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For 99 years, Radio Ceylon has known the song



Growing up in India, I spent a lot of time listening to Hindi songs on Radio Ceylon. I didn’t know it at the time, but my attachment to this Colombo radio station was a good example of its role as a bridge between the peoples of South Asia, after independence won from the United Kingdom (from 1947).

This radio that I listened to as a teenager came back to my fond memories with the recent death in Bombay of Ameen Sayani (1932-2024). A legendary radio presenter whose music show has long been a delight for listeners of Radio Ceylon, Asia’s first radio station, which will celebrate its centenary next year.

A weekly “Top 16”

Sayani was famous for her elegant diction and catchiness, “behno aur bhaiyon” (“sisters and brothers”), which attracted widespread attention by overturning the usual order of genres in Hindi.

His show came about almost by chance: Sayani was sidelined by All India Radio in 1952, after BV Keskar, India’s Federal Minister of Broadcasting (and Congress Party appointee), banned modern popular songs (and in particular cinema music in Hindi) on state radio, judging that they were vulgar and represented a threat to Indian classical music.

Sensing an opportunity, Radio Ceylon recruited Sayani to host the show Binaca Geetmala (“garland of songs”). For forty years, once a week, it broadcast 16 songs (listed in order of popularity) to millions of Indian listeners.

My father, a regular listener in the 1960s, told me that people, before the show, would bet on the most popular song, nicknamed the sartaj (“leader”). “We were (also) listening to a countdown of English songs for teenagers, presented by Greg Roskowski, who introduced us to Cliff Richard, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley”, raps

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