Those Were The Days

I spent the large part of a day early this week delving into my past, a time when I watched television.

I spent the large part of a day early this week delving into my past, a time when I watched television. Now I don't. Almost never, unless I have to be polite, or to prevent irretrievable breakdown of relations between me and, as they say, near and dear ones during communal viewing time.

But back when I did, I watched incessantly. I used to write a weekly column on TV, so it was primarily work, but it was fun, too. Back then Doordarshan was the only game in town, so you were free to slam it and shut it. But not forget it, and move on to another channel. Because there weren't any. The satellites were yet to arrive: TeeVee equalled DeeDee.

Doordarshan is now up mainly for retro jokes. From the perspective of someone who has access to a couple of hundred channels, an all-powerful remote, and 3D visors, Doordarshan seems like a faint echo in a cavern. But there was a time when the same public broadcaster was scorching new paths to our retinas, and creating timeless programming.

It is easy to indulge in those-were-the-days nostalgia. But try comparing Shyam Benegal's Bharat Ek Khoj to anything you have on TV these days. You won't be able to, because a series of that magnitude and span hasn't been created since: I caught a slice of it on Rajya Sabha TV last week, and I was struck by how alive it still felt, despite the unvarnished sets and fuss-free costumes.

And this is not only to sing paeans of Doordarshan which used its news bulletins to give us endless sarkaar-darshan, with ribbon cuttings and flag unfurlings and events which had newsreaders use the same "inaugurated with pomp and show" lines over and over again. The coming of the satellites liberated us from the crippling monopoly of the state-run broadcaster and its prescriptive programming: the youthful, brash body language of Zee and Star and Sony changed everything.

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