“They are doing it all, from opening communication lines in tsunami-hit Andamans to encouraging more ‘young ladies’ to take to amateur radio.
In December 2004, Delhi resident Bharathi Prasad set off with 15 men and women to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, bearing an assortment of antennas, plugs, wires, transformers and other equipment to set up portable amateur radio stations.
For 25 days, while most of the others in her group roamed the islands or later returned home, Prasad sat in her hotel room with her headphones and console, working up to 18 hours each day. The entire group made 35,500 contacts across the world during that period.
Then on December 26, an earthquake in Indonesia triggered a tsunami.
“I could see the sea from my window on the seventh floor,” Prasad recalled. “After the waves went, I immediately turned my antenna to the mainland and began relief activities. When I turned on the radio, everyone was looking for me because they thought I had gone.”
Prasad and the few hams, or amateur radio operators, who had stayed back with her offered their services to Indian officials there. She remained there for more than a month after the disaster, leaving her husband to care for her young children in Delhi.
Amateur radio operators, known colloquially as hams, are hobbyists who use radio waves to communicate wirelessly through Morse code, voice or even images with people around the world. Even as modern forms of communication such as mobile phones and the internet have edged out the radio, the tightly-knit global community of ham operators continues to thrive.
For the most part, hams enjoy contacting strangers via their radio sets. As with other hobbyists, they like to keep score by the contacts they make – the rarer or more elusive the contact, the better. And when disasters wipe out other communication methods, as the tsunami did in 2004, hams volunteer their services for relief operations.
India, too, has an enthusiastic community of hams. The government tightly controls licences for operating amateur radios, issuing them only after aspiring hams have passed a lengthy examination. The community remains male-dominated, but with the rise of women entering engineering colleges, a small but growing subset of operators are YLs or XYLs – ham codes for female operators, depending on their marital status.
The term YL, or young lady, meaning an unmarried woman of any age, was coined in 1920 as a concession to the growing number of female hams. In time, when women married, they became known as XYLs, or ex-young ladies. After women operators in 1940 took umbrage to the second term, it became convention to call any licensed female ham, regardless of marital status, YL. Unlicensed wives of operators are XYLs. Men, regardless of marital status, are OM or old man.
Prasad is something of a trailblazer in the world of hams in India, with more awards and felicitations than she can list.
She became a ham in 1980, when there were perhaps only 50 YLs in India. She was a science student, but not familiar with electronics. Nor did she know English at the time, having studied in her first language, Telugu, until then. When she expressed interest in joining up, she faced stiff opposition from her community….READ FULL ARTICLE