By I. Ramamohan Rao New Delhi [India], Sept. 3 : Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was on a one-day visit to Vietnam today said that his host country, a victim of war, had adopted a path of "Budh not Yudh" (peace via Buddhism and not war) and that was lesson to all nations.
Three decades ago when I had visited Vietnam, that too was my reaction.how a country had single-mindedly shut the door on conflict and made peaceful living its way of life.
As head of the News Services Division of All India Radio in 1984 , I was sent to Vietnam on the request by the Asian Institute of Broadcasting Development (AIBD) to conduct a course to train personnel of Radio Voice of Vietnam in preparing news bulletins.
The request was an offshoot of my visit to Philippines where I had participated in a conference on broadcasting.
The head of the AIBD, Mr. Balakrishnan, who was engaged in the task of training journalists of newly independent countries of Asia, had asked me if I would be interested in training young journalists.
He said that he would request the Government of India to depute me to conduct a course in Vietnam. When I asked him why All India Radio and why not say the BBC or CNN, he replied that Vietnam was unlikely to welcome western media organizations to run such a course, particularly after the violent conflict that the country had gone through and India would be a welcome option.
Soon after my return to India from Philippines, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting received a request from the AIBD to send me to Vietnam to organize the course.
My three-week stay in that country was very educative for me too. The route to Hanoi was through Bangkok. I recall having landed in Bangkok and waiting for a Vietnamese commercial aircraft to take me to Hanoi.
I got into the plane and asked for my seat. I was told that the seats were not marked and I could take any. That was a first for me! The plane was soon full and there were many standing passengers too. The passengers were mostly Vietnamese migrant workers from the East European countries and were visiting their homes for a short holiday.
At the time of take-off and landing, they sat on the aisle. During the flight I went to the washroom, when I returned my seat was occupied. I then had to wait for another person to go to the washroom and then go grab his seat. That was the norm I was told and nobody created a scene. The airport in Hanoi was similar to a suburban Indian airport in the early fifties, very basic and dare I say, primitive.
The drive to the city was through farmlands. Ho Chi Minh City had some buildings of the French colonial period style that had survived the American invasion.
The crowded streets were packed with people cycling to their offices. The bazaars had local produce which was very similar to vegetable markets of South India. My first taste of Green Tea was in Vietnam and I soon developed a liking for it. The paddy fields and the thatched roofed homes in the countryside was very similar to north-east India.
The people were hesitant to speak about the War or about pain and terror of those years. The war ended on 30th April, 1975, and its people were determined that door was to remain closed. It was time to move on. I visited the areas, which were ravaged by war and also the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. The communist leader's body is preserved in a glass case in the central hall where a military honour soldier stands in guard.
The broadcast course I taught was attended by sixteen participants, seven of them from the Radio Voice of Vietnam and the rest from the provincial stations.
I was told that they had experience of ten to twenty years in journalism. The opening session was attended by Le Quy, Vice President of the State Committee for Vietnam Radio and Television.
Soon, I realized that their exposure to the techniques of radio journalism was minimal. They could not distinguish the difference between printed news and the spoken word, and that each news item had an introduction giving details of the position occupied by newsmakers and the news itself appeared at the end.
In consultation with Le Quy, I altered the course and taught them how to prepare a news bulletin and compile and edit current affairs programmes.
It took a couple of days for me to make them understand the concept of the lead sentence and the 'inverted pyramid' style in drafting items.
I had to drill into them the need to keep in mind the interest of 'listeners' and impress them of the need to utilize the medium of radio effectively as a catalyst for social change.
Many of the techniques I had the fortune of picking up from the legendary Mr. Melville D'Mellow at the All India Radio, New Delhi On the final day, the bulletin drafted by the participants was played and Le Quay, who presided, pointed out that it carried fourteen items, while the earlier bulletins had only four.
Many of the participants said that the course had 'opened their eyes' to the need for writing in talking style, while writing for the radio.
At the end of the course, I invited a team from Radio Voice of Vietnam to visit the newsroom of the All India Radio in India.
The youth in Vietnam in the eighties were keen to wipe out the ravages of war. Many said that their parents spoke of the destruction of their country first by the French and then by the Americans.
They had managed to expel foreign powers, now they wanted to rebuild their nation. Thirty years on, Vietnam is a rising Asian power now, but a gentle non aggressive one. Hope it stays away from any conflict. [Mr. I. Ramamohan Rao is a former Principal Information Officer of the Government of India. He can be reached on e-mail at raoramamohan@hotmail.].