Vinod Dua – the Urbane Hindi Voice

07 Dec,2021

 

 

By Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr

 

I must clarify before I go further that I watched Vinod Dua closely through all the election programmes that he presented with NDTV’s Prannoy Roy through the 1990s. (It was only in the last few that I came to know him slightly. I must also acknowledge that he was warm with new friends as well and never made you feel that you are a new friend.)  But it would be unfair to the man if we do not understand his place in the changing media scenario of the country after 1991. The tributes that I have read were that of his close friends, including journalists, but who bonded with him at a personal level. That he has so many friends showed the humane side of him. It is this humane side that was the undertow of his speech

 

This was even before S P Singh launched the daily news capsule at 9.30 pm, where he signed off with his “intezaar kijiye kal tak”. Dua was a curiosity because the bilingual presentation was an effort by metro Indians to reach out to the Hindi heartland audience. Roy, or Dr Roy as he is known to many of his colleagues, seemed to have realised that without Hindi, the audience would be restricted to the drawing-rooms of the well-heeled. What made me curious as well as amused with Dua was his urbane manner of speaking Hindi, as smooth as the English spoken by Roy and others in the programme. One of way of sounding smooth and polished while speaking Hindi was to throw in a few Urdu words. But Dua did not follow that easy option. He spoke lovely Hindi, and pronounced the Sanskritised Hindi words with ease, without letting the accent fall too heavy on any syllable.

 

I have always told myself that this Hindi was spoken with a clipped Oxford accent. It sounded good though there were times when the sophisticated ring of the voice became a little tedious even as Roy’s strangely accented English – outdoing the native English speakers – became an irritant.

 

But looking back a quarter century and more later, it becomes easier to understand the social context. Dua’s was the first Hindi voice of liberalised India. Before him there were the admirable Hindi newsreaders on All India Radio and Doordarshan, who spoke Hindi with the perfect pitch and they made the unmusical official Hindi sound mellifluous. Economic reforms ushered in by the dull P V Narasimha Rao- Manmohan Singh duo excited urban, metro Indians. Roy and Dua reflected that excitement with their nuanced accents.

 

It might seem uncouth to talk about accents while writing about Dua. But the voice and presence was what made a radio and television journalist. And Dua was that. Neither Roy nor Dua moved from print to the electronic media. Their native soil was the electronic media. When people liked Dua, and there were hundreds of thousands, they liked his sophisticated manner. In understanding Dua’s journalistic career, this becomes the keynote.

 

One of the questions that came up as I was chatting with MxMIndia editor was: how is it that one of prime movers of television in liberalised India just fell off the map as it were. And it seems to be that he was left behind as what were his strong points – the urbanity in speech and manner – became a handicap as Hindi channels and anchors and reporters increased. The Hindi channels brought with them their earthy flavour of speech quite different from that of Dua. The Bihari accent, the UP accent, and even the Punjabi one, made a niche for themselves. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) once stuck to its stiff upper lip Received Pronunciation (RP) but realised the need to democratise itself and accommodate regional accents of its journalists. Dua represented in a sense the Hindi Received Pronunciation, but soon the democratisation happened. S P Singh brought in earthiness and a certain authority because of his grasp of politics, and he did not fight shy of his Bihari accent. Dua knew his politics, but it seemed as though it was that of a slightly distant observer. The traditional hallmark of a journalist is his or her immersion in politics, and that non-English language journalists display to the hilt. Dua, the Hindi journalist, did not fit the bill. This is not a value judgment about Dua or Hindi journalists.

 

Dua did a food show in Hindi, which is a lifestyle feature, and which political journalists are shy of doing because they would say that all they know is politics. For Dua, there were things other than politics in life. With his flair for singing, he could appreciate music along with food. And he loved his drink in the manner of connoisseur. He was an epicure in the general sense of term. He loved the good things of life and he enjoyed them. Dua was drawn into a controversy as the me-too movement caught on in 2018, but it came to nothing.

 

It is important to remember Dua because for a flickering moment he projected a facet of Hindi language and journalism that was at once genteel and knowledgeable. And it is from this vantage point that he became a critic of the Hindutva politics of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and of the manner of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government. The Hindutva side resorted to his crude arm-twisting methods by filing a case against him in Himachal Pradesh for being an ‘anti-national’, the charge that they bring against anyone and everyone who they disagree with and who they dislike. Dua challenged the false allegation and the Supreme Court ruled in his favour. This is a victory for Hindi journalists as well as journalists in general.

 

It can be said that he fought the good fight against political tyrants as well as for his life. He won against the political tyrants and lost against the tyranny of the pandemic.

 

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr is a senior journalist and commentator based in New Delhi. His views here are personal

 

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