Friday, November 27, 2009 0 reflections

The bastardization of Indian television

It is with great regret, and a pinch of gut-wrenching shame, that I now announce the sad and official demise of Indian television. I am sure people have known of its death for a while now, but being one of the many blessed ones who don’t get to see it every day, I came to realise this tragic fact only recently. But before I go into the gory specifics, it is important to retrace my steps back a couple of decades. Maybe then, only then, can I make some sense of just how what used to be a major source of genuine entertainment came to such a sorry pass.

Growing up in a moderately self-assured India, the only television I knew was Doordarshan. I also know that the moment this name is mentioned many an eyes roll and tongues click with the clichéd tone that ‘Doordarshan’ is the name of a ghost that is now long gone. History. A pale memory from an era no one wants to be associated with anymore. I ordinarily would not have an issue with this attitude had there been something better to back it up with. But therein exists the success of my stereotypical tribute.

If Doordarshan is something we no longer care for, then why is it that the only serials and shows we can recall with joy even today are from that good old ghost’s lair? Be it anything from ‘Bharat Ek Khoj’ to ‘Malgudi Days’. Or from ‘Byomkesh Bakshi’ to ‘Karamchand’. Or from ‘Mungerilal ke haseen sapne’ to ‘Wagle ki duniya’. What was it about these images that still make us smile in peace? Why did it not matter that there was no hype, no hoopla and nothing dramatic to tease our excitement craving bones? Was it because the quality of writing was so wonderfully textured into the lives we used to lead back then?

Or was it that we, as people, were genuinely so intellectually gifted that we did not need additional coaxing to send home a point? Was it that we were a generation of naturally creative minded and spiritually advanced people? Or was it that we knew what it meant for literature and art to work in unison as the stories from our textbooks leapt out into the modesty of Doordarshan’s program? What was it?

I have spent almost a decade fighting with these questions that continue to bother me with their simplistic gorgeousness. When did we stop being humans and become … well, drones? When did sending a child to be on TV go from being a friendly family atmosphere with ‘Meri awaaz suno’ or ‘Bournvita Quiz Contest’ to shows where the kids are humiliated to tears for not being ‘good enough’ by an adult who is paid to be rude to a child on national TV? When did clever game shows like ‘Crystal Maze’ be replaced by the nauseating reek of immaturity mixed with pretentious pile of horse dung called ‘Dadagiri’? What is going on dear India? When did you become a place where people are so down trodden that they no longer care for something as subtle yet divine as ‘Surabhi’ but will spend years at end feeling sorry for a true ‘bharatiya naari’ who has had five husbands and several unknown off springs?

When did you get lost in a bizarre definition of your own making where you become the much revered and referenced washerman’s dog? You neither belong to the house nor to the stone on which he smashes strangers’ unmentionables each day. At least he has a conscience that is clearer than the water he uses to do his job but what about yours? Why do your citizens find perverse gratification in watching people weep and grieve on national TV? Why does someone else’s sorrow bring us so much happiness? Is this the beginning of the end of genuine intellect on the much adored idiot box?

Have we, as humans, taken a few steps back? Why are we silently consuming this foul offering with hedonistic silence? Do we need to be told everything by shouting it into our ears? Or is it that we want to shut out the saddening silences of our lives under their thunder? These are some of the other questions that bother me as I sit in absolute silence and watch the horror show that has become Indian television.

The serials, nay, mega-serials that take a decade to finish. The ‘reality’ shows that zero in on false emotions and shallow tears to cash in people’s eternal viewership. The mind numbingly insipid hosts who prance around behaving like glorified buffoons with fake accents. Oh! The sight is too painful to even think of.

It is in times like this that I actually feel glad I am not in India anymore. I don’t know what sort of human being I would have become had I been subjected to this meaningless and degrading form of ‘entertainment’ that the masses lap up like the faithful washerman’s unattached canine. Maybe I too would have let the slow moving venom of this insanity become the oxygen I would breathe in after a hard day at the washerman’s stone. I don’t know. Actually come to think of it I don’t even want to know.

My dad used to often tell me – ‘Stop watching so much TV! It will spoil you!’ I now smile at the irony of at that expression since compared to what I see now, what I was catered with by my good old pal Doordarshan should be considered a blessing from the Almighty. If I am what I am today with some sense of coherence to the written word, then it is because of shows that encouraged me to read.

Had it not been for their well timed inclusion into my life, chances are I would not have experienced the joy of knowing some of the greatest human beings who walked our planet. So, for that, I thank my friend Doordarshan. Your name was so apt, friend. Your vision was quite far fetched indeed.

Now I just hope that there will come a day when Indian television will be cleansed of the copied and modified versions of someone else’s show and something sincerely genuine makes it blessed appearance once again. Until then, let the public display of unabridged bastardisation and unashamed slavery continue.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009 2 reflections

The boomerang of existence

This is the first time something like this has happened to me. Actually the thought, as weird as it was, came to me when I was doing the dishes looking out at the maniacal breeze gushing past the rain stained city this evening. In the hubbub and the din that our kitchen can be sometimes, I managed to soak in a bizarre, albeit philosophical, thought. And hence this attempt to blog it out for what its worth.

Earlier in the day a dear colleague and friend of mine – a woman who I have never seen without a smile – broke down inconsolably as she shared the death of her beloved grandmother. I immediately consoled her, as a good friend should, and thought about the untimely demise of my own grandmother (mother’s side) back in the winter of 2000. While I still do not hold any malice towards the Almighty for taking her away before I could show her the achievements I had made at the time, (I was 22 and was working overseas on my first job assignment) today’s incident with my colleague still brought back memories. I was never really close to my grandmother, but I still felt shortchanged at the time when she left us in such an abrupt manner. But then I guess that is the nature of death – sometimes abrupt, mostly sudden and always rude.

The day moved on. I returned home after several mercilessly scathing sheets of downpour had successfully drenched me with their fury. As I sat down with my evening dose of tea, I suddenly realized that another very dear friend of mine, from back home, had gone in for a C-Section delivery today. I immediately grabbed the phone and called up her mobile hoping that her husband would pick it up and give me the updates. And would you know it? He did. I almost cracked into a guffaw of joy when I heard his calm voice say ‘Hello’. I was already convinced it was a good sign. He shared with me that she had undergone a successful procedure in the morning and a healthy baby boy had entered their lives. I, all the while trying to hide my overflowing joy for my friend and unbridled wishes of health and happiness to the newborn angel, was certainly elated. Considering how much she had wanted a piece of their love to be in her arms for so long, it was only just that her husband’s voice was radiating with so much joy, so much relief and more than anything else – so much peace. An attribute so rare in the troubled days that we live in.

And then came this thought. A soul from one end of the world had departed to the Heavens and another had entered, quite possibly at the same time, back into Earth. Was it the same soul? I don’t know. In fact I don’t even care. What I do wonder about though is this – who was the luckier one? Was it the one who left Earthly possessions and headed on into the oblivious wonder that a place beyond death might be? Or was it the innocent bundle of life that had not yet opened its eyes to see the kind of world we put up with day in and day out. Who is the happier one? Who should I really feel sorry for?

As much as the cliché goes that grieve a death and celebrate a birth – I wonder what sort of world we will leave behind for the millions of unopened eyes that are yet to come. I just hope the circle of life continues without anyone having to wonder which is better – release from the comfortable known to the scary unknown…or vice versa.

Friday, November 06, 2009 0 reflections

Seasonal Musings

As a nonchalant bachelor I would always wonder why it was that unassuming men – orderly, regular, prompt to be online and most importantly, always in disposal of infinite time given their constant status as ‘Available’ or ‘Busy’ on a dozen messenger windows – would mysteriously recede into abstract oblivion once they got married. For a long time I had blamed it on the much hyped nuance of the seemingly complex formula called ‘married life’ that somehow would make it quite impossible for a man (and a woman!) to be who they were during their pre-marital births. This included being able to spend hours together from work (or home) staying online, spending 2-3 hours at one stretch gossiping about absolutely meaningless stuff or just plain sitting idle as they’d absorb every final atom of whatever it was the Internet and the rest of the world was offering as a bribe.

And then I got married one day.

Now, without being the kind who’d immediately set himself to the defensive mode and start ranting publicly about how it all finally made sense and how it was indeed Herculean for a newly wed husband to stay away for long durations from his equally newly wed missus, let me elaborate my musing. I doubt if it has less to do with the fact that my blogs aren’t as frequent as they used to be and more with the fact that I actually don’t miss blogging so much? Maybe that’s the wrong way to put it. I don’t know. But my days right now are actually filled with things I never thought I’d find myself being a part of. For instance, taking turns in doing the dishes. Being the wayward ‘maverick’ that I was for almost a decade, it was a given that I always was the one to tend to the oily and curry stained china every time I was done heartily gorging in their contents. But now – well, now it is different. We have a routine that we follow to ensure neither of us gets too tired or bored from this rather mundane chore. And then there is the travel. Why on Earth would I ever spend a good couple of hours looking for accommodation and sight seeing tips for Greece! Heck, I was in South America for 7 years and I didn’t even visit Brasil! Given my seriously painful allergy towards traveling alone, I just didn’t feel like going through it at the time. But now, with my girl in my life I find myself transforming into someone who actually wants to travel and not has to. Bizarre. And then there is the shopping. Jolly good shopping! I find myself walking into random stores to see if I can spot something that she will like for the house. Something that would make her smile. Something that would fire a spark in her eye as she’d examine it with a pause and shake her head slowly validating my unplanned expenditure. And all this over a small candle stand? To re-word myself – bizarre.

People might be quick to label this ‘love’ and be done with it. But I wonder if it is more than just that. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that humans, by nature, need associative validation. It’s like a scientist who can spend a decade inventing a miracle drug but would never feel truly complete until someone actually pat him on the back and appreciated his invention. It is in this association that we define our seasons…our moods. It is perhaps in this stereotypical cliché that a newly wed couple, who is always in the ‘honeymoon phase’, actually ends up redefining their entire personality. They end up becoming each other.

The hilarity continues. I find myself calling a raw mango ‘kairi’ instead of ‘maavin kai’ and an onion ‘kaanda’ instead of ‘pyaaz’. I refer to a commotion on the street as ‘locha’ instead of jhagda’ and say ‘kaai zaa-la?’ instead of ‘kya hu-aa?’ What is even more interesting is I don’t even notice these things anymore. The same is happening with her too. I have spotted her many a time using my body language to explain something or repeating a song that I might have mindlessly started to hum. I find her calling me ‘ShaKri’ when she is excited and ‘Shashi’ when something serious needs to be addressed. A very interesting pattern starts to emerge with this sort of associative validation, isn’t it? Neither of us knows we are doing it after a while but we know we don’t mind it.

To return to my initial rant about why it is that I feel men and women become less frequent from the cyber space or anywhere else after marriage, it is possibly because they are busy transforming into their spouse. A healthy, much needed and definitely monumental phase of the relationship. And for that, I wouldn’t mind looking over a lot of things – even blogging.

Well, I have to run now. She is making something new out of paalak leaves and I actually am convinced it will be awesome as always considering the aroma that is traveling up to me. Even if I can’t truly share the emotion she has right now to surprise me when I eat it, I can at least join her in the season she is currently in…isn’t it?