Roadshows and rickshaws
BBC Hindi Service [extract]
Folk images help BBC World Service promote its 21st-century virtues to a rural Indian audience
A few years ago, an Indian restaurant group commissioned Bhajju Shyam, a young artist from central India working in the indigenous Gond folk tradition, to paint a mural for its latest London outlet. This was his first time abroad, on a plane, even in a city. Such pure culture shock left an indelible impression, which the Indian publisher Tara later helped him translate into book form. Shyam’s beautifully skewed vision of his visit, with Big Ben as a rooster and the Underground a giant earthworm, thus became The London Jungle Book, a distinctive bestiary that was to attract the attention of a marketing executive planning an advertising campaign for the BBC Hindi service in India.
This is a story about a happy collision of cultures; and the celebration, rather than exploitation, of native talent. It is, incidentally, an eye-opener for us in the UK, where we take the communications revolution for granted, and have entirely lost the ability to see the rooster in Big Ben.
Technology is largely absent, at best sporadic, in rural India (where 742 million of India’s one billion population live). Electrical supply is often limited to a couple of hours each evening, so newspapers are a major source of information. But low literacy rates mean that one person usually reads aloud to an assembled group. People are passionate about local and national politics; but they still love television when they can see it, especially quiz shows and Bollywood movies. Internet services, like mobile phones, are largely confined to urban areas; but even small towns have internet cafés, and travelling broadband vans are helping the rural community get online occasionally…
With less media choice, radio should therefore be a prime source of authoritative information from India and beyond. But in 2003, the BBC Hindi audience was in decline. Although BBC was still a major presence in India, it was primarily as a heritage brand; the young regarded it as something older people used. Those generations trust and even revere the BBC as the one constant reliable and objective voice, still broadcasting even through news blackouts imposed during past crises. But in general terms there was little understanding of exactly what the BBC is and does. The bulk of its Hindi audience lives in rural India, mostly in small towns in five northern states: Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Uttaranchal...