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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

“If you meet someone without a smile, give him one of yours”

A couple of weeks back getting up from bed lazily, finishing the morning chores, tucking myself in a cosy corner of the room, I started turning the pages of Hindu with coffee tumbler in another hand. Finishing it, as I picked up Eenadu, a photo of a young lady sporting a playful smile, all in gay abandon, caught my attention. Who wouldn’t get hooked up by  masoom muskurahate! For, “Zindagi” (Life) as Gulzar, the poet said, “sirf muskurahat hai” (is a smile), and to start the day with a spirited smile is definitely a good beginning.
As I was passionately staring at that mischievously pleasant smile, suddenly something from the past flashed in my mind … It was the voice of that announcer in the radio from Voice of America. Wow! That was in the late 60s…. every morning between, 7.00-7.30 a.m. I used to invariably listen to the international program of VOA, christened: ‘Breakfast Show’ broadcasted on SW band … at the frequency of 24.21 mhz… something nearer to that range… indeed, very adjacent to Radio Ceylon.
In those days, I was literally overawed by that announcer’s sweet voice and her wondrous smile. In what an amazing style she used to phonate the details of the broadcast: “This is Pat..., Voice of America, Washington DC, USA, presenting ‘Breakfast Show’”. In that regal stride of hers, I used to feel a certain warmth, a feel in her voice that flowed through her vocalization. In that sonorous voice, I was experiencing something undefinable… should I say, it was her love or her reverence for those words—“Voice of America, Washington DC, USA”—that fragranced them, that made them all music to the ears.
As a host and interviewer in that VOA Worldwide Breakfast Show—a conversational pre-recorded program interlaced with music and features that was broadcasted as a part of the United States’ Cold War propaganda campaign, which incidentally, many communist countries had jammed—she used to present presidents, prime ministers, NASA scientists, famous figures in the art and music, etc., talking slowly and gently to them in her colourful voice. It was simply a pleasure to listen to her interviews. There is a taste of her own behind the selection of even music discs for the show.
And for me the most interesting part of the whole ‘Breakfast Show’ was her signature-style signing off the program: “If you meet someone without a smile, give him one of yours”. Oh! How appealingly she used to pronounce those words in her richer and energetic voice! And they are certain to nudge every listener to heed to her. I don’t know what added that vibrancy to that uttering—is it her angelic voice, or the words? But it still rings in my ears so musically.
This sudden brooding over her made me to fetch my Asus google for her full name and such other details. She is: Ewell Patricia Gates Lynch. In the early 50s, she— a pioneering broadcaster—worked as a correspondent for NBC radio. She had spent around 24 years with the Voice of America, hosting VOA’s worldwide ‘Breakfast Show’ as simply Pat Gates.  So, it’s ‘Gates’ that has been alluring me for all these days! This program was said to have been listened by around 45 million people across the globe.

From 1969-74 she served as the US First Lady Pat Nixon’s press aide for radio and television. During this period she accompanied the First Lady and President on their official visits to many world capitals. Before finally giving up her microphone in 1986, she carried out lecture tours to China, Africa, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Indonesia, Iran and Australia. Later, she was posted as the US ambassador to Madagascar and the Federal and Islamic Republic of the Comoros from 1986-89.
Narrating her experiences at VOA and as an ambassador, she wrote the book, “Thanks for Listening: High Adventures in Journalism and Diplomacy”, in 2008. In it she wrote about her receiving letters from people all over the world remarking on how they were touched by her simple statement: “If you meet someone without a smile, give him one of yours”. Writing the foreword to the book, former Supreme Court Justice, USA, Sandra Day O’Connor said: “This is a story full of life, of people, of a woman who created a splendid career for herself at a time when women were seldom heard as broadcasters. The story is a reaffirmation of the progress of women in this country over the past fifty years.”
Struggling with cancer, this celebrated VOA ‘Breakfast Show’ host, Pat Gates died in 2011. But I am sure she is still alive in all those hearts which were reminded by her royal voice thus: “If you meet someone without a smile, give him one of yours.”
Incidentally, scanning the current research on laughter, Patrick J Skerrett, former Executive Editor of Harvard Health, said that laughter isn’t just a way to stay connected with family and friends, but according to new research it also does some good to our hearts. Quoting Miller and William Fry of Stanford University School of Medicine, he also said that endorphins released during mirthful laughter latch onto opiate receptors in the lining of blood vessels and their interaction supposed to stimulate blood vessels to release nitric oxide that is known to relax arteries. And relaxed arteries are more flexible which means easier blood flow.
Even otherwise, who would and could refuse to sport a smile! For it is the most inexpensive and the best makeup. And also an effective communicator. So, as even a Shaayar implored, “Zaraa ek tabassum kii takleef karna / Ki gulzaar mein phool murjhaa rahein hain” (For once please do smile/for the flowers in the garden are withering), we must keep smiling.


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