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We were on a vacation recently that involved a fair bit of driving. The kids played video games in the backseat sometimes. I coaxed them to look out the window, but most attempts failed because according to them how much can one look at trees and cars and pavement and still be fascinated every time. Today, I agree, but when I was their age a longish drive itself was such a novelty that one didn’t need artificial means to entertain oneself. Also, driving on crowded Indian roads may have had something to do with it too, where looking out the window is many people’s full-time activity.

Anyhow, so I mentioned to V one time how when I was little we didn’t have much TV let alone customizable personal gadgets. “What, no TV, really?” he said, then adjusted his expectations and replied, “well, you wouldn’t have missed it then since you didn’t know such a thing existed!”. Good point, well made. We rode quietly for a while after that and my thoughts turned to the lame excuse we excitedly called television back in the 80s. And, still, however lame-o it may have been, the ad jingles and one-room-videocamed soaps are what my memories are made of.

In the very beginning, circa 1980 maybe, our little black & white TV broadcasted a single channel for 3 hours each day. The channel, Doordarshan, began its regular programming each evening with a half-hour national news, followed by Krishi Darshan, an in-depth agrarian show that no one but farmers watched. Probably.

On the weekends something special was promised to Doordarshan‘s viewers — a  movie screening! I remember a distinct shuffle in our house bustling with a large, extended family around 4pm in preparation for it. The movie would start at 6pm (I think), so all the dinner prep had to be finished before then, the kids had to be fed an evening snack to settle them down until dinner, a large pot of tea would be boiling away on the stove in anticipation of the start time when it would be distributed to everyone huddling in front of the 20″ TV in the living room. The best seats would already be called for, but there was always space on the floor directly in front of the picture for us kids.

At last the movie would begin, watched eagerly by tea-sipping people in living rooms across the city. Community parks would suddenly empty out, chatting neighbours would scurry away inside, wailing babies would be passed around in vain attempts to shush them since no one, including its mother, would be willing to miss the show. Such was the power of that little black box, inspite of frequent telecasting failures indicated by “sorry for the interruption” messages, and the biggest letdown of them all — merely half the movie would elapse before the picture would fade to black with the message “Feature film ka shesh bhaag kal” or The rest of the movie will be telecast tomorrow.

What?!

A typical Bollywood flick, approximately 3 hours run time, would be telecast over 2 days, Saturday and Sunday. The only outlet for that outrage was a collective groan emanating from the whole neighbourhood. Showtime over. Back to the weekend grind.

Can you imagine cutting off your kid’s program midway through them watching it and not hear about it the rest of the livelong day? Hmm, neither can I.

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