A Face in the Crowd – By Sanjay Pradhan

Translated directly from a Nepali newspaper article in Himalayan Darpan dated 23rd May 2012)

Even today, when we see Shobha bahini (sister Shobha), we hear her tinkling laughter in the eminently popular radio show called  Shambhudai Ko Hulak (Shambhudai’s Post. Brother Shambhu’s Post was a witty question-answer radio programme which was hosted by All India Radio every friday in the early 70s. Listeners from all over India and Nepal sent letters asking witty questions which were read out by the fictional character of Shobha bahini and were answered with equally witty answers by the fictional character of Shambhu dai ).

Shambhu dai’s (brother Shambhu) quick-witted reply together with  Shobha bahini’s laughter comprised an entertaining pair. Aired during the early 70s, the show’s popularity is still remembered by the local audience with great fondness. This programme was aired every friday in the evening via All India Radio. Unlike today, there were no televisions or FM radio stations during the early 70s. No other program aired on the radio during the time, gained as much popularity as Shambhudai Ko Hulak. Friday evenings at 6:30 pm, people crowded in front of their radios in great anticipation of the programme. As a young student, I was fortunate enough to witness such a sight. Shambhu dai Ko Hulak gained popularity not just within the borders of the country but its acclaim spread as far as Nepal. Shambhu dai and Shobha baini’s wide fan base  covered northeast India and Nepal. Fans travelled from distant places to Kurseong just to get a glimpse of Shambhu dai and Shobha bahini; to see what they actually looked like, to receive their autographs and to take a picture with them.

During the time, the most prominent Nepali literary figure, Late Shivakumar Rai held the position of producer in All India Radio. It was he who designed and initiated the program, filling the shoes of Shambhu dai. Initially Shobha bahini had great inhibitions as far as working in a radio station was concerned. Having had only seen a radio from a distance, she often used to wonder upon the curious nature of the radio. It was not until she joined All India Radio that her creativity flowered developing into a major talent. The real person behind Shobha bahini is none other than Mrs. Chimi Angmu Lama with whose multi- faceted talents, only a few must be acquainted. Shobha bahini is popularly known as Chimi didi (sister Chimi) in Kurseong.

Born in M.P. road in Darjeeling, Chimi didi’s childhood passed in a little village called Bhutia Busty situated in the base of Darjeeling town. She acquired her education in St. Teresa Convent in Darjeeling.
In the year 1962, the same year that All India Radio in Kurseong was established, at a young age of sixteen, Chimi Angmu Lama joined the station as a casual announcer. This was to become her life’s occupation, retiring forty four years later in 2006 as a senior announcer in the Sikkimese section. Her mother, late Lobsang Choden was a Tibetan from Lhasa and her father, late Dechen Lama was a Sikkimese from Burmek in Sikkim. Naturally, she spoke fluent Sikkimese and Tibetan, thus facing no hindrance in working at the Sikkimese section of All India Radio.
From an early age, she had an agile ear from language, which allowed her to become multilingual, picking up any language she was exposed to. Along with her deep involvement with Nepali, she excels in Hindi and speaks fluent Bengali, English and the Zongkha language of Bhutan.

Her father was a script writer in All India Radio, Kurseong through whom she was introduced to the world of announcing and writing for radio. She left behind her hometown and moved to Kurseong  at what was considered, an extremely tender age for a girl to leave home. Prior to her involvement with the radio, she was a singer in Darjeeling. She expresses with a hint of nostalgia how profoundly interested she was in music those days. She vigourously reminisces about the time she won the first place in a musical contest held by Darjeeling Pain Relief Association in 1961. During the contest, she had sung a duet with the renowned Nepali singer Kumar Subba. Together with music, she carries an insatiable fondness for dance. “Dance is my passion” she says with a glint in her eyes and expresses that she still loves to dance.
According to Chimi didi’s junior colleague at the All India Radio, Tshering Lhakey, who is now a senior announcer, Chimi didi had entertained the audience by dancing to the tune of a Bollywood classic movie called Jewel Thief and by singing a popular Hindi song during the fortieth anniversary of All India Radio. Tshering Lhakey further asserts that Chimi didi has the knack of lighting up the atmosphere wherever she goes. “Whenever Chimi didi is around, everything colours up vividly. She is a major source of inspiration to us. Even when she was unwell, she used to come to work with the aid of a walking stick. She may be older to us but she gets along with people of all ages. When we get together, she brightens up the room by cracking jokes making us all laugh until we are in splits.”

Since she was constantly exposed and involved onstage during her early years in school, she also went on to become a talented stage actor. Apart from being an announcer in the Sikkimese and Tibetan section, her high level proficiency in the Nepali language and her mellifluous voice earned her a position as an announcer in Nepali programmes as well. Rai gave her the opportunity to lend her voice as major characters in his  radio plays such as The Flute, Frontier, Traveller, Nature’s Daughter and many more. Chimi didi also acted as the protagonist of one of Rai’s plays called Bhang ko Laddoo (The Marijuana Sweetmeat) that was staged at Kurseong’s Rajeshwari Hall Theater.

Shambhu dai Ko Hulak went on to mesmerize the audience for three years and was picked up again in 1975. This live programme went on to become a great success one more time. She reflects on the programme saying, “Shivakumar sir used to answer all those witty questions with such wit and comedy that I often found it hard to control my laughter, especially because his answers were constructed on the scene and were usually not pre-meditated” The late Rai was her major source of inspiration and through him she recognised her own talents.

Chimi didi is not only a radio artist, but she is also a gifted painter, a genuine writer and a poet. Her art has a unique quality that is far removed from other contemporary artists. She recollects that as a child she used to draw pictures of the King and Queen with chalk on her slate. Like her other talents, she received absolutely no formal training in painting and sketching, but excelled only because of her unwavering perseverance. Her work of art has been exhibited on district level art exhibitions and on state levels. Her specialty lies in thread art where she uses a black base to depict the play of light against shadow. Her thread portraits and thangkas or Tibetan religious depictions are breath taking. She is currently at work with another piece of thread art. In the year 1984 -85 she received a State award in thread art for her depiction of Mother Teresa and for a Tibetan version of Mahakali – the Hindu Goddess of fortitude and destruction. She wishes to teach the medium of thread art but she says that people are no longer interested in this field of art. She is now preparing to exhibit her art in the national level and in Nepal. She also dabbles in oil painting mostly using her imagination and at the age of 65 she is still enthusiastic about her work. “One has to have patience for work and one has to revel in it,” she says. She spends her all her time in creative work rather than sitting in front of the television.

She has a deep-seated love for the Nepali Literature and her anthology of short stories called Mukta Munal (Uncaged Munal, of which Munal appertains to the female of a Himalayan species of birds) is due for publication this year. Her stories often revolve around social issues in the hills such as child labour, women trafficking, female literacy, alcoholism etc.

Her writing is as unique as her other talents. She writes stories in Nepali and poems in Hindi. “Writing a poem in Hindi comes naturally and instantly to me”, she states. Her writing is deeply inspired by none other than Late Rai’s style. She has always been a voracious reader and as a child she used to buy books and comics with her lunch money. “I used to often sit under a tree and read my books when I was a child,” she reflects.
Among other things. she is also currently translating her poems in Hindi into Nepali.
Chimi didi is fashionable and she says, ” fashion changes, and so must we, accordingly. Vulgarity is definitely not the essence of fashion.” She likes to pin flowers into her hair and she says, “I always like to pin flowers to my hair. It is a Spanish style of fashion and I still do it.”
About life’s struggles she says, “Life is inevitably full of struggle.” Transferred on the basis of her job to Gangtok, Sikkim in the year 1982, she experienced a trying time far away from home and family. Her separation from her family lasted for five years until 1987. During the time, her husband Nima Lama who worked for District Small Scale Industries as a Manager was based in Siliguri. Her daughter and son were studying in Kurseong and it was an excruciatingly difficult time when her family was scattered in three different places.
In the year 1996, during an attempt an attempt to adjust a tube-light bulb at home, she fell down and suffered a fractured spinal cord which took her a very long time to recover.
Her husband Nima Lama, her son Sonam Lama (currently living and working in Edinburgh, Scotland), her daughter Yoshay Lama Lindblom (married and currently living in Sweden) continually inspire her and give her courage to battle the odds in her life.
About the FM radio today, she says, “FM today is good according to the times we are in. But since the focus lies much more on music, it is directed more towards the younger demographic. It should also incorporate informative programmes.”
Chimi didi is actively involved in providing support for young men who are involved in drug addiction and she looks forward to extending help to those who are HIV positive and in the conservation of forests through reforestation programmes this year.
As cheerful as she is, she is also outspoken. Her life and her creative talent is an inspiring example to all of us. Even today when I talk to old fans of Shambhu dai Ko Hulak, they reminisce and yearn to relive that golden past. When will Shambhu dai and Shobha bahini grace us with cheerful days again?

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Yoshay Lama

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