Gitanjali Aiyar, Doordarshan’s Legendary Voice in English News, Dies

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Remembered for her poise, erudite delivery and enunciation, Delhi-based Aiyar, among the first English newsreaders on Indian television whose career with DD spanned three decades, died of brain haemorrhage on Wednesday afternoon.

“This is Doordarshan news. Good evening and welcome. The headlines…”

With this salutation, newsreader Gitanjali Aiyar opened the prime-time news at 9 pm, entering the living rooms of a nation that was in awe of its newly acquired television sets at home. In the late 1970s, when India transitioned from radio to grainy TV screens adjusted by moving the terrace antenna, Aiyar and a handful of her colleagues — Salma Sultan, Neethi Ravindran and Shammi Narang, among several others — read the news on the state-owned Doordarshan (DD).

It was news as it’s meant to be — just news.

Remembered for her poise, erudite delivery and enunciation, Delhi-based Aiyar, among the first English newsreaders on Indian television whose career with DD spanned three decades, died of brain haemorrhage on Wednesday afternoon. She was 72 and had been ailing for a while. Aiyar is survived by son Shekhar and daughter Pallavi, both of them based in the US.

The cremation will take place on Friday.

We fondly remember the days when Gitanjali Aiyar ji graced our TV screens, leaving an indelible mark on our news-watching experiences.

Saddened by her untimely demise, my heartfelt condolences to her loved ones. May she find eternal peace. 🙏 pic.twitter.com/ayVeUu2yB6

— Netta D’Souza (@dnetta) June 7, 2023

According to close friend and journalist Sumita Paul, Aiyar had begun to recover. She was rushed to the hospital by a friend on Wednesday but died on the way, Paul, who worked with Aiyar at the All India Radio, said.

Growing up on radio news read by stalwarts such as Surojit Sen and Pamela Singh, Aiyar was always enamoured by their enunciation and diction. This fascination led her to become an active participant in elocution and debates in school and college, and right after her graduation in 1971, Aiyar auditioned at AIR and joined the English news section.

She moved to DD in 1976. In 1982, when DD became national and colour TV came to India, newsreaders found recognition on the streets. “Suddenly you were being recognised all over India…. My local butcher in Bhogal, south Delhi, would say, ‘Aiye, aaj ki kya taaza khabar hai madam’…. Teachers would tell the kids to emulate the way we spoke,” Aiyar wrote in Outlook in 2022.

Former colleague and DD news presenter Rini Simon Khanna said: “I met her last month for dinner and saw that she’d become quite frail. She said she’d not been keeping very well. But she was still very prim and proper — the first thing I [had] noticed about her back in the day too. She was always measured and exacting, never a hair out of place, never guffawing around.”

Even today, Khanna said, “people remember her for that correct speech and enunciation”.

One of her first colleagues and friends in AIR and DD was newsreader Sheila Chaman, who remembers Aiyar as “extremely articulate, outgoing and friendly”. “We hit it off really well,” she said. “This was the time when there was no acrimony, no animosity, no competition among people doing the same job.”

Recalling poring over a photograph of the two clicked in the make-up room in the ‘White House’ — the building that housed DD studios and make-up rooms — Chaman said they were “looking like pasted clowns, with just the make-up base on”. Chaman said. “I thought of sending the picture to her, and then didn’t…”

The picture was clicked in the 1980s, when there was only the state-owned DD. Life back then revolved around the colour of Salma Sultan’s rose, Shammi Narang’s pen that promptly went into his pocket at the end of the broadcast, and, of course, Aiyar’s natty haircut — people wrote letters to find out the name of her hairdresser.

“It became a trademark, that haircut,” yesteryear newsreader and Aiyar’s friend Sadhna Srivastav said. “I started much after her, but what brought us close was that she was a lovely human being — and that poise of hers, it was so wonderful and just always there. I met her this March, on Holi, as I knew she was by herself…. It’s a big loss.”

Aiyar also acted in ‘Khandaan’, a popular DD show, besides being featured in several print advertisements of the time. After a successful news reading career, she worked with the Taj and Oberoi group of hotels, besides working for CII and WWF.

Source: Indian Express