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With and without the idiot box

At a point where television started dictating terms, we found a way to reverse the addiction

It had a Japanese company’s name beautifully embellished at the bottom of its screen. A shining black box that had its place reserved for days in advance in the corner of the living room.

We were delighted to have it. Even as recently as in the mid-1990s, welcoming a colour TV at home brought a happy feeling for everyone in the family alike.

My granny used the remote control pad for the first time and she was amused that a tiny object with few buttons on it could control and make so many people walk, talk and sing together, that too at just one, single press. She loved this virtual power in her hand that she could now control people miles away from her. We, on the other hand, were amused by the number of channels it had to offer.

The tiny box had soon become a matter of verbal fights amongst us, the siblings, with all the three of us playing three-way tug-of-war with that remote in the middle. As soon as we were back from school, the TV belonged to whoever jumped over the bed first to grab the remote. Usually it was my younger brother because his school closed 15 minutes earlier than ours. He would let go of the TV and its remote only when his friends would call him to play in the garden, which was about 5 in the evening.

Initially my sister and I invented a trick to get the control from him. One of us would ring the door bell of our own house and the other would announce that it was his friend asking for him. My brother would immediately leave the remote and rush outside. By the time he realised that it was a prank, we would be the proud owners of the remote and its accompanying box.

This didn’t last very long; now even after repeated ringing of the door bell he refused to budge from the couch and instead demanded to ‘see his friend’. We tried to tell him it would be very rude to ask someone to come inside and show his face to him for him to move out, but he knew his sisters were no less than the devil when it came to TV. Such was the magic spell the idiot box cast.

Things changed when I entered college. My sister was in a college in another State and my brother had his board examinations. I was its sole audience in the house. I would often catch my brother snooping at it from the corner of his eyes and each time I caught him peeping from the little gap of the door, I would scream at him and would order him to study instead. I was the head and the TV was in my control.

After college I went down south for work. Sister started working in a different city and brother was in college in another State. TV was all mom’s. But she hardly watched it. “What do I watch? It is all so boring,” she would often reiterate.

I, on the other hand, longed for one in my paying guest accommodation in Bangalore. Just to have the luxury of watching TV after office, I moved to a rented flat. My love for TV was firm. I was in its full grip.

Marriage to a government officer took me to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands where, for lack of a proper Internet connection, the TV became our best companion. I would remain glued to it for the infamously addictive daily soaps while my husband would not even blink his eyes when he watched the news and Discovery channels. My daughter joined the bandwagon too. She demanded her cartoon channels right after opening her eyes in the morning.

I could see that the situation had reversed. We didn’t control the scenes on the TV with its remote control, as my granny thought years ago. The TV dictated its terms on us.

‘It is showing a newly released movie today — so let’s have dinner early.’

‘We can’t go for an evening walk now, it is the grand finale of the dance show.’

So much so that my daughter would eat properly only when she had her cartoons running on TV.

One day, in a moment of desperation, I switched it off and unplugged it. It was a moment of rage over the way the idiot box had engulfed our lives, particularly our married life. We decided to not switch it on for days and anyone who did so would be punished by the remaining two of us. We travelled for a week immediately after this experiment to places that had no TV at all. This helped us get de-addicted, and we were thankful for it.

Today, a year later in New Delhi, we have been living without the idiot box. We recently completed our first anniversary in ‘No TV’ mode.

The benefits of living without a TV are many. It leaves a lot of time to spend with the family. It helps save money as not watching advertisements save us from the temptation to buy stuff. It also helps in better health as there is no more late-night, dark-night TV viewing. Finally, it helps us in being sane. No information or scripts overload.

Newspapers have virtually replaced the news channels and classic, fiction novels are a better substitute to those fictitious daily soaps. The cartoon channels?! Oh! She goes to school now and then reads children’s books.

Do I miss it? Not so much the TV screen, but I miss the remote control.

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2020 8:19:11 PM |

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