Dabba Radio’s story told by its founder, Thane Richard:

Land of snake charmers and women in saris.  The Taj Mahal.  Slumdog Millionaire.  Curry.

India was even less than that to me in 2005.  I knew nothing about the country besides what creeped into the headlines about US jobs being lost overseas and India as a growing economy and emerging global power.  What changed that was when, during Freshman year of college, a friend suggested I study Hindi instead of Arabic.  “Why not?” I thought.  I tried out the class and found the teacher to be engaging and the language interesting (I had studied German for five years and needed a new language family).  I stayed on for the year and when it came time to study abroad, the obvious choice was now India.  Two years later, I found myself getting my passport and student visa stamped and stepping into the bygone chaos of Delhi International Airport.  I had come without the two foreigner bibles - Lonely Planet: India and Shantaram - but I think I still fit the stereotype quite well.  I spent the Fall studying economics at St. Stephen’s College in Delhi and then returned to the US to finish my degree.

The Fall of 2008 did not bode well for the global economy and hiring was on the decline.  So I was surprised when, one day, I had a dozen emails in my inbox from various friends telling me about a presentation that evening by Mahindra and Mahindra.  Mahindra had come to Brown University to recruit students to work at their global HQ in Mumbai; they were the only Indian company on campus.  I went to the presentation and I vaguely recalled the Mahindra logo from Scorpios I had seen on the streets of Delhi.  They presented a company that was cutting edge, a city that was exciting, and an economy that was still growing despite the global downturn and they pitched an opportunity to get higher level work experience there.  I had a familiar thought: why not?  I went for an interview and Mahindra ended up offering me a two year contract.

So now it is the summer of 2009 and again I am standing in line at Indian Immigration, but this time I have an employment visa instead of a student one.  Unfortunately, the contract I signed did not come with an A/C car to take me to the office, like so many other expats.  To commute, I took the local train from Bandra Station to Elphinstone Road in the mornings with the 220 and 117 buses flanking my journey.  I found the trains to be crowded but at the times I commuted it was not unbearable.  I actually prefer the trains to being stuck in traffic - I like the feeling of constant motion.  However, the problem with constant motion is that it makes reading very difficult.  The best way to kill time on the train/bus, I thought, would be to do what I did in the US: listen to the radio.

Growing up in the Montana, I was an avid listener to National Public Radio (NPR).  I found their spread of programming to be informative and fun but also non-biased, which is unfortunately becoming a rarer and rarer commodity in media.  I downloaded their podcasts for the train rides through Mumbai but eventually I asked myself “Why am I listening to shows based in Boston talking about the US? I am living in Mumbai, not Boston.”  After an Internet search netted no results for the type of programming I was looking for, I decided to take matters into my own hands.  Enter TiffinTalk.

I often describe the genesis of Dabba Radio as being a selfish remedy to commuter boredom, and to some extent it was.  TiffinTalk went live in January 2010 and I began interviewing people I found interesting or finding people to talk about news stories I wanted to hear more about.  I was sick of hearing about the Ambani feud, cricket scores, and Bollywood gossip.  I wanted stories that enhanced my understanding of India, same as if I were listening to NPR in the US.  I did not want broken records of repetitive mainstream headlines.  I talked to a World Bank urban planner about Floor Space Index (FSI), paleontologists about a rare snake fossil they found in Gujarat, the founder of India’s first independent foreign policy think-tank, the founder of Infosys, the former head of Public Policy at Google about Internet censorship in India, and a sociologist about how nativist groups like the Shiv Sena affect city growth, just to name a few.

As I developed TiffinTalk, I came to a few realisations. First, that news and current events are banned on private radio.  Put simply, this shocked me and struck me as being highly counter-democratic in a form of government that relies on a free press.  Second, as I talked to people I learned that there is a demand for a new take on news - many people felt the way I did about the status quo - and TiffinTalk was just the tip of the iceberg.  Third, that as an expat with a mic I was not effectively tackling the problem.  How many expats do you know who come to India and start blogs about their experience?  “India is this... India is that...”  While those blogs have a function to perform, I did not want Dabba Radio to be a cast of that mold.  I wanted to facilitate the creation of content by Indians for an Indian audience about things Indians care about.  Now it was time for Dabba Radio.

While TiffinTalk was just a show, Dabba Radio is a network.  More accurately, Dabba Radio is a movement - a movement to create a new type of media.  Our goal is to create shows that cover topics you want to listen to and do it in an unbiased way.  We want you to come away from listening to Dabba Radio feeling more informed and more engaged with the world around you, whether it be news or theatre on the air.  There are thousands of untold stories happening everyday and we want to be the storytellers.

We completed our pilot phase which began in February and ran until June 2011 and invite you to listen to the results on our homepage.  To continue on, we are looking for funding to allow us to expand and finance our first year of operations.  I have been fortunate to find some fantastic people to work with me on this project who are committed to the idea of Dabba Radio.  If you are inspired by our mission, we want to hear from you.  Send an email to info@dabbaradio.org and tell us what excites you about Dabba Radio and how you want to help.  I am encouraged by the progress we have made so far and I am looking forward to taking the next steps.

Thank you for your support.

Most Sincerely,

Thane Richard

Founder and Executive Director

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