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Journal of Discovery

"Dispatches" Producer Eric Wayne and Host Sandip Roy enjoy a moment in San Francisco.
Sandip Roy
"Dispatches" Producer Eric Wayne and Host Sandip Roy enjoy a moment in San Francisco.

I really discovered radio when I moved to the Bay Area. An organisation called New America Media invited me to host a show they were piloting on KALW. It was called UpFront, later New America Now. California was becoming a minority majority state and the show was supposed to talk about the stories coming out of those communities. What were the Chinese newspapers worried about in the immigration debate? What did it mean to start a Black vegan soul food kitchen? When it came to presidential elections did all Asians vote the same way whether India or Chinese or Vietnamese of Filipino.
Soon after I left for India in 2011, the show ended as well. But one day Matt Martin the general manager at the time at the station asked if I would do an audio postcard from India.
We called it Dispatches from Kolkata. And the first episode was all about finding my feet once again in India, a country I had left as a college student.


We called Kolkata or Calcutta Cal and it was my audio dispatch from one home in Cal to another home in Cal.
At first I would look for sounds that could convey a sense of the hustle and bustle of India to listeners in the Bay Area.
I did dispatches about what elections sounded like in India, a noisy democracy electing its leaders.marching bands and drummers Led by four horses and the rather garish marching band, in red jackets, golden jodhpurs and white boots,

AAP DRUMS (Delhi elections)

And political parties each with their raucous theme songs, some of them a little tuneless

BSP_SONG  (Election 2014)BJP_SONG

But then I wanted to tell listeners in California not just about momentous events like elections. I wanted to give them a sound portrait of what life in a city like Kolkata felt like. Like aKolkata’s biggest festival, the homecoming of the Goddess Durga


Or a Kolkata Christmas where everything from the Santa to the snow is fake but the cheer is not.


People know of Kolkata because of Mother Teresa and I covered her canonisation


But what people dont know is Kolkata also had the oldest LGBT Pride Walk in India. And I got to tell that story too.

PD: a lot of stickers and stuff on and safer sex. So that was still the fallback that if there are too many questions we will say that we are doing health awareness work.

Sometimes the sound was the story. vendors walking down the streets selling and buying all manner of things from old gramophones to computers or fludffing quilts


Or the sound of local trains in India so different from the whoosh of the BART in the Bay Area


Sometimes we did dispatch about newsy events, the death of an icon like the singer Lata Mangeshkar, the singing voice behind generations of Bollywood stars


But the most wonderful dispatches were when I could find a story that connected both my homes from Kolkata to California. Like the year my German American friend and I tried to do an American thanksgiving in Kolkata and had to contend with a live turkey, a far cry from the sealed butterball I would find in the supermarket in San Francisco

MILENA1: Ok I need some feet chopped off of my turkey and the neck and you can just go round the corner and  wake up five guys sleeping on their chopping slab. And they will first of all not only admire the bird and say how beautiful and big it is but help you out and chop it. This is not something I could have done in berlin or new york. 

I was always on the lookout for stories that connected these two worlds. Sometimes those stories came to me. A Chinese American Bay Area listener wrote to the station saying she was going to India to find out more about an almost forgotten chapter of Indian history. The 1962 war between India and China when many Indians of Chinese origin were rounded up and put into internment camps as had happened with the Japanese in America.

I was astounded. I didnt even know this had happened. Yin Marsh from Berkeley came to Kolkata and told me that story

YM1: I assumed I was Indian, My brother came running back home one day crying and I said what happened saying kids are making fun of me saying ching chong man,

I had begun the dispatches from Kolkata thinking I would tell listeners in the Bay Area stories from India to show that we were ultimately all connected in this global local world. But as we cross 500 episodes dispatches thanks to people like Yin Marsh I learned far more FROM people than I told them. Thank you for listening

This is Sandip Roy in Kolkata for KALW