Saturday, September 22, 2012

The unsung hero of BBS - a tribute to a colleague

It was in June 1986. Radio NYAB had just become BBS Radio a few days earlier. I was a junior engineer on duty when the announcer for the Sharchop service reported to work in a not-so-perfect condition. “Where is the news file?” he asked around.

I passed him the file. He grabbed it and slowly walked into the Announcers’ Booth where he struggled to find his balance on the wooden stool he sat. “Can he even do it?” I wondered but I didn’t dare ask, as he was a senior broadcaster. When he was more or less settled, he signaled me to run the news sig-tune tape, which I promptly did. As the music faded out, he kicked off brilliantly and got the job done. Dorji Wangdi not only read the news that was written in English, he also did simultaneous translation and gave out the entire bulletin in flawless Sharchopkha. I was totally wowed by his extraordinary ability that for the next twenty years that I was in BBS, he was my walking dictionary – and someone I respected.

A decade later, on one occasion, we made an official tour to the east. By then I had moved up into senior management position while his career had remained stagnant because of his low “qualification”. He had by then also kicked his bad habits. When we reached Mongar we were surprised by a large group of people bearing gifts coming to see us. But they were there only for him. I knew that our RJs and announcers were popular in the rural areas but I never thought they were so popular. He was given a hero welcome wherever we went and I happily played his second fiddle. Being humble he felt little embarrassed and apologised to me for taking away all the attention. “Don’t worry about that. You are their man!” I assured him. In fact he was their superstar – almost a legend. His programmes and shows were instant hits. People loved his voice. His kunza lami zhelung was a classic. He had his weaknesses, no doubt, but he never failed in his tasks – simply because he loved what he did. And never once did he complain about his salary or his position.

So it was with a great shock and disbelief that I learnt of his sudden demise. I am sure his death will also sadden many in the east. For, he was the voice on the radio that gave them company as they toiled their lives in the farms. In a career extending to over 35 years, he brought them news, he gave them music and he raised awareness on everything from farming to public health to democracy. His legend had even extended beyond the frontiers. In fact in 2002 when I was filming in Omba Nye in Tashi Yangtse, I came across a group of people from Arunachal Pradesh (India) that borders with Bhutan to the East. When I told them that I was from BBS, they asked me if I knew Dorji Wangdi. When I said yes, they were so thrilled to even meet someone who knew Dorji Wangdi.

But for all the popularity, Dorji Wangdi died a poor man – with no possessions or properties. In the last few years he was deeply into religion. When we ran into each other lately he often talked to me about his dream to retire to his village with a small community radio station. Just a few days before he passed away he had apparently invited a large group of young colleagues and paid their drinks. To put it in a broadcaster lingo, he signed off in style. But thousands of farmers will miss him dearly. And among his colleagues he will be remembered as one of the best radio producers the country has ever had.