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Television, begone

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TV was considered useless unless it could convey edifying thoughts, and edification apparently could not exist without horror.

I have had a love-hate relationship with television. As children, we were allowed to watch TV for only a couple of hours a week, on Saturdays. This was the 1980s when the only television was Doordarshan. But fortunately we had some recorded cartoon shows on tape. Much time was spent in deciding which cartoons to watch, and in then rewinding the cassette to try to find the start of our favourite shows, which of course were all suitably violent and bloodthirsty: the Tom and Jerry one in which Jerry is intent on destroying the house and Tom on saving it, the Bugs Bunny movie with the gangsters, and — uncharacteristically for us — a mawkish story of a baby car that saves the day.

When I was about eight, my mother decided to not only become a teacher at my school but to teach my class. My one consolation in this dreadful state of affairs was that her and my elder sister’s school-day ended an hour after mine. O beautiful freedom! I would slip home across the road after school, queen of the castle, and spend an hour watching illicit television.

I cannot say my taste was discerning. There would usually be a children’s programme for 20 minutes in which they showed you how to make flowers out of orange crepe paper, followed by a cookery show. I would then doze off to the boring jingle signalling the start of a farmer’s programme, only to hop awake like a startled rabbit to switch off the TV set a few minutes later, afraid that the others were home and I was going to be caught in the act.

The only time we were allowed to legitimately watch TV was when there was something truly horrifying on. TV was considered useless unless it could convey edifying thoughts, and edification apparently could not exist without horror. Thus I was encouraged to watch a heart-rending late-night movie on Nazi concentration camps and woken up from sleep to be shown the overthrow of Chinese monarchy. Even typical Bollywood fare had to be heart-breaking. Other kids had happy endings; we watched Pushpak, Ek Duje ke Liye, Qayamat se Qayamat tak, and Rudaali.

As I grew older, TV-watching became less regulated. We finally had satellite television, and a favourite during the summer holidays was Star Trek, which unfortunately was aired at 11 in the night. Under normal circumstances I could happily stay up all night with the best of them, but for some reason this show always made me fall asleep half an hour before it began. I would leave strict instructions to my long-suffering Ma and Didi to wake me in time for the show. This they valiantly and regularly tried to do, while I apparently yelled and moaned and groaned and broke alarm clocks and flung pillows around, refusing utterly to wake up. I would then awaken half-way through Star Trek and dash sleepily into the drawing room, bewildered that my family could be so heartless as to let me sleep through my favourite show.

After I got married, we steadfastly refused to bring television into our home. This was until a kindly friend gifted us a TV card we could insert into our computer. Before we knew it we were staying up all night watching how golf balls and zippers are made, on an ancient 17-inch monitor, being yelled at by a crabby gentleman downstairs who just had to keep his window open all night long.

Eventually, we bought the regulation flat-screen TV, fooling ourselves into believing it was only around for when it was needed. But when we bought our own home and found that our satellite dish could not be fixed on the roof, we decided to take the plunge and go without a TV.

It’s been five years, and television, my old nemesis, you have finally been banished.

tragicomic@gmail.com

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Printable version | May 31, 2020 9:02:09 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/television-begone/article7246757.ece

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