The Good old days of Doordarshan
It was a Weston TV, our first television at home. With five knobs, two big and three small ones, it was boxed inside a wooden cabinet, dark chocolate in colour. Me, in my blue skirt with some great applique work done by my mother, I looked at it with utter joy. My mother had perfected the needlework and she enjoyed letting those fabric patches speak about her special talent. As my father pushed open the folding shutters, I wondered as to where did they go. I wanted to touch them, then and there, but couldn’t. The TV was placed atop a mid-height Raj &Raj steel almirah. Only next morning after my father had left for work, my mother did allow me to get a feel after quite a bit of sweet talk I had to do. Although, my mother realized the true reason for the extra seriousness on studies demonstrated in the morning, she preferred not to talk about it. Such a cute soul she is. Standing on a wooden stool, I kept on opening and closing the shutters.Sometimes fast, sometimes slowly.Where are these thin slats going? My mother finally took some time out of her busy schedule to explain the mechanism, lest it gets damaged due to my inquisitive experiments.
It was the black and white version, but nothing new to me. I was introduced to this latest mode of entertainment along with few of my neighbours, the moment the Baroda family purchased one. They stayed next to our house and their doors would always remain open for a TV evening for all the kids. In fact, they had formally invited us that very evening to have a look at their brand new gadget, with much pride and honour, as the TV was unpacked and placed on a table. The bearer needed to be tough enough to take the load. It was a Wednesday. We all gaped at the wonder screen as Shammi Kapoor and Saira Bano moved around the trees singing a romantic song that I don’t remember anymore. Oh my God, she looked so beautiful.
That weekend, my friend Sumona, Baroda’s elder daughter invited me to watch Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s ‘Mili’. I requested her to ask my mother for permission. The permission was granted but with a clear directive that I must return the moment the movie ends and I should be at home for food during the interval. With the melodious tune composed by Pundit Ravi Shankar and Ustad Ali Ahmed Hussain Khan, a white galaxy would swirl around a circle, finally making the yin and yang symbol of the famous Doordharshan eye and the telecast would start. To think of now, it was a sheer pleasure to watch movies at home with advertisements only at the beginning and during intermissions. And for a generation that was not yet bombarded by advertisements, we didn’t seem to hate them either. Just after the Hamara Kal, Hamara Aaj, Hamara Bajaj ad, the slim trim Liril girl would appear in her green two-piece swim suit bathing under a natural fountain all alone happily, followed by the Rasna where eleven glasses of coloured water would scroll tempting our thirsty throats and we would promise ourselves to tell our mothers to get one for us the very next day. Masterjee catching the boys with Hajmola bottle was probably the most hilarious. And then our favorite Deepika aka Sita would share her Ma Ka Tees Saal Se Purana (thirty years old) secret of Dabur Amla hair oil.
As the weekend evenings would approach, the elders of Baroda family, their friends and their relatives would sit on the wooden bed and we kids would settle on the raised platform of the window niches. Even then the movie time demanded munching to enhance the entertainment quotient. Kashmiri Alu Chops, Begunis, Peyajis were served with puffed rice along with some additional scoops of creamy homemade Paesh.
By the time we had our set, most of our neighbours had them already. So not many joined us to watch. But people passing by would invariably queue up on our window whenever anything interesting caught their attention and we wouldn’t mind. We stayed at the ground floor and the window opened on the street.
Soon, Salma Sultan, with the signature red roses tucked in her hair; the baritone voice of Shammi Narang and the impeccable diction of Neethi Ravindran and Rini Simon would start mesmerizing us. With limited technical support they had, they did such a wonderful job bringing the world in front of us every day. My father would stand near the balcony and hear the headlines. And then on every Friday evening, Pronoy Roy would stand in some corner of Siberia or Alaska or near the Sphinx of Giza or around the rainforests of Amazon to tell us what happened in the World This Week – our first glimpse to global broadcasting.
Once the idiot box was in, interestingly the daily schedules became more pre-planned. I would finish my homework in time so that I can be with Master Haveliram and his shy Lajoji in ‘Buniyaad’, enjoy Ashok Kumar’s poetic conversations in Humlog, jump around Malgudi with Swami, listen to stories with queer endings narrated by an all white and red lipped Betal riding on King Vikramaditya’s shoulder, munch carrots with detective Pankaj Kapur in ‘Karamchand’ and to watch the highly popular ‘Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi’ that even affected the box office timings. And how deeply do I miss ‘Chitrahaar’ that played melodious songs after songs appeasing our senses.
It’s amazing to think of it that for nearly three decades the entire nation survived happily with just one single channel. And now, when we have almost one thousand channels available fighting for our time, making it difficult to decide what to watch.
But all said and done, television did add a new dimension to our life, not only in terms of entertainment but also in terms of knowledge and experience. It took us all to Sharjah. It got us hooked to Ramayana, Mahabharata, Bharat Ek Khoj which otherwise had become boring texts. It made us feel proud watching the Independence day parades. It brought Dalal Steet to our homes. It showed our middle class families how snow fall in the Switzerland looks like. It helped us see Boris Becker and my favorite Steffi Graff play at grass courts in Wimbledon. And all that without spending a fortune and sitting in the comfort of our drawing rooms with our families. Thank you, Mr. Baird for your lovely invention.