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The ‘magic box’

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N J Ravi Chander
After growing up listening to the radio, the television’s arrival in the 70s in Bengaluru was a game-changer. It was in 1974 when the mighty West Indies led by the ‘Big Cat’, Clive Lloyd, played the Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi-led Indian team at the KSCA stadium, that we got our first glimpse of the device and our romance with the ‘magic box’ began.
Our school hired a black and white set and for a steal – 50 paise – as cricket-crazy students like this writer got to watch their demigods in action on the small screen inside the auditorium.
In the early 80s, a Gulf returned neighbour bought a black and white TV – a first in our neighbourhood in Fraser Town. The television was one among the large cargo of electronic gadgets that he had ferried to Bengaluru.
My brothers and I would barge into their house on a whim to view the programmes aired. It was mind-boggling to see the magic unfold before our eyes as fictional characters came alive on the small box.
One had to endure a long wait to receive a set after pre-booking then, and its arrival sparked off minor celebrations. In the old days, a TV set cost a small fortune and its possession regarded as a status symbol. But it required plenty of fine-tuning and maintenance, and the low-resolution TVs produced then meant that the quality of the images took a beating.
It was in 1984 that a television finally graced our home. The decision to dig into my modest salary savings and splurge it on an expensive set ruffled many a feather at home. Still, I took the plunge and bought an EC colour Television – the first in our locality – for a princely sum of Rs.7000. A bank clerk, my basic salary was only a fourth of the TV cost. I rejoiced on the new acquisition which sat fetchingly in the living room and was the cynosure of friends, neighbours and relatives.
When Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was gunned down on 31 October 1984, most Bengulureans turned on television sets to get the news. Doordarshan devoted days and days of airtime to cover the tragedy, the funeral and the aftermath.
With the nation in mourning, Doordarshan also resorted to airing devotional songs and music depriving TV addicts of their daily dose of soaps and other popular programmes. Later in 1985 Doordarshan brought the Benson and Hedges Cricket World Cup into the living rooms, and it was thrilling to watch ‘Kapil’s Devils’ – who had earlier in 1983 won the World Cup – lifting the trophy.
In the early days, the television came with a roof-fixed antenna and beamed only a single channel – Hindi Doordarshan. When a second regional channel got added later, it helped break the monotony. The count went up over the years, but the first sets had their limitations and could receive only ten channels, forcing many viewers to seek an upgrade or go in for a new TV.
The Quiz programmes by Siddharth Basu, ‘Contact’ by Ronnie Screwvala, ‘Turning Point’ by Girish Karnad and Naseeruddin Shah and ‘The Bournvita Quiz Contest’ by Derek O’Brien were our favourite shows not to mention the family soaps’ Buniyad’, ‘Hum Log’ and ‘Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi’. Initially, the serials comprised of only thirteen episodes.
The epics and mega serials -Mahabharat and Ramayana – aired on Sunday mornings revolutionised Indian television and the sale of colour television sets skyrocketed. My cousin, MDU Deepak Ganesh, recalls stories of empty streets during the telecast. The weekend movies were big draws and saw a full house with friends and neighbours vying for space in the small living area.
Today’s sets are sleek and smart and are a far cry from their bulkier cousins of yesteryears. They double up as a personal computer, music system, phone, web browser, and virtual cloud. Smartphones, however, have stolen a march over them, relegating the television to just another piece of furniture in the drawing-room!
(The author is a former banker who has taken up writing as a pastime. He writes for the Deccan Herald, The New Indian Express, The Tribune, The Hitavada, The City Tab, The Hans India and Kashmir Vision)

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