Back in my childhood days in the eighties, Television was a luxury only the rich could afford. Good quality TVs were generally imported from Singapore which was the electronics haven in those days. Singapore flight passengers could be seen, surrounded by a minimum of 4-5 huge boxes, standing in long queues to clear customs at the airport. There were also the Desi brands – the Dyanoras and the Solidaires that were owned by people who couldn’t afford a trip to Singapore to get a international brand TV.
In my small hometown, there were only two TVs for the entire neighborhood and the Indian government controlled Doordarshan was the emperor of the TV world. TV antennas would literally reach the sky. We would be especially friendly with the kids from these houses in order to wheedle an invitation to watch some TV. Returning home from school, I would dump my school bag on the bed, quickly change out of the school uniform, drink the dreaded milk and gathering all other friends, run to meet my “TV friend” in the pretext of asking her to join us to play “Gilli-danda” or “Am I right?”. If we were lucky, we would get a glimpse of some interesting program on TV that would be switched on at all times in her house. Programs were telecast only for some part of the day. Chitrahaar – a half hour Hindi movie song program, Rangoli – theme based old Hindi movie songs, Quiz Time with the stylish Siddharth Basu and children’s programs like Street Hawk were my favorites. Picture and sound clarity were complete unknowns. We played guessing games on the song that was playing in Chitrahaar, the actors who were in that movie scene and India’s cricket score. When there was a major event, there would be a special TV telecast which meant more TV time. I remember going to my friend’s place to watch the last rites of singer Mohammed Rafi and a special program featuring his hit songs. I also distinctly remember going to my cousin’s friend’s place (we would dig up some link to get invited) to watch the live telecast of the last rites of Indira Gandhi.
We finally got a TV at home (bought from Singapore when we visited our uncle). Now, I could watch TV at home without having to come up with silly excuses to visit my friend. I liked some of the programs on TV but wasn’t a movie addict like all of my friends. Most of the movies that were telecast had way too much drama, crying and dramatic music for my liking. In the hope of seeing at least one of my friends outside their homes so we could play, I would go out only to be greeted by unusually quiet streets with hardly a soul venturing out of their house. The frequent power cuts and transmission problems were my saviors. I would pray for one of these, so that the kids would come out of their houses and we could have some fun.
Although power cuts and transmission interruptions were welcome during movie times, I cursed them at other times. In the middle of an interesting children’s program, the “Sorry for the Interruption” and “Rukhavat Ke Liye Khed Hain” message beaming continuously on a rainbow stripes background and a constant metallic squeaky noise was the most hated of all TV messages. A slight change in color of the background image or the squeaky noise would raise our hopes that transmission was back only to be dashed most of the times. To add to our woes, death of eminent personalities meant no TV programs on the mourning days. Although schools would declare a holiday, there was no TV to keep us entertained. The 9 O’ clock Hindi news closely followed by the English news were much awaited by the men in the family. Each of us had our favorite Hindi and English news readers – the dashing Uday Bir Saran Das, the smart and chic Neeti Raveendran and Gitanjali Iyer, the serious looking Salma Sultana, the Hindi newsreader with arched eyebrows (I forget her name). There was also the most famous mythological TV program of all times – Ramayan. Those days, there were no TRPs but I am pretty sure that none of the current programs has come anywhere close to the kind of viewership commanded by Ramayan.
Oh, I forgot to mention the best part – there was no fight over which program to watch as we had no choice. Those were the good old days of Doordarshan. What we saw was what we got.