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Dear TV, I’m just not that into you (and I’m not sorry)

I don’t own a TV. Well, there is a flat screen television that came with our apartment but we have never bothered to switch it on. Along its edges hangs bunting with our little girl’s name on it, something children were being encouraged to make at one of her classmate’s birthday parties. This was before we moved, when Delhi wasn’t sure if it wanted to rain on a Toy Story themed party in a school-that-rents-out-space-for-birthdays. That was in August, barely weeks before the flight to a new life, or at least that’s what the postcard in my head said.

In 2011, while our girl was growing from the pea sized spec on the monitor in the ultra sound clinic to the thing with hands and feet I went everywhere with, I was glued to what had become urban India’s prime time fetish – Masterchef Australia. I don’t know what everyone else’s excuse was, but I was then a bloated vegetarian cow who wanted to eat a horse and the frenzy of the competitive kitchen coupled with all the food flying around was enough to satisfy all visual cravings. When the calf arrived and began moving her head around, I banned television in the house. People had to choose what they wanted more, baby gurgles or insipid television laughter, which was the enemy of my child’s brain and eyes according to an article that suggested no screen time of any sort (phone, television, tablets), till two years. I had liked television, sure, but I liked sleep more and after heading back to work in six months, anytime I had left was happily spent away from the box. This meant of course that I didn’t know Mad Men from The Good Wife and was none the worse for it. I caught up with and completed the former in entirety last December, in two weeks really. It brought back memories of student life – late night binge watching and days filled with remorse over approaching deadlines. Then I sulked for two days because it was all over. There was nothing to treat myself with when I’d been a good girl at work and all else.

I have little memory of television growing up. I know we had one, because there is a picture of me dancing in front of it with the late Shammi Kapoor’s face plastered on the screen. I’m wearing ghungroos, highly inappropriate for the sort of music I guess must have been playing. Then came boarding school for four years where I kept busy reading library books inside texts during study hours and spent the remainder bouncing ‘crazy’ balls off the boundary wall and into a stream that purportedly led to the lake below. My real television moment, that I have a recollection of, was as a teenager when we had moved to Delhi. It was with Blossom, the quirky teenager growing up in a house full of men – her divorced father and two older brothers. I couldn’t exactly relate to her but she made me smile, sometimes laugh, and that has been my checklist for a lot of programs and films thereon. Then came Friends, again not in tandem with how it was playing on Indian screens. I watched it much later in entirety with borrowed DVDs, followed by others like Sex and the City and Grey’s Anatomy, and more recently True Detective (Season 1 only please) and Narcos.

As fate would have it, my first job right out of college was in television production. Any starry-eyed ideas I may have held about the screen, which I didn’t to begin with, were lost in that time seeing the clockwork up close. It was days of hard labor, little rest and lots of sparks, the sort of thing that will outlive any human being’s enthusiasm for an adrenaline rush. I appreciated people who could make their lives in the field, but knew that it wasn’t for me, just as the act of putting my feet up and watching the telly for hours wasn’t for me when I had my mojo on. That perhaps made it easier to let it fade into the background, even more so with things like You Tube and now oh-how-I-love-you Netflix, which I would like to believe was built for mothers with little time and even less patience. Get-to-the-point is all that we wish for and get.

My parents speak of the early days when only one person in the neighborhood would have a television, and everyone would gather around to watch news or cricket or a sitcom. When cable television hit our shores it was often banned for children stuck with dreaded board exams in Grade 10 and 12. Looking back it feels like much ado about nothing. All the advertisements and shows with stories that didn’t go anywhere were better missed. But there were some gems, like detective Vyomkesh Bakshi, which thanks to You Tube we can enjoy today too. While stories still rule and make even people like me turn into nefarious gluttons once in a while, the television set itself is now discarded furniture. It’s there because no one will take it and because we think someday we might use it, which is never going to happen because we’ve lost that loving feelin’ and it’s not coming back.

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Finding (Digitally Enhanced) Mojo and then some

There is never a dull moment when you’re living with a toddler. For the most part you are juggling the ball, trying not to get a bloody nose (like Daddy did earlier this week) and mostly attempting to keep things on your turf. Basically to not play like Brazil against your German-inspired toddler.

At other times you just sit back and marvel at the things she says and does, knowing well enough that in time her eyes may not light up at describing the things she did at school or when you were not around.

As part of our customary rhyme/cartoon viewing at dinner (because it’s easier to hold a child down with that and 20 minutes isn’t killing anyone and go feed a two year old before you go judging) we get on YouTube (no TV since that always plays the wrong things when you’re watching), I ask what she wants to watch, she points it out on the screen and then we sit back and have dinner in quasi-peace. Usually we end up with the Famous Five, not the children’s book series but either the Five Little Monkeys that continue to jump on the bed and bump their heads or the Five Little Ducks that disappear for a bit only to resurface towards the end.

But yesterday, thanks to search result algorithms powered by the Google Gods, the screen showed up a new item, a series called ‘Peppa Pig’. It was new and looked harmless enough so we gave it a shot. Within five minutes of watching, I felt elated at having discovered something wonderful. Peppa Pig is a little girl pig living in Britain with her younger brother George (what else could he possibly be called) and her parents. They go about their happy routines like visiting the amusement park, taking a holiday or getting lost in the fog, with Daddy Pig always managing to do something stupid that is made nicer still with the narrator stating the goof up in a nonchalant manner. I love it.

British comedies have always been super special. Peppa Pig is a pre-school series but heck no one does sardonic better than the Brits. Look at Outnumbered, if you haven’t already; a sitcom on a middle class family in London with the parents being ‘outnumbered’ by their three delightfully unruly offspring. The beauty of the show is that the dialogues of the children are not written by 30 year old TV writers. Instead, these are improvised. While the scene and the setting are discussed with everyone, the kids are left to being themselves and what a crazy bunch they obviously are.

Or spend a rainy afternoon with Withnail and I. The adventures of two unemployed (and decidedly unemployable) actors makes for perfect alone time viewing. From the squalor of their city apartment to the marsh madness at the country cottage, this acerbic tale of two men performing the sacred art of ‘resting’ before taking a holiday by accident is enough to make you smile years after you first discover it.

And then perhaps you can walk up to a barman and delight him thus (quoting Withnail):

“We want the finest wines available to humanity. And we want them here, and we want them now!”

Mommy said TV was bad for you, and it probably is. But there are delights that it could throw up without turning anyone into gun toting villains or broccoli hating dimwits. And it is for these delectable treats that one should (under adult supervision after ensuring the said adult is wine-proof) indulge in audio-visual activities, with the hope of compressing a little bit of sunshine in deftly produced tales meant for joyous merrymaking.