In the 1980s everyone started buying TVs, black and white of course. In 1982, we had the Asiad in New Delhi. For many of us that was the first exposure to a major sports meet. We had not bought a television set yet and I was a perpetual fixture in a neighbour’s house that had one. That was no problem. Every evening, every house that had a set had many guests, mostly little ones from neighbouring houses and the children of one’s servants and children of the neighbour’s servants as well.
We only had the national channel in those days, Doordharshan, which literally means far-sight. What Doorsharshan dished out to you, you watched. Somehow that was a lot simpler and a lot more enjoyable than switching channels all the time.
A popular soap opera in those days was Humlog that depicted the ordinary difficulties, pain, and joys of a middle class family. Some of those characters are deeply engraved in our memories, Laloo and young Chutki and the others. How can I forget the face of Ashok Kumar as he concluded each episode with a summary that always ended with the words “hum log”. In the history of Television, has any television show been watched simultaneously by such a large audience? I doubt it.
Sometime during the Hum-log period, the Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated. The nation was plunged into incredulous grief. The funeral was to be on a large scale. Everyone was interested in what would happen within the family too. The younger son Sanjay Gandhi, who had been interested in politics, unlike his older brother, had recently died in a plane crash, and his young widow had fallen out with her mother-in-law. How would the older son Rajiv Gandhi, a pilot, deal with his mother’s death? There was talk that he would become the next Prime Minister. This saga was greater to India than Kennedy’s had been to America, for to many people, Indira and India were synonymous. My mother wanted a TV now and it helped that my father remembered how he had watched the proceedings after J F Kennedy was assassinated in New York in the early 1960s. So while the late Prime Minister’s body lay in State, My father bought a little portable black-and-white TV. How can I explain to you how excited I was. We had not even had a radio in our house until then. I can still remember its smell when we took it out of its box and placed it on a small table in the corner of the room. I also remember my father saying that the devil would use it to make us waste precious time, and that we had to be very careful with it.
We spent many a prime-time slot watching Hindi classics, Humlog, Yeh jo hai zindaghi, Khandhan, and Nukkad. (More interesting, considering that my father does not understand Hindi very well.) My mother found it handy that we were all in one place at that time, which coincided with our “supper time” of a glass of milk and a banana. One English classic I loved watching was The Jewel in the Crown, a story against the backdrop of the British Raj.