Thursday, December 15, 2011

Sorry for the interruption!

I was surfing through the TV channels last week when I happened to catch sight of Doordarshan (DD), the only channel on our TV sets all through the ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s. 

It was weird yet strangely comforting to see the old and once-familiar fixture on TV. Nothing had changed. The sets were still the same. The production effects had remained unchanged. The quality of the programming was as it used to be 30 years ago. 

In the 10 minutes I spent staring at the screen, re-living the nostalgia for all it was worth, the mandarins at DD were gracious enough to show me that frame with the cartoon, Rukawat ke liye khed hai. Hindi for — Sorry for the interruption. 

It took me back in time. I remembered those days from what now seems like an age ago when DD would often get its act wrong and the grownups would fume and wait for the problem to be rectified. There was nothing to do but wait. 

There was no remote control to be fought over, no other channel that you could turn to for respite. Nothing but DD across the vast expanse of television.

While the adults fretted and waited, we children would rush out of the house. The playing fields beckoned us. We used to play games like Hide-and-seek, Hopscotch (langdi), Blind man’s bluff, Dog and the bone, I spy, Leapfrog, Simon says (Shivaji mhannto), Cops and Robbers (chor police), Musical chairs, Human chain, Kabaddi, Kho kho and Lagori and numerous other games whose names I have to dredge out from the deepest recesses of my memory.

No special equipment was required for any of these games. All you needed to bring to the playground was huge reserves of energy and enthusiasm and whoops of delight and laughter. You didn't even need a playground. We got along mighty fine, playing in one another's houses, or on staircase landings. 

Certain games were the preserve of the girls. They included skipping sessions, cat's cradle, played with a long string looped around the two thumbs and fingers, Oranges and Lemons etc. Does anyone remember Fire on the mountain, run, run, run?

Chinese whispers was frowned upon by the boys that we grew up with, most of whom were the brothers of the girls. As a child, I often thought that the reason boys didn't like this game was because they were too competitive and they could not stomach the idea of a game in which there was no winner.
Boys had their own games which were generally out of bounds for the girls. They used to play marbles. Dodge ball (aba dubi) was another favourite of the boys. They seemed to derive some perverse pleasure out of assaulting one another with a ball, while trying to escape being hit themselves. The boys who were hit during the course of this game used to howl in pain, and forget the pain a moment later when they realised that the ball was now in their hands and it was payback time.

No one went home until they were called by their mothers at least three times, and then they reluctantly trudged home with the air of someone to whom a great injustice had been done.

We used to spend all our holidays and free time scampering about and frolicking. When we were exhausted from playing, we invented games. When it rained, we played noughts and crosses, snakes and ladders, carrom. Most of us had a pack of playing cards. Some afternoons, we enjoyed refreshing siestas. Other days we read — comics, novels, magazines. We expanded our minds. 

I am not saying there was nothing worth watching on DD. There were gems like Wagle ki Duniya, Giant Robot, Rajani, Malgudi Days, Jungle Book, Flop Show, Karamchand, Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi, Bharat Ek Khoj, Surabhi, Mile sur mera tumhara, the I love Lucy series etc that were very entertaining. 

Chhayageet and chitrahaar had huge fan followings. As did Sunday evening screenings of Hindi films and Sunday afternoon screenings of regional films. 

But generally there were so few entertainment options that we often sat through the News magazine for the hearing impaired. Sometimes we were so desperate for something to watch on TV that we used to sit impatiently through the warmup sessions that DD subjected us to. 

Remember that screen with the vertical colour stripes? It used to give way to a black screen and then a red dot which would re-cast itself, twisting this way and that, until it eventually revealed the logo of the channel. All this while the most mournful and depressing signature tune in existence played on.

But the best thing about DD then was that it shut off and said goodbye. It was not a 24-hour monster. It was like a travelling circus. For some hours of the day, the TV stopped being a piece of furniture and came alive. It showed us a few images, played out a few songs, then packed up and left. 

Leaving us with those black and white pixels dancing their crazy dance to the accompaniment of the heavy rain beating down upon an asbestos sheet roof. 

Because of that enforced selective viewing, we had a life outside the idiot box. 

We didn't spend all of our childhoods and growing years in front of it. 

We didn’t sit in front of the television, physically and mentally incapacitated, bored out of our wits, hoping that the next serial, film, cartoon or reality show would be truly worth watching. 

We had friends with whom we enjoyed boisterous playtime sessions. And today we have wonderful memories.

Thank you, Doordarshan, on behalf of all those who were children in the ’70s, ’80s and much of the ’90s. We made fun of you. We laughed at your inadequacies and your incompetencies. We bemoaned the lack of any good entertainment or education options. 

But because of you, we learned to read. 

Because of you, we learned to enjoy playtime with other kids our age. 

And because your programming was interrupted so often, we were able to step outdoors and get on with our lives. 


  1. Just discovered your blog--and I could see you talking animatedly as I read this beautiful post. You've just found another loyal reader. Starting now.

  2. Really you broght the memory of memorable DD days. They have done many good and bad. the good thing about them when they brought empty streets on Sunday morning when they telecast Ramayan and Mahabharat.
    The time when they made every indian yough to wait with anxiety for telecast details of important matches (make arrangement at last minute for live coverage).
    Now you get everything but wait for repeat telecast as you do not find right time (own time).
    world This Week of Prannoy Roy, Rangoli (early Sunday morning with oldies) are really memorable.

    I thoroughly enjoyed the article. good one. keep writing and brind oldies like me alive.

  3. Excellent article Cynthia,
    It really painted a picture in front of my eyes of my childhood, and of course some of the Vinod Mehra films in which he would keep the top 3 buttons open and then die of TB (he he he), awesome stuff. Thanks a lot Cynthia. hope to meet u when i visit bombay house.

    Ashish Mistry

  4. Hi Cynthia...loved ur blog..brought back some fond memories..loved the line where u mentioned about cing even the news for the deaf & dumb...I do rememeber doing exactly that but now wonder how did I do it..when we got tv in our house I was in 2nd std & the first day I saw aamchi maati aamchi manas & was in awe..I was scared too thinking that cow would walk out of the tv set...Somehow the prog and serials today are no enoyable as the old ones..they were simple but had good story line which touched peopl's hearts. Also the other things that needs mentioning are the short films of Simi the fish & ek chidiya & anek chidiya..They were like an anthem back then..Thanks once again for your lovely post..cheers

  5. Hi Saee, Thank you so much. Your responses mean a lot to me. I have a huge respect for you and your blog and I often tiptoe through it and sneak out as quietly as I come in. The truth is that I am amazed at the kind of perfect works of art you turn out. I feel a little intimidated because I am not that good. I wish I could cook and bake like that. Thrilled to have you on my blog. You take care.

    Hi Pat,
    I am glad you enjoyed the article. I had a great deal of fun writing it too. All of us used to make so much fun of DD, but it was still such a big part of our lives. Most importantly, watching DD was a communal exercise. I remember back in those days, not everyone had a TV. So neighbours often gathered together to watch TV/DD.

    Hi Ashish, Reading about Vinod Mehra made me laugh out loud. He was the only Hindi film hero who died consistently of the same disease. It never occurred to him to button up his shirt and try to win the affection of the heroine. Look forward to meeting you when you come to BH. Cheers!

  6. Hi Smitha, I remember Ek chidiya, anek chidiya. The animation was so simple, compared to today's stuff, but back then we were so hooked to it. And watching the news magazine for the dumb and hearing impaired was bad enough. I am guilty of watching that whole warmup session of DD. At one time, I had even timed the whole thing. I knew exactly how long that depressing sequence would last and how soon the actual programming would start. Glad you enjoyed the post. Do come back. I look forward to interacting with you.

  7. Cynoo.... that interruption caption was : Rukawat ke liye khed hai.. choohey ke haath mein ched hai. The pic of a mouse/rat holding a strip of film..

    magic lamp, Fraggle rock , Star trek ( and that yummy William Shatner), Different Strokes and many other gems you mentioned were so sacred..that we could not miss it . It was good. Very good. DoorDarshan...

    "Tv" was not this monster ( LOL)... as it seems to have become now, infiltrating the very core of our souls. Oh well... changes and choices.

    Thanks girl for reviving so many awesome memories.

    Angela Peter

  8. Hi Angel, you're absolutely right. I had forgotten the latter half of the caption, and thanks for reminding me of the cartoon too. Different strokes was great fun, and how could I have left Star Trek out of my listing? A generation of young girls, including yours truly, thought he was truly out of this world. Fraggle Rock was great too. I remember that song, "I'm always here, I'm never there. Wherever I go, I take my here." Sound wisdom indeed! Truly DD gave us some memorable TV moments. Today in spite of a 100 and more TV channels, with 2 more being added every month, there is rarely anything worth watching on TV.

  9. Glad to read you again! I was chuckling away like a grandma reading this :)
    And may I add those cartoons, Russian ones I think... something about a wolf, and then some Unicef message-type cartoon, I used to know it quite well. Gone with DD are those power cuts we used to have, which forced us to seek alternative entertainment therapy. Gosh, I remember those mindless candlelit evenings, bugging my Dad repeatedly till he made a convoluted shadow eagle on the wall. Those were the days!
    But, I must add that although I don't watch TV at all these days, I still do not get any time to read or go for a walk. It's the internet, me thinks.

  10. Hi Aha, welcome to my blog. If you don't watch TV these days, you're not missing anything. There is precious little that is worth watching. Which is why I wrote this post. DD provided us some unwittingly howlarious moments. When DD was good, it was very, very good. But when it was crappy, it was even better. They even made the news bulletin fun, especially when the newscaster turned to show us some clip, and found it missing. At least there was no Breaking News then. You take care.

  11. OMG!! I startled everyone in office by laughing out loud so helplessly. You are so right about everything and I had a similar experience about 4-5 months back when surfing through the alarmingly huge cable network. Mom and I stumbled upon DD and there was still some very innocent serial on and we just stayed with it that entire day. It felt as if the noise, drama, exaggeration, and over-reaction had suddenly ceased and was replaced by simplicity and a bygone era.

    You have captured it so well when you said that it gave us time to do stuff... In fact, TV was a small part of our lives, and not our whole life. I guess DD had given a breather for grown-ups as well. I don’t remember our parents being stressed about missing an episode of Bigg Boss. They did a lot of work in leisure without rushing about the kitchen to finish all cooking-cleaning during commercial breaks so as to not miss a second of ‘kyon ki bahu bhi kabhi saans thi’ (or something to that effect!).

    We're lucky indeed to have been a part of the DD era and enjoyed the whole platter. To add to the already exhaustive list, there was Sherlock Holmes on late night TV, the fairy tales on Sunday, Gotya, Karamchand, ‘ek shoonya shoonya’ (100) Dada-dadi ki Kahaniya, Honi-Anhoni, all of which I loved!

    Btw, do you remember the anchor in those 10-min newscasts? They had this funny way of shaking (or jerking) their heads this way and that when reading out from the prompter. I always wondered what they would do if they sprained their neck doing that! They had such a detached, care-a-damn tone when reading news. They spoke of the Bhopal gas tragedy in the same bored baritone as they did India winning the World Cup! Hilarious and so much better than the Arnab Goswamis and Barkha Dutts of today, for whom everything is a personal fight!

    God bless you Cynth for reviving another amazing memory and of course, please do keep it up. You made my day :-)
    P.S.: I’m sharing these links if you don’t mind.

  12. HI Harsha,
    Of course, I don't mind. I only wish everyone who read my posts left a little comment to share their experiences. I feel so enriched when I read all the comments.
    The newscasters were a great source of entertainment, especially when they promised to show us some special bulletin, and returned sheepishly to tell us that there were some technical difficulties.
    Today I feel very nostalgic about them. At least they were better than the Hindi news channel anchors for whom every accident is a 'maut ka tandav', every small incident is 'dehshat' unleashed.
    Somehow the programming then was so down-to-earth and so real. You could identify with it. A viewer would have to have a very sordid lifestyle to identify with any of the crap on most of the channels today.
    As children, we were innocent, yet not so naive that we didn't know that all people have some good and some not-so-good in them. Today's kids will think every family has one arch-vamp/villainess with a permanently arched eyebrow, out to plot against everyone else.
    Thank you, Harsha. Your observations expressed so well in your comment truly made my day. God bless you.

  13. Lovely post Cynthia. I started reminiscing those days, when DD was the only breath of fresh air for us siblings. We never fought with other, to change the channels,like kids of today, because there was no alternative channel. Though we follow the Christian faith, I hardly remember missing my Sunday mythological dose of Ramayana and Mahabharata. I was also a great fan of serials the The Tipu Sultan and the The Great Maratha. However,today i lament about the non-existence of such serials.



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