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The signature AIR tune

By: Kamal Baruah


We may be familiar with the tune, but few of us know that was created by a Czech Jewish refugee fleeing the Nazis in Europe!

When Modi made his official visit to Israel during his first stint as the Prime Minister, he triggered a lot of buzz across India. India’s older generation had much to be nostalgic about the Jewish connection since ages … for several decades we had woken up by that signature AIR tune that was very much Jewish.


I was gripped with sudden surge of emotion as I heard that outdated but familiar jingle. Many of us would remember that two-minute tune – the AIR’s Signature start-up – that came out from the other room. Initially, I thought it was the opening of Transmission III of Akasvani Guwahati in the evening. When I saw, it was the violin that played the AIR tune by classically trained violinist from BHU, Mr Dwipendra Sarma, my daughter’s music tutor. He put on some soothing music from a fiddle that sounded impressive. I was convinced that day that musicians lived their music.

Violin is one of the best instruments to play, but requires lot of hard work and patience. We’ve certainly seen violinist at their best in concerts, TV, youtube and movies – they do steal away hearts. Violinists have the power to instil strong emotions of romance or sadness, and can also put people to sleep. So soothing is the music.

It requires rigorous practice to master the notations, rhythms and bowings. The term resonance in music is related to Physics. Albert Einstein was a dedicated violinist since his early age and he attributes that the most inspirational moments in his life came from playing classical on his violin. Coincidently the Nobel Prize Concert features only internationally-renowned violinists when honouring the Nobel Laureates.

Learning to play any musical instrument requires coordination between hands and with visual or auditory stimuli. Violin lessons aren’t a waste of time after all. Learning an instrument between the ages of six and eight makes children grow up smarter and enhance motor skills development producing long term changes to the brain. The Jewish people have known the intellectual benefits of music since the Old Testament ages. And Lord Yehudi Menuhin, was the greatest violinists of the 20th century.

Music knows no boundaries and is truly a universal language. Surprisingly, India’s most recognized tune wasn’t composed by an Indian. It is Hitler’s genocide that gave us our favourite AIR’s iconic tune. Walter Kaufmann was one of the many Jewish refugees in exile. The Jewish man was a forgotten genius, who left Prague in 1934. He found a new home in India during Nazi’s infamous Holocaust. Kaufmann arrived in Bombay as a Jewish refugee and started his music career in India. He lived for twelve years in Bombay and worked for All India Radio. While Pandit Ravi Shankar went to the West to conquer the musical journey, Mr Kaufmann’s western technique encountered with Indian music. He was also influenced by Asian music from China and Tibet while being the director of music at AIR.

He was a composer, conductor and educator, who did PhD in musicology at the German University in Prague and composed music with heart and intellect. The Czech man Kaufmann had composed the AIR tune based on raga Shivaranjini in 1936. Mehli Mehta the father of the composer Zubin Mehta is also believed to be the violinist of the AIR tune. Violin, viola, cello, and tempura were used to make that famous tune. Beside that famous jingle to AIR’s legacy, he was involved with various radio dramas and operas. Surprisingly AIR has not given any official recognition to Kaufmann for his iconic work.

Radio’s monopoly in mass communication ended with the advent of TV, internet and print media. However, with the launch of its high quality digital stereo FM station, Delhi’s Vividh Bharati, AIR was able to assert its presence and position. Interestingly, AIR earned crores of rupees from selling ad slots at a premium rates before and after PM Modi’s ‘Mann Ki Baat’. Lord Irwin, the Viceroy of India inaugurated the services of the Indian Broadcast Company (IBC) on July 23, 1927.  But it originally started broadcasting by the Radio Club of Bombay in Jun 1923. The IBC later became All India Radio in June 8, 1936 that employed European musicologists John Fouldes and Walter Kaufmann for Delhi and Bombay respectively to oversee Western music. India finally adopted the name Akash Vani in 1958.

Kaufmann’s immortal work marked the beginning of a typical Indian day before the TV and the Internet took over. Even today his iconic tune makes each and every Indian nostalgic. Those were the days; the radio was a constant companion. Vividh Bharati Service proved its success connecting Indian soldiers posted on remote border areas. Radio still has an impact on the communications gear despite the availability of digital platform.

Mr Kaufmann is an inventive and gifted musician as once recommended by Albert Einstein. In 1946, Walter left India for England as a Guest Conductor at the BBC. He was the Musical Director of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, Winnipeg, Canada during 1948-1957. Then he taught in the School of Music at Indiana University in Bloomington, US till 1977. While it’s been over three decades to Walter Kaufmann’s demise in 1984, he has been immortalised through his AIR Signature Tune that millions of Indians continue to wake up to. AIR is now switching from analog to digital in a phased manner. The listeners can look forward to highly enhanced transmission quality like Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM) in near future. And Mr Walter Kaulfman will always be there to brighten our days.

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