Revisiting the days when a President’s visit was important, and not some celebrity ‘slapgate’

This column always finds comfort in the arms of nostalgia — this week, in the memories of good old Doordarshan. I think it was June or July, 1978 when a man knocked on our door in Kanpur, carrying an iron pole and several aluminium sticks. Another man followed him, carrying what seemed to be a wooden box. The box turned out to be a TV set (Weston): it had a wooden shutter with a lock. The iron pole and the aluminium sticks soon became the T-shaped antenna, hoisted on the roof. And so we had our first TV set — a surprise sprung by father.

As with everything first, one remembers those initial TV shows well: “Tele Match”, “Rainbow”, “Phool Khile Hain Gulshan Gulshan”, “Chaupal” —not to mention “Chitrahaar” and the Sunday movie. I still remember the very first film we watched on TV: the Asrani-starrer “Chala Murari Hero Banne”. And, of course, the highlights of Test matches. I distinctly remember telling a friend while playing cricket in the neighbourhood playground: “I don’t know why we have six balls in an over. In international matches, they just bowl at random — Kapil Dev bowls three balls, Dilip Doshi bowls two, then Kapil bowls two more, they go on like this.”

Reality dawned when live telecast began shortly after. That’s when you started sitting through Test matches all day (feeling restless on the ‘rest day’). And whenever rain interrupted play, Doordarshan would dig into its archives and play a recorded live concert by Kishore Kumar — what more could you ask for!

And the live telecast was not just of cricket matches. In 1980 — I might be slightly off the mark here with the year — when Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev visited India, Doordarshan cameras stationed at the Delhi airport started telecast an hour before his plane landed. As a result, the viewer got to see what really went on at the airport when a foreign dignitary arrived — ministers huddled in small groups, chatting; the plane landing; the door opening; the dignitary climbing down the carpeted steps; shaking hands with the Indian ministers and VIPs who now stood in an interminably long queue (I remember seeing Brezhnev pulling out his handkerchief to wipe the sweat off his forehead after he had shaken some three dozen hands and when some three dozen more VIPs were still waiting in the queue at the airport).

Such live telecasts, when you watched them as a child, added tremendously to your general knowledge. You got to know about other countries, you got to know who their Presidents and Prime Ministers were, you got to know about their gait and mannerisms and the way they spoke and also what they spoke. Today, I’m not sure how many youngsters know who the Russian President is. But I’m sure they know very well, at least by now, who Shirish Kunder is. Even as a journalist — a journalist is supposed to know a bit of this and a bit of that — I had been blissfully unaware about the existence of Shirish Kunder until this fateful evening when I sat down to write this column.

I had started out writing about something else and just about managed to compose the opening sentence with great difficulty when the wife decided to switch on the TV. Even though I sat writing in another room, I could not escape the tremendous excitement generated by the news of the day. The hysterical news anchor kept on repeating the names of Shah Rukh Khan, Farah Khan and Shirish Kunder. Curious, I came out to see what the matter was. It turned out to be the news of a drunken brawl: Shah Rukh Khan had hit Farah’s husband Shirish at a party. A drunken brawl — and nothing else — featured as prime-time news? Does the nation of one billion really need to know about someone slapping another at a Bollywood party? That is why my mind suddenly went back to the days of Doordarshan.

More In: Metroplus | Features