From army visits to star accolades, never a dull moment for a broadcaster

Malini Yugendran

Malini Yugendran

Auckland, 9 November 2022

B H Abdul Hameed recounts his busy life with humility and gratitude


The world of Tamilians in a Studio: Broadcaster B H Abdul Hameed (Photo Supplied)

Malini Yugendran
Auckland, November 9, 2022

When the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka sent an army to the house of the popular Tamil broadcaster B H Abdul Hameed, the order raised a volley of emotions, including fear, anxiety, sorrow and anger.

But all that Ranasinghe Premadasa, the Prime Minister at that time, wanted to make sure was that Mr Hameed was alive since rumours were rife and newspapers in Sri Lanka and India suspected that he and his family had been killed.

He also wanted Mr Hameed to rush to the Studio and broadcast from there, announcing his name several times. It was 4 am, long after the Radio Station had gone to sleep.

But Mr Premadasa wanted his compatriots-more importantly, thousands of fans of Mr Hameed to sleep peacefully, assured that their favourite broadcaster was alive and safe.

B H Abdul Hameed and his wife Shamila with the late Shivaji Ganesan and his Chennai Residence (Photo Supplied)

Wars create uncertainties and civil wars are even more dangerous as they take away people amidst skirmishes and violent engagements in public.

Sri Lanka was no exception.

Mr Hameed recalled the incident saying that it was humbling.

The year was 1983. Mr Hameed had decided to leave Sri Lanka, knowing the danger that he faced as a  Tamil Radio personality.  He was off the air for three days and newspapers had begun to speculate about his wellbeing.

“Following my broadcast at 4 am on that day, I received numerous letters from listeners expressing their concern. People from all walks of life, regardless of race or religion, were praying for me. It was humbling to know that I was in so many people’s hearts and that they treated me like family. I believe that I was able to connect with my listeners because of the values instilled in me by my mother, which I believe resonated in my voice. It is very important to stay true to values. I had many opportunities to go wayward, but the values instilled in me by my mother continue to keep me safe and loved,” he said.

B H Abdul Hameed (far right) at the sets of ‘Thenali,’ with Kamal Hassan, Producer K S Ravikumar and Dialogue Writer Crazy Mohan (Photo Supplied)

Mr Hameed was speaking to Indian Newslink in Auckland. He is on a visit to New Zealand, his first, at the invitation of the Aotearoa New Zealand Federation of Tamil Sangams (ANTS) Inc to attend the first World Tamil Conference to be held at the Lower Hutt Event Centre on November 12, 2022. Further information about the conference can be read here.

The accolade from Shivaji Ganesan

His soothing voice, alacrity and friendliness are all attributes that have made Mr Hameed one of the finest Presenters of programmes on Radio Ceylon and over the years, millions of people around the world have been mesmerised by his voice.

Among them was the late Shivaji Ganesan, one of the greatest actors of all times (known as ‘Nadigar Thilagam’ or the Star of Stars).

“While caring for his wife in the hospital, the legendary actor happened to hear Radio Ceylon shows and evinced interest in my drama ‘Oru Veedu Kovil Agirathu’ (A house becomes a Temple), especially my character, Captain Sambasivam. Later, I approached him for an interview, and he instantly agreed, saying that he was one of my admirers. I was humbled and shocked beyond belief. That was the beginning of a great relationship. I was delighted to know that he had kept a radio set with Radio Ceylon tuned so that he can listen to my programmes instantly,”  he said.

Never a dull moment for those with a heart: B H Abdul Hameed with his wife Shamila (Photo Supplied)

Engagement with Kamal Hassan

Proficiency in Tamil and the clarity of his voice have enabled Mr Hameed to earn the respect of numerous cinema celebrities, including actor-turned-politician Kamal Hassan, one of the most popular personalities in Tamil Nadu today.

He engaged Mr Hameed in many projects as a scriptwriter, and lyricist and even persuaded him to make a special appearance in ‘Tenali,’ a 2000 Tamil comedy, that portrays a psychiatrist on a vacation.

A modest beginning

While Mr Hameed enjoys today an iconic status among the Tamil-speaking community all over the world as a Radio Producer and Presenter, Television Host, Actor and Commentator, Master of Ceremonies and Author, reaching there was replete with challenges.

He began his career more than 50 years ago as a programme presenter at Radio Ceylon and soon had an increasing fan following, with a cross-section of communities in Sri Lanka, India and other parts of the world attracted to his comforting and soft voice.

“And yet, it was all an accident,” Mr Hameed said.

B H Abdul Hameed with Malini Yugendran and Yugendran Vasudevan (Photo Supplied)

“When I was 11 years old, I accompanied a friend to a live programme on the Radio for children. All programmes were broadcast live those days. One of the participating children did not attend due to illness and the producers panicked as the show was to go on air shortly. They started taking a voice test of everyone present and to my surprise, I was chosen to do a small role in the play. Until that day, I had not even seen a studio. It was a defining moment in my life. Everything seemed to change after that day,” he said.

Thereafter, he was invited to participate in many paid roles.

A few years later, Mr Hameed attended an audition for the post of Announcer at Radio Ceylon, on the insistence of a friend who had already submitted a job application on his behalf.

Mr Hameed was chosen out of a large number of applicants. Among them were S Natarajasivam, Joachim Fernando, Karada Anandaraj and Rajeshwari Shanmugam, who became famous for their presentation skills.

Mr Hameed, who was 18 years of age then, became the youngest Announcer and Programme Presenter at Radio Ceylon. He later wrote, produced, and presented numerous shows and dramas for Radio Ceylon and the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation, the national broadcaster.

Distinction in the Netherlands

Mr Hameed was chosen to attend a special training programme in the Netherlands in 1985.

On the first day, he was asked, along with others from 24 countries, to speak in English about their impression of the Netherlands.

“I was hesitant because I was not proficient in English. To my surprise, the trainer selected my presentation as the best for broadcasting. I had said in my presentation, ‘I saw the Sun through the mist, it was shining like a Moon.’ The trainer said that the medium of the Radio should help listeners create a mental image of what is being said so that they can resonate with the announcer. According to the trainer, Hameed was highly adept at connecting with listeners. I learnt an important lesson in broadcasting,” he said.

By the end of the first week, all the trainees got together and selected Mr Hameed as their leader to represent them in various aspects of the programme. At the end of the training, he was awarded ‘Three Stars’ as an acknowledgement of achievement.

Poverty in the early years

Discipline and concern for the poor were instilled in him since his formative years, partly because he was born into a modest family and partly because of his father’s upbringing.

“I do not remember much about my father because I was barely four years old when he died. He was an Army Officer who came to Sri Lanka from India as a part of a British battalion.  I vividly remember his advice: ‘Do not waste even a morsel of food because there are many who cannot afford a proper meal every day.’ I have often reflected on his words of wisdom,” Mr Hameed said.

Poverty was also a part of his family. He recalled the days when his mother could not afford basic needs, his house did not have electricity and he had to walk 10 kilometres to the Radio Station for an audition because he did not have money to buy a bus ticket.

He had three siblings but none of them is alive today.

A majority of the residents in his neighbourhood were Christians, which broadened his mind and belief. He called hearing Christian songs on Saint Anthony’s Day.

Mr Hameed remembers his mother doting over him and recollects how he would sleep with her saree covering him as a blanket. He gave her all his earnings.

He also recalled her last days, which were less than six months after he secured a full-time appointment at the Radio Station.

“I was acting in a drama serial in which a scene required me to wail in anguish over the death of my mother. As I completed the serial, my friends told me that my mother had suddenly taken ill. It was only after I reached home I realised that my mother had passed away. I could not bear the loss and I was in mourning for a very long time. I used two sarees as a blanket for decades. Even today, I miss her,” he said.

Marriage and Family

Mr Hameed said that he married his friend but is not sure if it was love at that time.

At the time of his mother’s passing, Mr Hameed was producing a drama called ‘Veenai Kodiyon’ with an all-female ensemble. The drama depicted the good side of the Sri Lankan King Ravana, and the lead character was portrayed by a cousin of his friend Sashikala. This warranted frequent visits to their home for rehearsals and discussions.

As they decided to get married, Shashikala’s father suggested that it would be appropriate if she converted to Islam. Accordingly, she changed her name to Shamila.

“Shamila has always been a pillar of support to me,” Mr Hameed said.

They have a son, Siraj Abdul Hameed, who is employed in the IT industry in Sri Lanka.

Biography and History

“Vaan Alaigalil Oru Vazhipokkan” (A wayfarer on Radio Waves) was his biography written during the pandemic. His book examines the history of Radio in Ceylon and the role of Indians in facilitating its establishment).

“The first draft was 800 pages long but I edited it again and again and the final draft is 316 pages. I have dedicated this book to my mother and my wife,” he said.

The book was first launched at a Tamil Conference in the United States of America in July, in Canada in August and in London in October 2022.

As a mark of their friendship, Kamal Hassan will launch the book in India next (December) month in Chennai.

About the World Tamil Conference

ANTS President Raveen Annamalai said that the World Tamil Conference 2022 will mobilise the local Tamil Sangam communities, individuals of Tamil origin and Tamil-speaking people living in New Zealand to promote Tamil heritage, language, and culture and showcase and establish a stronger connection of the community globally.

“The Tamil Conference 2022 brings together scholars, motivational speakers, opinion-makers and community leaders from various parts of the world as well as about 250 Tamil-speaking community members of Aotearoa New Zealand,” he said.

Deputy Mayor Tui Lewis

“We are thrilled to be among the hosts of the Conference in Hutt City Event Center. It is a unique opportunity to perpetuate the Tamil heritage and connect the Tamil community in New Zealand to their homeland,” Deputy Mayor Tui Lewis said.

Registration for the Conference is now closed as all seats have been booked.

Mr Annamalai has appealed to all registered delegates to be at the venue at 8.30 am for breakfast and networking before the commencement of the formal proceedings.

Malini Yugendran is an Indian Newslink correspondent based in Auckland. She is also the Secretary of the Aotearoa New Zealand Federation of Tamil Sangams Inc.   

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