Saturday, October 6, 2012

Doordarshan, etc: Wisps of Nostalgia (Part-IV)

Author's Note: The 1st part, 2nd part and 3rd part of this series can be read by clicking on the respective links.

Television came about when some really nice people spent hours and years pouring over pieces of wood, glass, wires and what-not, shirking food (rather, proper nourishment) and even sunlight may be, so that folks like us could view the world and it's many wonders - from the comfort of our homes. God bless them.

Here's a bit about early television: link.

And here is a picture of an old B&W television set with rabbit-ears antenna. This type of antenna was also much fiddled with - in another time and era. Many people may have acquired their knowledge of angles and geometry from them:

That laziness-perpetuating gadget called the "remote" was unknown (or at least not as widely known as we do today) and so a frequent dash to the roof - in order to fix the antenna was de rigueur. However, before that, the television-set itself was given a well-deserved thumping slap or a series of such slaps - so as to discipline it (read: jolt it to 'life'). And on most occasions this worked perfectly well, the proverbial "sanjeevni booti" again. During football or cricket matches (telecast on TV), the thumping slap became more and more urgent and vigorous ... and frequently came along with several frustrated kicks (to the television stand or the table legs or the showcase sides - atop which the TV set was perched). As per the principle of ek ke sath ek free, you know. :-)

Extra vigil was kept so as to not let birds sit on the antenna to catch their breath or to contemplate about their next meal ... and since (in those days) information could not be dissipated instantly, a certain Maneka Gandhi never even got a whiff of this unpardonable cruelty towards birds.

Here is a crow surveying all that there is to survey, at dusk - perched on an antenna:

A migratory bird taking in the scenery while sitting atop a television antenna:

And here's a pair of pigeons: having finished their coochie-coo sessions, is perhaps contemplating whether to 'white-wash' or not:

Back then, we also kept a sharp watch-out for kites during the kite-flying season, since kites got tangled in the T.V. antenna and distorted the picture. When we flew those kites, well, it was another matter altogether ... everyone else's antennas was at grave risk then. People (neighbours) were forced to climb up onto the roof to restore it, and get the signal back - several times. Which meant: less serial/show/match-viewing time and more antenna-fixing time!

Now here's a scenario: Kite gets caught on the T.V. antenna and ruins the reception. Someone (usually an older boy or an adult male) climbs up on the roof and sends the kids (or the younger sibling) inside to watch and tell him when the T.V. is fixed. The usual question: "How is it now?" The usual answer: "Still not okay, baba (or dada)." The latter continues to struggle with the antenna stoically, while the kids or the younger sibling continues to watch snatches of weird T.V. programs. Finally, when the T.V. shows a clear picture, it's mission accomplished; there's joy and victory writ large on the faces - big and small.

Now, how many times has that happened with you? :-)

Flying a kite is an unforgettable experience, really. The clear blue sky, wisps of cottony cloud floating by, the mellow sun and a soothing wind. As the kite soars higher and higher, the pull of the wind becomes greater and greater. It's a sort of tug-of-war; the other "warrior" being totally invisible, never seen ... yet fully fathomed. To keep the kite (still) flying high, despite the windy odds or to skillfully guide it back within one's grasp, safe and sound, hale and hearty ... well, it's an art, and science too - of the highest order. 

To compete with others, other kites that is, to try and cut off as many as one could (in the spirit of friendship that too!!), before one's own went down ... accompanied by loud whoops of "bhoo katta" - ah, those were the days.

A glorious soaring kite suddenly taking a sharp fall and then getting tangled amidst green leafy trees: how many times has that happened with you?? 

Innumerable times, right?! :-) 

Coming back to the televisions of yore, one of the first post-wooden shuttered TVs that instantly captured our attention and imagination was the Onida T.V. - thanks to its innovative campaign, spear-headed by the 'Onida devil' and the now-iconic tagline "Neighbour's envy, owner's pride." In the eighties, living rooms across India would prime themselves daily - in anticipation of a visit by a horned goblin, green and slimy, who had a permanent arch to his bushy brow and a fiendish glint in his eyes; something that never failed to enliven the evenings. Played with characteristic elán by a model co-ordinator and stylist of the 1980s, David Whitbread, it made its mark. Later, actors such as Rajesh Khera, Ashish Chaudhary and Amir Bashir have played the part. Here's the original 'Onida Devil' - David Whitbread - doing what he was (and always will be) best known for:

The original Onida Devil. Watch HERE1 and HERE2.

Let's retrace our steps now, here is a quick history of the television antenna: link.

Actually, the humble television antenna made sure we remained fit, active and slim-and trim; no gym, exercise-cycles or exercise bikes were required. No fancy-sounding protein-shakes, health-drinks were needed either. Chocolate Horlicks, Bournvita or Boost (mixed with milk, so as to avoid crinkling or wrinkling one's nose) was more than enough. Maltova and Viva too vied for attention and were succumbed to once in a while. Complan, despite its pretensions to be a complete planned food - came a distant sixth, Ovaltine was passé. We indulged our taste-buds occasionally with Rasna, aam pora shorbot or aam-panna (a delicious, cooling raw mango drink to help beat the heat through summer). 

A tall glass of chilled sweet lassi, aam ka (mango) lassi, flavoured or mango milk-shake, cold or iced coffee, matka kulfi, cups of flavoured yogurt, bhars of mishti doi (earthen tumblers of red sweetened yogurt) et al were happily consumed, with nary a worry about calories and weight gain. Reason: the ever-present television antenna!

Just as on the lush-green agricultural fields one found the ever-present scarecrow (kak-taduaa) - to scare the living daylights out of sundry crows and other varieties of pesky winged creatures; similarly, atop all kinds and make of buildings (read: homes) one found the tall television antennas. They stood patiently, come rain, shine or hail, just so as to shoo away the weight worries of the denizens inhabiting those homes. Where would you find such a selfless friend?!

Now, green crop fields or even green grassy fields for that matter, are becoming a rarity. Thanks to "development". Joysticks and Xbox it is.

This scarecrow has such a nice and impressive presence in a field of sunflowers. In a few years, who knows, even they too might be a distant memory:

Here is a history of scarecrows: link.

Those were simple, carefree and magical days. In the 80's and until the early 90's, some of the best T.V shows were aired on DD1 (DD National) and DD Metro. Maybe we can just about stretch the compliment to the mid-90s as well, since quite a few good serials and shows managed to hold their ground (despite the cable deluge). Here is DD's signature montage of yore: 

And here is the much-viewed and now cherished DD Vande Mataram: link.

DD brought families together - people watched television together, ate together and experienced a myriad of emotions together. These days, folks seem to be having a relationship with technology, and prefer to spend most of their waking hours, sending and responding to SMS, updating status messages and indulging in "bird-speak". And in-between those SMS and the "bird-speak", they are busy chasing "Angry Birds". Nothing to do with Alfred Hitchcock, mind you. Hungry birds (the ones that were shooed away by the scarecrows) have now given way to "Angry Birds" - so as to exercise one's thumbs, while real birds are fast becoming a rare sight, even the ubiquitous crow!!

Sadly, with the arrival of that great cable deluge, the exercise-friendly antennas were unceremoniously washed away, and were promptly replaced by dish antennas of all shapes and sizes instead. Of course, since these dish-shaped ones help some of our matinee idols make some more moolah to run their chulha, they cannot be all bad. 

But, given that the 'entertainment' dished out these days furiously oscillates between 'tear-jerking', 'heart-rending', 'ear-drum splitting' and 'mind-blowing'; it won't be entirely off the mark to conclude that their combined 'effort' culminates in frequent pilgrimages to the stethoscope-and-scalpel-wielding species. From antenna-frugality to cableonomics !! 

Here's is a pigeon resting atop a new-age dish antenna ... and 'white-washing' it too:

(Stay tuned…)

Pictures: 1. Pic 01an old B&W television set with rabbit-ears antenna. 2. Pics 02, 03 and 04 - a crow, a migratory bird and a pair of pigeons sitting atop a T.V. antenna respectively. 3. Pic 05 - fixing the antenna, courtesy Simpson. 4. Pic 06 - a young boy upset about his tangled kite. 5. Pic 07 - a kite caught amidst green leafy foliage6. Pic 08 - the original 'Onida Devil'. 7. Pic 09 - Horlicks and a glass of milk. 8. Pic 10 - a T.V. antenna. 9. Pic 11 - a scarecrow standing in a field of sunflowers. 10. Pic 12 - DD's signature montage 11. Pic 13: a television set of yore pierced by an arrow. 12. Pic 14 - a dish antenna and 13. Pic 15 - cut to modern times: a pigeon resting atop a dish antenna.


  1. Afer EC TV we had videocon and then Onida TVs. We have the third one now. We are so happy about this TV that we keep buying only this TV!

    I don't see maltova and Vida in the market nowadays! Only Complan and Horlicks are there!

    Family TV viewing is gone! We have got two TVs because nowadays Criket is there 365 days. Son and father watch matches and I watch musical reality shows, mostly, alone! Good old days are over.

  2. A trip down memory lane.....had almost forgotten about those antennas with a director and four reflectors.....well the technology in antennas and broadcasting in general has changed phenomenally for better ..but ..the content in programming has lost its value...even in the advertisements you find so much of tomfoolery which is often appealing....24 hrs channel with consistent quest for sensation have totally robbed media of their sensitivity...As pointed out by Sandhyaji above that TV viewing used to be a family event which started debate on issues and encouraged thought and expression ...these days due to this newly acquired prosperity there are TVs in every room and we have islands of isolation within a family ...everyone enjoying their own "theater of absurd "

  3. @Sandhyaji: Yes, EC TV and Videocon were very popular but Onida was much sought after. Kind of a ‘status symbol’ !!

    Onida was a very good TV – no doubt. Good to know you have retained yours; old IS gold :)

    Yes, Maltova and Viva are not to be found these days. Complan - in a new avatar - still survives. Only just.

    Bournvita and Boost, apart from Horlicks of course rules. I preferred Bournvita.

    You are right, Sandhyaji. The good ol’ days are gone. No one views TV together. Family time is hardly there. If not watching cricket and football matches, apart from the occasional tennis matches, folks are too busy social networking. There is no ‘we-time’. Life was so much better and simpler in an earlier era, that too not so long ago…

    It is soooo boring to watch TV alone. Sandhyaji, try getting your cats to give you company :)

  4. @Sunil: Agree with every word you have said. In fact, can’t agree more.

    Things have steadily and rapidly gone south. Be it the content of programs, ads or the occasional shows. And family time is a think of the past – sadly. Those debates and discussions of yore helped a lot – in shaping our thoughts and values. We leant to listen to others and understand/appreciate their views too. These days, folks think only they are right, rest don’t matter … all they do is love to listen to the sounds of their own voices.