There is this one cartoon that amuses me vastly. A very excited Martian holding a television set in his arms, rushes back to his home planet, and tells his leader: “I didn’t bother with the Earthlings. Instead I stole their God!” About time someone raised the status of the Idiot Box to something better.
A friend of mine was writing an article on what precious item people would take if their house was on fire, all loved ones were safe and they had just enough time to grab one item and run. The choice of item would tell a lot about the individual’s personality.
The choices people made ranged from family photo albums, to marriage certificates, to share portfolios, to bank books, jewellery, works of art, silver cutlery, books. I came home and asked my children who were then 14 and 9 what they would take. One loved books, art and sports. The other loved books, music and dogs.
Without pausing for even a second the 14 year-old said, “The TV.” The 9-year-old said, “The remote”.
I looked at them horrified. They had turned into The Modern Child. The couch potato. The brain dead worshipper of the idiot box. Just like their mother. And mine.
With people like us, anyway you look at it the television set is a magic box. As inventions go this one has my vote as being up there among the best ever invented. We did not have television when I was a child, which was why sports and imagination filled the hours of the day. But black and white television came into my life along with adolescence and the full glory of Doordarshan unfolded before us. We saw the news yes, with lots of Rajiv Gandhi doing lots of things mostly running up and down steps of planes and wearing a variety of headgear wherever he went. We watched an agricultural programme for farmers called “Amchi Mati, Amchi Manas”. We watched some wonderful Tamil, Telugu, Malyalam, Oriya, Bengali, Marathi and Hindi films. There were English films too and delightful serials like I Love Lucy.
Then came colour and cricket. My mother was an excellent home-maker, but when cricket matches were being telecast it was every man for himself. No meals were cooked, we had to manage on our own, because if she left the room, one of her “boys” would get out and India would lose the match. It was in the national interest that she had to stay put for the day. Toilet breaks were during the commercials.
Then came cable and we were ecstatic. They referred to a group of channels as a “bouquet” and what an apt term it was. Everyone had their favourite programme and generally everyone else willingly sat and watched. Commercial breaks were used for passionate debates over what was seen before.
Like most family traits I carried this on to my family too. We watched football and cricket, tennis and the Olympics, motorcycle rallies and Formula 1. We watched crime investigation serials and learned the intricacies of forensics. We learned that Lumenol can show up bloodstains years after a murder has been committed and the scene of the crime washed clean. We watched great feats of engineering and science. We observed the lifestyles of animals in the wild and the lifestyles of the fat cats of Page Three. We saw world events unfold and even learned to make accurate predictions because history always repeats itself. Television brought the whole world and all its goings-on into our drawing room.
I know six elderly women. In their time, two had been successful career women active, one had a large family and was always busy keeping her large household ticking over like clockwork. The other three were homemakers with large families. They were vibrant, well adjusted, with busy schedules. The first three felt watching television was a waste of time. The three homemakers found television to be high entertainment and a break from the routine of home-making and the silence of an empty house during office and school hours. Theirs was not a passive watching of anything on the box. They had their favourite programmes and followed every twist and turn carefully.
The first three women are today stricken with Alzheimer’s Disease. The last three tv addicts are still full of joie de vivre or joy in living. At least two of them. The third, my mother Maria Felicia, died seven years ago at 86, but she was sharp as a pin till the end. While I suspect an excess of television kept their faculties sharp, it definitely did not harm them. Therefore I am formally promoting television from the Idiot Box to the Magic Box.