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These volunteer-run online radios are bringing Urdu to German airwaves

One of the most obvious, but less talked about, sentiment about living abroad is being homesick for your native language.

Especially if you’re in a country like Germany, where learning the language is imperative for survival.

But German also happens to be one of the trickiest languages to master.

While the local radio stations play English songs, the RJs speed through German words; the cinemas play Hollywood films, yet all the more popular cinemas frequently offer screenings dubbed in German.

And after a while, one gets used to getting hung up on when you try to make an appointment with the doctor and the assistant doesn’t speak English; or when you call the bank and you find someone who may speak not speak English, or worse, chooses not to.

Amidst this constant tussle between English and German, when I was still new in Germany, I once found myself holding back tears when I heard a family talking in Punjabi on my train ride home after a tiring workday. And it hit me, I also hadn’t heard Urdu being spoken out in public in so long.

Of course, it’s different with desi friends when we switch between English and Urdu, depending on the intensity of the conversation. But I wondered, knowing there’s quite a large and thriving Pakistani community in Germany, where was our migrant media?

The occurrence of community-based Turkish and Arabic news outlets based in Germany is common, but something still lacks in our community.

It was only when I looked into it that I came across two DIY online radio channels run by Pakistanis, Urdu Radio Deutschland and Desi Dhoom.

Strangers in another country find a piece of home

Urdu Radio Deutschland (URD) is a dream envisioned by Hasan Raza, a Pakistani based in Germany since the last eight years.

The online radio currently has over 4000 followers on Facebook, and apart from live radio shows on their official website, the channel also offers a variety of video interviews highlighting the life stories of Pakistanis based in the country.

The shows and Facebook videos include fun conversational shows as well are informative shows about life in Germany and dealing with the highs and lows of bureaucracy and other obstacles one might face, especially for new students.

Urdu Radio Deutschland
Urdu Radio Deutschland

“When people leave Pakistan be it for work or further studies, the one thing they have to face is that feeling of being a stranger in another country,” says Raza.

“When you’re a stranger to the language, stranger to local customs, and on top of that in a country like Germany where one also has to deal with extreme weather and long dark days and often lack of social life can cause stress. A person might seem like he or she is holding it together but feel incomplete on the inside. You end up longing for sharing your feelings and heart’s desires with someone.”

One of the aims of URD is to help connect immigrants who understand Urdu with Germany and to help them become a part of society here while also staying connected to their roots and culture.

Raza says, “We want to make URD the first Urdu media in Germany and set the standard including some aspects of Urdu print media as well.”

“We are already working on getting a frequency on local radio here and our plan is to also go towards the direction of Satellite TV. We will continue to strive for this. In Germany, one has to go through a number of stages and bureaucracy to attain a radio frequency channel, but we will keep at it to achieve it.”

Keeping in mind the South Asian diaspora’s struggles in Germany — with rising right-wing sentiment and an increasing existential feeling of being a stranger in another land, these volunteer-run radio channels are the first step in the right direction to help the Pakistani community find ways to become more close-knit.

So far, the team of 10-12 volunteers, some of whom are RJs and others who volunteer for video interviews.

Currently, there are seven women and five men on the roster of RJs that do weekly shows.

These shows include topics such as Urdu poetry recitations, music and sometimes informative sessions with a wide variety of topics related to life in Germany.

Meanwhile, URD’s team of videographers and hosts cover topics such as literary events and any other Pakistani cultural events taking place in Germany.

Often, making use of Facebook’s live feature, Raza himself also interviews Pakistanis based in the country for their thoughts and experiences related to their line of work in Germany.

The most recent live session was a solo Q and A session with Dr Tasneem Saeed, a Pakistani family doctor based in Rüsselsheim, where she busted myths and answered questions about Coronavirus that the followers of URD shared with her. Previously, she has also done videos with URD to help new Pakistanis in Germany for whom the German language is not a strong suit.

A platform for community building

According to Raza, who heads this entire project, URD tries to focus on Pakistanis in Germany who are excelling in their fields so that others can gain knowledge from them.

Moreover, the aim is also to help bridge the gap between Pakistanis and institutions such as the Pakistani embassy and consulate.

In addition to that, the team has also interviewed Pakistani celebrities that visit Germany and not only help Urdu-speakers connect but also Germans who may have some links to Pakistani culture come closer to Pakistan.

URD’s focus is also on the younger generation of Pakistanis or children of Pakistani descent that are born and now growing up in Germany. The aim is to help them know more about their culture as well as introducing them to Urdu and creating an interest in the language for them.

Picture courtesy URD Facebook page
Picture courtesy URD Facebook page

But so far, has radio helped them achieve some of their goals?

“I would say that this has made a difference based on the feedback we have gotten from our listeners,” says Raza.

He added, “We have been told that they were longing to hear Urdu again…that ‘due to your programme, this missing puzzle in our life has been found’. So now when they listen to our shows with their families, this also creates an interest in their children for the Urdu language and I believe in the coming days this will grow.”

Raza feels that it’s fortunate that the people who reached out to him to be a part of URD are sincere and dedicated volunteers. Some members of the team have also had past experience of working in the media, and their help and feedback has been invaluable to the team to help them learn and grow.

“This is a way for them to indulge in self-learning and also helps increase their self-confidence,” he says.

Positive feedback, positive outlook

One of the volunteers Ali Haider, who moved to Germany in 2015 as a Masters student in Automotive Software Engineering, is a manager of Urdu Radio Deutschland and also volunteers as an RJ on the weekends.

Last year, Haider and Raza met at a rally about Kashmir in Frankfurt, where Hasan shared his ideas about the radio channel with Haider.

“URD is related to my mother tongue so I have a kind of emotional relationship with it,” says Haider. “I am a poet myself and this particular thing keeps me connected to URD.”

As the manager, Haider’s tasks include daily calls with other RJs, familiarising them with virtual radio setups, on-boarding new RJs and scheduling the radio shows.

He does this along with his 9-5 job in the German city of Stuttgart.

“Managing time is the toughest part because sometimes I have to cancel my commitments for URD.” Despite that, Haider is determined to continue his integral role as manager for the Urdu language radio.

On October 16, 2019, URD aired its first-ever radio show online, which was conducted by Haider. Over the last few months, they were able to do 6-7 shows a week.

URD’s focus is also on the younger generation of Pakistanis or children of Pakistani descent that are born and now growing up in Germany. The aim is to help them know more about their culture as well as introducing them to Urdu and creating an interest in the language for them.

So far the feedback has been positive.

“People are appreciating our efforts as they didn’t have a medium where they could listen to their language and music before,” says Haider. “And we are facilitating them with that so it is pretty encouraging at the moment.”

Haider further added that since the radio shows provide a “home-like feeling,” the feedback has been extremely positive, especially from Pakistani housewives in Germany.

In the future, they plan to get their own frequency on the radio in Germany and for Haider, the vision is to see every Urdu-speaker unite through the URD platform regardless of country and religion.

Reaching out to a larger South Asian diaspora

Launched in 2016, Tauseef Nauman is the founder of another Urdu radio channel in Germany called Desi Dhoom.

For Nauman, the idea came to him on a visit to the UK in 2016 where he learned that there exist more than 13 radio stations in Urdu/Hindi in the country.

Quoting an estimate, Nauman claims that there are more than a million South Asians currently based in Germany.

Claiming it to be the first Urdu/Hindi radio channel in Germany, he believes that radio as a medium is necessary “to integrate every community member and bring a harmony of cultural understanding.”

Similar to URD, Desi Dhoom is also a volunteer-run radio with four main RJs on the team with also some video-interviews shared on their social media pages. The most recent one being an interview with Pakistani rapper Ali Gul Pir during his international tour.

Unlike URD, Desi Dhoom’s focus is mainly on South Asian music and entertainment.

“It was decided we’d register [it] with the media authorities in Germany along with a GEMA certification to play official music. Which besides providing entertainment will serve as a bridge to introduce German culture to its [South Asian] audience and [vice versa for German audience],” says Nauman.

Keeping in mind the South Asian diaspora’s struggles in Germany — with rising right-wing sentiment and an increasing existential feeling of being a stranger in another land, these volunteer-run radio channels are a first step in the right direction to help the Pakistani community find ways to become more close-knit.

Having ways to reconnect with the motherland through a song or a piece of poetry one just heard on the radio in a foreign land, can sometimes be the much-needed respite one may not think about until it happens.

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