BBC draws curtains on show that told horrors of Lanka war

The BBC on April 30 finally drew the curtains on Thamizhosai – a popular Tamil show that lasted three quarters of a century. Originally called ‘A news letter from Ceylon’, it was launched on May 3, 1941, as a propaganda machinery of the British to report on the Second World War in Sri Lanka – which was then a British Colony. But the later years saw it metamorphose into a favourite among the Tamil diaspora, not only for introducing Tamil culture to the world, but also for reflecting major predicaments faced by the community including those in Sri Lanka.

Thamizhosai was the brainchild of S Sivapadasundaram, a former editor of the Sri Lanka’s popular Tamil periodical Eezha Kesari and a journalist who was equally proficient in Tamil, English and Sanskrit. The service was eventually broadened to include music, drama and interviews in Tamil. Initially started as a half-an-hour weekly programme, Thamizhosai grabbed the coveted 9:15pm to 9:30pm slot after it was highly appreciated by Tamil speaking people across the world. It was later that Sivapadasundaram named it Thamizhosai, after Subramanya Bharati’s famous poem on Tamil, in which the poet says “the sweet sound of Tamil must be made to be heard all over the world”.

Sivapadasundaram was known for his skills in broadcasting. His articulation was so well known that All India Radio Madras Station engaged Sivapadasundaram for live broadcast for the funeral processions of K Kamaraj and C N Anndurai. After settling in Madras, Sivapathasundaram became a close associate of writer Chitti Sundararajan and started researching on Tamil novels and short stories. Described as “the Beaumont and Fletcher of Tamil literary criticism” together they published their two magnum opuses: ‘The Tamil Novel: A Century of Growth’ (1977) and ‘Tamilil Sirukathai – Varalaarum Valarchiyum’ (1989). Both became the basic source for many researchers. Both the writers felt the necessity for an organisation that would help researchers in delving deeper into Tamil culture.

For Tamils, BBC Thamizhosai was one such platform that gave them the exposure to voice such concerns about their culture. Popularity of the programme rocketed during the Sri Lankan Civil War. This was a time when the channel extensively reported on the war, showing the world the plight of Tamils in Sri Lanka.

As a part of its Human Rights programme in 2002, ‘Tamil as Manudam Vellum (Humanity will win)’, a 20-part series on human rights issues in Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka was broadcast in Thamizhosai. Journalist Sampath Kumar was roped in for the series. Extensive interviews and on the spot studies resulted in its great success. Thirumalai Manivannan, then the editor of this section said “This is the first time in recent years that a Tamil journalist has gone so extensively into the war-torn north and east of Sri Lanka and reported the conditions there.”

Despite the many laurels the programme won, it is a pity that such shortwave transmission had to fold up due to severe competition from various sources available for information.

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