render ephemeral radio waves into a material everyday presence? My talk will probe into the interstitial affective spaces made of voices, ears and postal feedback, between the microphone in East Berlin and local radio sets in India. It thus traces entanglements among actors from the GDR and India, re-evoking narratives of how short waves triggered the imagination of listeners in sub-urban/rural India to perform lived local internationalisms. Focusing on radio’s sound and photography, it will explore the interconnections between and the simultaneous developments of the acoustic and the visual during the Cold War years in India.

Anandita Bajpai is a research fellow at the Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin with a focus on South Asia, especially India; India–The German Democratic Republic– The Federal Republic of Germany entanglements. She is also the Editor (with Dr. Heike Liebau) of the MIDA Archival Reflexicon, an open-access online Archival Guide, which is a platform for theoretical and conceptual reflections on archival architectures/organizing logics as well as thematic contributions on India-related holdings of specific German archives and MIDA Thematic Resources

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