Every now and then a scene from my childhood flashes across my mind – that of my best friend running away from an absorbing game to watch TV.
A technological invasion took place in my life when I was 9 years old. Suddenly, we had a TV station in our small town. TV became the new symbol of middle class affluence. Of course, the rich and a small portion of the middle-class people who had newly moved in to town from the metropolitan cities already had TV in their sitting rooms. These were large, ugly and mostly useless showpieces. During the Benson & Hedges Cricket Series, I remember, entire households spent hours together trying to attract some transmission rays with the help of quaint devices called boosters attached to the TV antennae. The antennae were also gently nudged in all kinds of direction to chance upon the appropriate angle for a clearer telecast.
The very first thing I saw on TV was Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s funeral. This took place a few months before TVs started mushrooming in our town. The entire colony gathered in the only house that had a TV. The funeral of the nation’s prime minister was the first funeral that was broadcast live on national television.
It was almost a party for the children of our colony. All normality was suspended. No nagging about homework, no enforced afternoon-naps. We were all sitting on a carpet in a friend’s house, waiting excitedly for the show to begin. And wonder of wonders! Our mothers were sitting on chairs and sofas behind us! The transmission began. A grim but attractive looking young woman made an announcement. And all of us – sitting in that room in a government colony in Maharashtra went on a virtual tour of Shantivan in Delhi! The wonder of it all! Were those VIPs really crying? Why was Yaseer Arafat – the man whose name my dad uttered with respect – hiding his face behind a temporary sunshade fashioned from a programme-card? Why was Sonia Gandhi – then known only as Mrs. Gandhi’s Italian daughter-in-law – wearing black glasses? Was it because foreigners do not weep openly, as we Indians do? And were they actually using logs of sandalwood for the funeral pyre?! These were some of the questions whirling around in my head. It was all so new; so fascinating! There was nothing sad or grim about this funeral. Not until I happened to glance at a friend’s mother and noticed that tears were streaming down her cheeks. I was puzzled by her grief. Now I realize that TV had actually transported her to Shantivan while I was just peeking at it through the window called TV.
TV has always been and still is that for me – a window that I switch on once in a while; especially when I am feeling too lazy for any other kind of diversion. It never managed to reveal its magical powers to me. My best friend was enchanted by the magic of TV. Right in the middle of a very exciting contest of hop-scotch or during our regular badminton sessions she would request an obliging elder to tell her the time by their watch. If it was a Tuesday and it was 6.15 p.m then off she would run to watch ‘Phool khile hain gulshan gulshan’. Never understood the fascination! Not even after watching the programme myself. What was so fascinating about a simpering woman coaxing some ‘celebrity’ from the film world into ‘revealing’ his ‘secrets’? And why did that become more fascinating for my friend than playing with me? After TV came into our lives, all our elaborate Saturday morning and Sunday morning games came to a standstill. Saturday and Sunday became TV days. From being my favourite days of the week they slowly became the worst days of the week. I thought my friend and all the TV watching children had gone MAD. I was sure grown ups had not got carried away. I was in for a rude shock! TV had not only captivated children but also grown ups. My parents’ friends came over for Sunday lunch and post-lunch one of the guests wondered whether we see the Sunday afternoon movie on TV! My dad, playing the perfect host he likes to be, switched on the TV. And for the next three hours this family – who had supposedly paid us a social visit – were sitting on our sofa and focusing on a subtitled Assamese movie. My brothers and I were wasting a precious Sunday putting on our best behaviour and ‘proper’ clothes. Weren’t those grownups supposed to talk? Weren’t they supposed toss a few questions at us and then send their children to play with us? How could they do this to our Sunday? Why did they have to ‘visit’ us if watching TV was all that they wanted o do? That meant some grownups had also gone MAD! TV had driven so many people crazy.
It took me a good deal of time and some well-made TV programs to give TV a chance. I allow it to ‘waste’ my time sometimes and enjoy watching it once in a while. Although I refuse to spend good money on buying one, yes I conceded, I have accepted it as a permanent prop of modern life but I wince at the idea of playing second fiddle to TV for someone’s attention. I still fail to understand the ‘modern’ impulse to switch on the TV since the remote was handy while I am talking to that person. Somehow I cannot the swallow the excuse of the remote or understand the need for background noise as accompaniment to conversation. My companion switching on the TV indicates a clear preference to me. Clearly, the TV or the premium on TV’s ability to entertain is greater than the conversation. However, if I am convinced switching it on is habitual then I conclude that my battle against this technological invasion is still on. Even after two decades neither of us seems ready for a truce.