First published in The Hindu, 26 May 2015.
My various love-hate affairs with television have been sporadic and short-lived. As children, we were allowed to watch TV for a couple of hours a week on Saturday. This was in the eighties when India’s sole television channel was Doordarshan. Luckily for us, we had cartoon shows on tape. Much time was spent on deciding which shows to watch and rewinding the cassette to find them. They were all suitably violent and bloodthirsty: the Tom and Jerry film 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 soppy story of a baby car who saves the day.
When I was about eight, Ma decided to not only become a teacher at my school but also to teach my class. My one consolation in this dreadful state of affairs was that her and Didi’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 that my taste was discerning. There would be a children’s programme on for twenty minutes in which they showed you how to make flowers out of orange crepe paper. This was followed by a cookery show. I would then doze off as a boring jingle signalled the start of a farmer’s program, only to hop awake like a startled rabbit a few minutes later, afraid the others were home and I’d be caught in the act.
Legitimate TV-watching only occurred when there was something truly horrifying on. Television was considered useless unless edifying, and edification apparently could not exist without horror. Thus I was encouraged to watch a heartrending late-night movie on Nazi concentration camps and woken up from sleep to be shown the overthrow of the Chinese monarchy. Even typical Bollywood fare had to be heartbreaking. Other kids had happy endings; we watched Pushpak, Ek Duje ke Liye and Rudaali.
As I grew older, television use became less regulated. We finally had satellite TV, and a favourite in the summer holidays was Star Trek, which aired at 11 in the night. Under normal circumstances, I could happily stay awake 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 with my longsuffering mother and sister to wake me in time for the show. This they tried to do with valiant regularity while I yelled and moaned and groaned and broke alarm clocks and flung pillows around, refusing to wake up, after all of which I would suddenly awaken halfway through Star Trek and dash into the drawing room, bewildered that my family could be so heartless as to let me sleep through my favorite show.
After I got married, we decided not 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 gazing into an ancient 15-inch monitor to learn how golf balls and zippers are made. Eventually, we bought the regulation flat-screen TV, fooling ourselves into believing that it was only around for when it was needed. 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 turn TV-less. It has been five years, and television, my old nemesis, you have finally been banished.