When I first met my friend Sanjeev Das, I couldn’t believe that he came from a place that I used to hear every day on the radio; as a child. I’ve never trusted him until one fine day he showed me a picture of a shop that had the address of the place on it. The place that I thought was a phantom town; until I visited it one day.
This place is quite far from Mumbai but I’d gone to a nearby place in 2005. I reached this place by bus from Ranchi. It’s a horrible but beautiful ride in the people-stuffed state bus.
Although there’s nothing much to do other than go around the city, sit near the lake and eat a lot, it’s a magical feeling to be here after all the confusion regarding its existence.
BTW, people are quite loving here and you can get some delicious food to eat all day long.
What is the first thing that comes to mind when anybody mentions Jhumri Telaiya? Probably Vividh Bharati and the long list of song requests it received from this town. However, there is more to this town in Jharkhand’s Koderma district than just its people’s love for music, besides the fact, of course, that it is not a fictitious place.
The story of Jhumri Telaiya’s fondness for radio music is connected to the village’s economic history. After the British discovered vast mica deposits in the region in 1890, a railroad was laid through erstwhile south Bihar — now Jharkhand.
Mining activities started soon after, with entire trains being devoted to carrying mica from the mines to the dockyards of Calcutta, from where it was exported to Japan.
The mica kings of Jhumri Telaiya, Chattu Ram Bhadani, and Horil Ram Bhadani controlled nearly 1,000 mines in the region. These fabulously rich businessmen led the transformation of the place from an obscure little village into a boom-town. Huge mansions were built, Arabian thoroughbreds were imported, and seeing luxury cars like Mercedes and Porsche became a common sight in the town.
In the 1950s, television was yet to find a place in many Indian homes and radio shows were a huge national phenomenon. Sending song requests on postcards to these shows was slowly becoming a popular pastime in many Indian villages. A mica mining tycoon from Jhumri Telaiya, Rameshwar Prasad Barnwal, decided to join the trend.
Rameshwar started mailing postcards with song requests to the first broadcasting station of South Asia — Radio Ceylon; daily.
Radio Ceylon’s most popular program for Hindi film songs was Binaca Geetmala. Thanks to his regular postcards, Rameshwar’s name started appearing regularly in the requests announced in this show. Inspired by the thought of hearing their name on the radio, few others decided to join the postcard-sending spree.
In a matter of short time, every resident of the town wanted their name to be mentioned on the radio show too. As the song-request fad took over the town, radio aficionados in the little town formed listeners’ clubs and began competing among themselves to send out the most song requests in a day or month.
As the pastime became a passion for the people of Jhumri Telaiya, the name of their village became famous among the radio listeners across India. However, thanks to the town’s unusual name and the humongous number of song requests it sent, many listeners were skeptical about its existence.
The fun is that most of the citizens in India still don’t believe that Jhumri Telaiya is a real town. I’m sure this blog post will show them a way out of their unreal fantasy.