Sunday, June 27, 2010

Generation Minus TV Grows Up.

We are perhaps the last generation to boast of growing up with minimum TV - if one could ever boast of things like that. Our kids say oh you poor things, what a deprived lot. But are we really that or just lucky to have escaped the technological bombardment. TV during the 70s and especially in India was just beginning to peek its head over the horizon. It was tentative to the point of being miniscule. To make matters worse, India's media continued to be government controlled including the few hours of TV programs that were aired daily. Somehow the government missed out on this big opportunity of using TV for controlling the nation's population. This ingenuous thought of TV and population control completely escaped them.  Indian TV was so bad that had it not been a voluntary activity, the entire nation could have collapsed under the sheer weight of complete boredom and frustration with the lone TV channel. The government could have controlled its population with the silent killing technique of making Indian TV mandatory for all people - young and old, sick and healthy, farmers and doctors. It would have been way different from the very unpopular birth control methods brought on by India's now gone PM Indira Gandhi and her progeny. Like me, most of its other millions saved itself from dying of utter dreariness of TV by becoming cricket fanatics despite the fact that most matches lasted for 5 days with absolutely no outcome of any victory or defeat for either side. The public was happy, radio commentators were colorful in their analysis, and all life in the country would be successful in coming to a complete halt - not that the country needed any particular reasons or incentives to stop.

Far from entertainment, TV was full of discussions about seeds, manure, and monsoons. News covered different plans of the government - 3 year plan, 5 year plan, or 10 year plan. We the people were not sure which plan to choose or whether we should choose any plan at all. The worst was that few of us understood these plans but most of us had some vague inklings through books and of course boring discussions on TV. Personally it wouldn't have made a fig of a difference. I am in no way saying that we should have been  given the option of choosing different plans, because heaven forbid that may have aroused the nation to some sort of action. Dulling of senses through Indian TV was something Doordarshan producers and directors would have intended but the Indian public has always  been street wise and would've understood the wily nature of its government with ease.

I remember going with my mum to watch the Sunday movie on TV at her friend's house. A big chunk of  time was spent in fiddling around with the TV control buttons, the rest in pounding the TV to stop its characters from escaping from the top or bottom of the screen. A bit of the movie was enjoyed if the neighbor's crazy son didn't insist on standing in front of the screen with a pencil stuck up his nose. We were indeed lucky if he kept his clothes on for those couple of hours. Somehow we got a break from this choppy viewing when a neighbor acquired a brand new TV and an acute sense of business acumen which demanded a quarter from all the children who wanted to watch the Sunday movie. Sometime during this time, the much awaited color TV also began to rear its ugly head, and the quiet black and white rendition of the weekly Sunday night movie became too much to handle for the Indian public. Color TV meant putting up a screen that had a random distribution of bright colors - on top of the black and white TV screen. Contrary to making things nice and colorful, the event became quite gross and out of control. Firstly all people on TV including actors and actresses of the Sunday night movie fame turned into multi colored specimens with green faces, yellow necks and chests, blue hips and feet, and red in parts wherever the other colors failed. The TV host also wanted to experiment with colors every now and then mainly for special effects but I suspect it was just for evil purposes of control. Incidentally the viewing fee was also raised to two quarters. So generally one or two kids' evening used to be ruined because they had to stand holding the colored screen when it didn't fit perfectly onto the TV screen.

TV watching was indeed a family event. This was one box albeit an idiot box that most people looked forward to because it was such a novelty. It allowed one to settle in with perfect ennui that led many times to the person becoming one with the sofa as well. As years rolled by, the TV became almost like a permanent pet but one which never would've had to be taken care of or fed. Children continued to be born in the lights and sounds of TV, and many of the human race got addicted to sleeping with the mindless drone of TV. If you turned off the TV, they would immediately wake up, turn it back on, so they could fall asleep again! Slowly and steadily TV watching turned into an obsession from being merely a distraction and finally became an added limb of the human persona. While in school during the 70s, if I were lucky, I got about 3 hours of TV per week, which was the Sunday night movie. But most of the time I was grounded by the nuns so even this little pleasure remained just out of reach for me. I had to sit in an adjacent classroom while the TV blared in the school hall. If I had known the Kafka trick, perhaps I could have transformed myself into a fly on the wall and maybe even settled on one of the nun's sleeves to watch the Sunday night movie.

Now I have all the hours to watch TV but have ironically made strange rules for myself regarding this activity. Our household is regarded somewhat akin to being primitive because we have only one TV. It is also strange that one doesn't find it sitting in the living room, where it (the TV) was hoping to be made the center of attention. Till now we have been able to hold on to our stubborn ways of thinking that too many TVs in a house will take one away from reading and family time. So far, my reading is fine but the rest of the family has shifted its attention to the Internet, which I think has proven to be far more ruthless than what TV could've ever hoped to have become. Even more bizarre is the fact that the more technology reduces communication to the click of a button, the more we find it difficult to connect to ourselves and to others. I wonder if we might have lost our way in this morass of information and entertainment overload. Or perhaps we are headed to a place where each to his own would be the ultimate consciousness.



    A witty, factual and nostalgic account of the 70's!!! Like always, an account excellently recalled and penned by you Joyce. What a memory u seem to possess. Tumhari writing ki to main deewani hoon.

    So true & rightly expressed facts!!! Your account is a reminiscent of doordarshan days.......nostalgic memories Jo. For some, those days it was `door (ki) darshan' , a sneak peek into the neighbour's house, either for chitrahaar or sunday movie. Well done Jo...& fantastic memory, keep going!!

  3. Nandita Ghosh:
    Very true. This expresses our culture in the 70s and early to mid 80s. After which there were humungous changes in India!

    Wow well wriiten! No we were not the deprived lot that time! We could aquire so many skills then.... Look at u...

  5. Patricia D'Mello:
    So true. I remember watching chaya geet on a small tv in school..that was the only one Sr Yolanda allowed us to watch...when she was not in her your stories...thanks

  6. The debilitating boredom of the state controlled, propaganda spewing Television programmes of yore have now been replaced by an overdose of channels and information. Today they will track the neighbour’s cat on its nightly explorations of the neighbourhood, and brand it a terrorist in the process.
    The internet is the unseen predator preying on the minds of the gennext..and the people , morons fused on their couches like zombies. The brain is deadened by the insistent drone of the vuvuzelas. Enough to make one want to go back to the past , and beleve in the adage ‘Ignorance is bliss.’
    All In all, another shot of nostalgia.. well done. Keep up the good work. Contact with us seems to have been productive.
    Lots of love, chhabi.

  7. You've truly managed to echo the sentiments of the 'Chitrahaar' n 'Sunday movie' generation. Still have trouble watching T.V. all day. Great work joyce!