Cover Story

The Man with the Golden Voice

 Our Bureau

His is the original voice of the radio in Assam - a man whose sweeping baritone mesmerised people of the State for decades altogether. One of the State's most popular English and Assamese radio announcer and newsreader, he set newer standards in the field of radio production in Assam. A multi-faceted personality, he is also one of Assam's foremost music composers, guitar players, drama voice-over artist, poet and lyricists - all rolled in one. 
Yes, we are talking about none other than Syed Saadulla - the veteran music composer and radio artist of Dibrugarh who had produced and presented popular radio shows like Daak Pokhili, Bornali and Hello Mandakini. Having composed more than 200 Assamese songs, he is the man who has brought to life evergreen Assamese songs like Borokha Tumi Aha, Ahar Dorei Ubhoti Atori Gola, Joar Porot Xora Xewali Butoli, and many others. 
Syed Saadulla's immense contributions to the development of radio in Assam and the cultural world of the State have been duly recognised in the form of a number of national awards. But we believe that the most important honour that he has managed to achieve is the immense love and affection that the people have showered on him. Truly, Syed Saadulla is a legend in his own right.
The melange team recently entered into a conversation with the artist to know more about his journey in life. Following are excerpts.
Q. Please tell us about your childhood.
Ans: I was born to Anwara Begum and Syed Arfan Ulla in Dibrugarh on February 1, 1948.  I have fond memories of growing up in Dibrugarh along with my five other brothers and sisters. My father Syed Arfan Ulla was the Officer-in-Charge of the Dibrugar Sadar Thana and we grew up in the campus itself. 
Q. How and when did you decide to become a radio announcer?
Ans: The dream of becoming a radio announcer was instilled in my heart right from my childhood days. In our growing up days, there was no electricity in Dibrugarh. Radio had also not made inroads into the place till then. Only one household owned a radio set and I used to listen to the radio broadcasts being aired by standing outside their house. Besides the songs and other plays that used to be aired at that time, the voice of the announcer mesmerised me. So from a very young age, I nourished a dream of becoming a radio announcer.
Q. You are also an accomplished guitarist. We have heard that your love for the guitar developed in Shillong. Please tell us about it.
Ans: When I was in primary school, my father was transferred to Shillong. After a year or so, we joined him there. In Shillong, I saw Khasi boys playing the guitar for the first time in my life. I was mesmerised by the guitar and would go out to watch the Khasi kids play the instrument at all times of the day. I especially remember the days leading to Christmas when people would play the guitar and sing carols. Listening to the Khasi boys playing the guitar at night, I realised that I wanted to become a guitarist. I wanted to buy a guitar so that I could also learn how to play it. My father, however, would have none of it as he thought it would come in the way of his dream of my becoming a police officer.
It was also in Shillong that I saw a station of the All India Radio for the first time in my life. However, unfortunately, I could not pursue my love for the guitar or as a radio announcer in Shillong. My father was transferred back to Dibrugarh and in 1962, I enrolled myself in Dibrugarh Government Boys HS as a student of the eight standard.
Once back in Dibrugarh, I once heard someone playing the guitar inside a house. Without knowing him, I went inside the house and asked the guitarist if he would teach me. That man readily agreed and in due course of time, he became my guitar teacher. That man's name was Wallensten Sangma. So having found a guru, I would go to his house everyday - come rain or sunshine - jus to learn the guitar.
Q. We heard that there is a story behind how you purchased your first guitar. Please tell us about it.
Ans: Even though I was learning the guitar under Wallensten Sangma, one day he asked me to buy my own guitar so that I could practice more. As mentioned earlier, my father would not allow me to buy any music instrument and I was learning the guitar only on the sly! So when I was in the final year of high school, I took up a temporary job at the office of the National Registrar of Citizens. My job was to write the name and address of individuals on a ledger. I was told I would be paid 10 paisa against every name and detail written. Since my aim was to buy a guitar, I told the officer that I would collect my wages at the end of the month.
When the work was nearing completion, I learnt that I would be getting Rs. 240 for the work while a guitar was cost me around Rs. 140. I started dreaming about what to do with the remaining money. Somehow, my father also learnt that I was working and he demanded that I give the entire money to him. My dreams of buying a guitar were almost shattered had it not been for the intervention of my mother. She stood up for me at that point of time and told me to buy the guitar on the way home. Accordingly, I purchased the guitar on the way home and handed over the rest of the money to my father. Thankfully, since I gave my father some money, the story ended there. My tryst with the guitar continued though and I continued learning the instrument. I also learnt the instrument later on in Mumbai.
Q. You and your friends had a band, The Quivers, which was very popular in the late sixties and seventies...
Ans: Once I joined Kanoi College in Dibrugarh for my B. Sc, I found that the Beetles mania was sweeping the entire place. Influenced by the Beatles, I along with several of my friends - actor Biju Phukan, Hemanta Dutta, Rajen Gohain, Najifur Rahman, Bhabesh Goswami, Jiaur Rahman and Prabin Goswami - formed a rock band, The Quivers. That was in 1965.
The band performed both Assamese and western music. Within a short time period, we made quite a name for ourselves as the band performed across the State, sharing the stage with artists like Dr. Bhupen Hazarika, Khagen Mahanta, Dipen Baruah and Jayanta Hazarika in subsequent years. Dr. BHupen Hazarika was present during one of the band's performances at Jorhat in 1971 and he also presented us with a Xorai as a mark of appreciation.
However, despite the success of the band, my father kept insisting that I join the police force. So soon after passing my graduation, he forced me appear for an interview for police officers.
Q. Your dream of becoming a guitarist had almost been fulfilled by then. What about your other dream of becoming a radio announcer?
Ans: The Dibrugarh radio station was established in 1969 and our band was invited to perform on the inauguration day. As soon as I entered the station, I went to see the announcer's booth and still remember watching one of the first transmissions taking place from Dibrugarh station.
In 1971, I gave auditions for the post of casual announcer in All India Radio. I was selected in both the Assamese and English examinations and my long cherished dream of becoming a radio announcer was finally realised. In 1975, I joined All India Radio as a permanent employee.
But a week after I joined All India Radio, a policeman came to our house with a message that I had been selected in the Assam Police and that the SP wanted to meet me. My father was very happy with the news that his son would become a police officer; he told me to leave my radio job at once and go to meet the SP. I never wanted to become a police officer and did not want to sacrifice my most loved job in the All India Radio. That was the second time I saw my mother coming out in my support and I ultimately had my way.
My father was so unhappy that he did not talk to me for two-three months. But over the years, when people started appreciating my presentation and style as an announcer, he must have realised that it was a wise decision to let me do what I wanted. He changed his attitude towards me later on and one can say, it was smooth sailing from that moment on.
Q. Please tell us about your emergence as a lyricist or composer.
Ans: When we formed the band in Kanoi College, I used to sit with Hemanta Dutta and made him write lyrics of songs and then I used to give tune to his words. The first song I composed was 'Borokha Tumi Aha Nai' and it was also the first music I composed for the All India Radio. After Hemanta Dutta left, I started writing my own songs. All India Radio Station Director Luftur Rahman also encouraged me a lot during those days. Since then, I have produced and presented a number of popular radio shows. 
Q. Your Bornali programme is still very popular amongst listeners of the radio... How do you remember the popular program?
Ans: Bornali achieved quite a lot of popularity amongst people and I am thankful to all my listeners and fans for their love. The adulation of my fans and admirers... it simply cannot be expressed in words. I still remember that in the past, whenever I was invited to address any mass gathering, the audience always requested me to narrate the introductory part of the Bornali programme.
Q. You have also accompanied many renowned artists of Mumbai. Can you tell us about it?
Ans: From 1983 to 1985, I had a short stint in All India Radio, Mumbai. During that time, I had the opportunity to accompany renowned artistes like Anup Jalota, Bhupinder Singh, Usha Mangeshkar and Anuradha Paudwal on the guitar. I also lent my voice for a number of ad films on television. Had I stayed on in Mumbai, I would have definitely attained a different league. But for me, my love for Assam is paramount. I am not willing to trade the peace of mind that I have while staying in Assam with the hustle and bustle and chaos of Mumbai.