Watching Shahrukh Khan promoting DishTV (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a7AJj5aDhXc&feature=related) set me back a quarter century. My parents did not have a TV till the time I left for college. In those days Doordarshan was the only broadcaster – it had one terrestrial and national channel for the country. Doordarshan had another channel too, but that was only for the (four) metros. Yet, most of the country did not have even a ‘Door-se-Darshan’ of TV; there was a lack of transmission towers to broadcast the signals and besides, TV sets were very expensive, out of reach of most of the middle-class.
Subsequently/ consequently(?), when I reached Delhi for my graduate classes, the TV in the Hostel common-room enthralled me. You must have heard jokes about people watching Krishi Darshan and Doordarshan news; believe it, for I am one such living sample! Nevertheless, the novelty soon wore off and TV became just another attraction/ distraction for me. I became possibly a more discerning viewer and definitely a more detached viewer.
However, the detached viewer is a rare phenomenon. In college, we used to rent a VCR on some weekends. To cater to all tastes, we would generally get 3-4 movies – a couple of Hindi or English movies and a couple of x-rated movies. The regular movies didn’t get much of an audience, and the common room would be generally less than half-full. Most of the Janta knew that the x-rated movies would be started in the wee hours of the morning. This was for two reasons; one , the audience that watched the regular movies wouldn’t let go of their quota of entertainment. More important, though was the second reason - most of the Janta was out in town and would be back only around midnight. Around midnight, the serious viewers would start trooping into the common room and soon the common room would be chock full. Lights would be turned off, smokers would be turned out or asked to extinguish their cigarettes and the movies would be put on. All conversation would cease and all eyes would unwaveringly focus on the screen. Such concentration! Such focus! It would put even an Arjun to shame. The environment in the common room would be electric; the tension unbearable – people would be constantly shifting positions, seemingly to get more comfortable but in reality getting more uncomfortable. I was generally a part of the pre-midnight audience; I had a standing ban on being part of the post-midnight audience. The main reason for this ban was my being the detached viewer. I could not be a silent viewer; I wouldn’t let go of my wisecracking ways. Also, I was in the habit of observing, not the TV screen, but the other viewers. I would be constantly disturbing the most focused (!) viewers, and, therefore, I was generally turned out of the common room at the start of the movie sessions. A lot of pleading and cajoling was necessary to allow me into the common room, only to be turned out within a maximum of 30 minutes.
Some years later, I had moved on to another hostel, the post-graduate hostel. The students were from different departments and got to meet only for breakfast and dinner. Dinner was invariably followed by an extended session the common room. The common room was much bigger than the college common room, but could get really crowded when all the students decided to congregate there. That used to happen when there was a cricket match featuring India. Those were the days that Ravi Shastri was found not in a suit but in cricketing whites/ or India blues. Vengasarkar, Srikanth, Siddhu, Srinath et al were the other stars. Tendulkar was around, but he still hadn’t started carrying the team on his shoulders. Indian cricket was still more about misses than hits. That didn’t deter us from crowding the common room whenever India was playing. Woe be to the maverick who, even in jest, would support the other team. Cuss words flew like confetti and with the same abandon; they were directed at all and sundry. At an Indian fielder if he missed a catch, or gave up extra runs. At the opposing team’s players, for just being in the opposing team. And, at any member of the audience for disturbing the rest of us. For disturbing, mind you, a horde of screaming maniacs in which you could not hear even your own voice at times; and a crowd, which would number 300 at the maximum, but would give the outsider an impression of being in a 100000-strong stadium. It really felt like being in a stadium; we would cheer the (Indian) bowler starting his run-up and every ball was expected to fetch a wicket. On the other hand, when the Indian team was batting, every dot ball was met with groans and cries of “Pandu” . (As true-blooded Delhiites would know, Pandu is a not really a cuss word; the real cuss word rhymes with Pandu). Every ball was expected to be dispatched to the ropes, even if Narendra Hirwani was batting.
I never met a bunch of more involved viewers. Never, until I got married, that is. My two daughters are the most involved TV viewers that I have ever come across. We have so far avoided the multiple TV routine that is prevalent in most homes these days. Consequently, it’s an ongoing battle between them and me for control of the remote. However, when my in-laws had come visiting us, I was totally out of the picture. The battle for the remote was fought between grandma and the kids. They reached a compromise; grandma would have control at primetime and in the afternoons, when the kids were in school. The rest of the time, the kids had the field to themselves. My mother-in-law was a lesson in involved TV watching; she would abandon everything else that she was doing and take her place on the couch at the appointed hour. Needless to say, she followed, with ease, the numerous twists and turns that Hindi TV Soaps these days offer – like the guy who dies and is resurrected just a month later, presumably because his salary dispute with the producer has been resolved. Or the couple who have been married, divorced, remarried, re-divorced more times than Liz Taylor and Richard Burton. And then there were the sarees and the jewelry. No matter the level of emotional turmoil in the story at that time, she would never miss the intricate embroidery on the fancy sarees that the ladies on screen were wearing, or the jewelry. One comment on either would be enough to bring forth the attention of my hitherto busy wife. That meant an extended session of oohs-and-aahs over the sarees and jewelry, the on-screen shenanigans forgotten, if only for the moment. However, the children beat everybody hands down; it’s a knockout, a walkover, a no-contest. Call it whatever you like. I am afraid of being around when Jerry being followed by Tom; I run the danger of being hit if the woebegone Tom manages to catch Jerry. However, every time Jerry tricks Tom I could be rewarded with a hug; the joy of my younger one’s face is spread all over her face. Every frown on screen is mirrored on their faces; every gag on screen brings forth cackles of laughter. Every commercial is met with impatient channel switching, in the hope of catching the action on some other channel. When they are watching TV they are totally oblivious to the world around them; calls to finish their homework, or some other chore – are met with unhearing indifference. At times, too many times if you ask me, they bring their food over; and, it is as if their motor co-ordination is lost. The spoon could as easily go to the nose as it could to the ears, anywhere but the mouth. I can, and have done so, even remove their food and they don’t notice. At times, we have used the situation to our advantage, to push some of the more unpalatable foods. They eat it without any protest; they do not have the time to protest. However, I am not unduly worried. If a TV-deprived person like me can grow out of it, then surely they can.