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From sports to space

Harsha Bhogle narrates the story of Indian space programme’s incredible journey in Mission ISRO, a Spotify original podcast

There is something pleasant about Harsha Bhogle. Most followers of Indian cricket would agree to this. His bespectacled face, often found with a smile, exudes a boyish charm. His presence evokes exuberance — it probably explains his success as a motivational speaker. But it is his voice — a glittering gift that he has well-burnished — that endears the most. It is, undoubtedly, the star of Mission ISRO, a Spotify original podcast that recounts the extraordinary story of the Indian space programme.

But the podcast does not begin with Harsha’s voice. It starts with this whistle-worthy dialogue:

Upar se Bharat kaisa dikta hain aapko? [How does India look from above?]” Prime Minister Indira Gandhi asks Squadron Leader Rakesh Sharma.

Sqdn Ldr Sharma, the first person from this country to be in outer space, replies, quoting poet Sir Muhammad Iqbal, “Saare jahaan se achcha! [Better than the whole world!]”.

This moment from 1984 is considered seminal in Indian space history. The story, in fact, begins much earlier. The seed for the space programme, we learn from Harsha, was sown before India was born. The first episode tracks the stories of two men who planted it: Vikram Sarabhai and Homi Bhabha.

“Names like Bhabha and Sarabhai, and later [Satish] Dhawan, were heroes when we were young,” says Harsha. Growing up in Osmania University, Hyderabad (both his parents were professors) perhaps explains his admiration for achievers in science.

He, however, admits he is not a space geek. “I was aware of what was happening around the world. I used to read about Gagarin, Sputnik, Apollo 11, Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins. So, Rakesh Sharma’s space mission was a wow moment.”

It is not just his love for science that made him sign up for Mission ISRO; it is his fondness to work in an audio-only medium. Harsha’s voice was familiar before his face. He was a star radio commentator (with stints in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and British Broadcasting Corporation among others) before entering television.

“[A podcast] is intimate. It is like a friend telling you a story (at least I hope we have managed to achieve that with Mission ISRO). Remember we have that tradition in India and I hope this continues that. I like the warmth of an audio-only medium. It doesn’t have special effects to rely on and must depend on the story being well written and well told. It is slightly more difficult but just as satisfying.”

He reminisces about the early days of his career in AIR Yuvavani studio. “I love being in recording studios. Playing around with your voice, seeing other people do it. The early announcers on air were fantastic and we travelled the world through their voices. It has always held a fascination for me. And, I don’t distract people with my face.”

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