The recent excitement and fanfare around the arrival of the Dreamliner aircraft in India reminded me of the good old childhood days. The average Indian household was then deprived of most of the material luxuries (“durable goods”) that we consider basic necessities today. The most sophisticated device that you could expect to find in the house was the radio or the cheaper handy version better known as the “transistor”. Around the late eighties and early nineties, scooters, televisions and refrigerators started entering the average Indian household. Their arrival was marked by huge celebrations. Friends, relatives and neighbours would all come rushing to take a first look of the new member of the family. Pujas, flowers and chants made the whole incident look like a festival!
I have clear memories of the day when the first television (TV in short) came to my “maama-ghar“. Ours was a joint family with 5 families living in a bungalow tucked away in the lap of the hills and forests on the Chota Nagpur Plateau. My grandfather was a physician who decided to set up his practice in the quaint hilly village of Silli in the tribal heartland of Bihar (now Jharkhand). The huge house was complete with mango, litchi, jack-fruit trees in the backyard and farmlands just outside the boundary with a row of hillocks a few hundred meters away.
It was the first TV in the town! It had to be an event! We knew since morning that the TV was supposed to reach home around evening. It was to be bought from Ranchi (the current capital city of Jharkhand) which was some 55 km away but the road had to cut through the hills and dense forests and often took longer than expected to cover the same distance. The entire town was waiting with bated breath for the TV to come. Several times during the day, our neighbours from the tribal village came down asking if the TV had already come. Kids of all ages lined up close to the house as evening came close. The sun slowly set and darkness fell but nobody would move. It grew darker and people slowly started drifting back to their huts.
Much later the sound of vehicle horn was heard and everybody rushed out of the house. The kids in the house zipped across the large playground in front of the house to the other side to see the van even before it reached the house. The sky blue “Matador” van came tumbling down the slope of the playground, chased by kids of various sizes and came to a halt at the doorstep. Children howled in excitement, the women of the house struggled to keep their happiness in control and the entire neighborhood stood waiting with glistening eyes for the TV to be taken out from the van.
The TV did finally come out and it was set up in the largest room of the house. The antennae was fitted on a long wooden stick, connected to the nearest socket board and then the TV flickered on. Sweets were distributed and the doors of the room were opened wide for everybody in the neighborhood to come in. Almost everybody in the small town came down to the extent that I almost felt that the jackals, elephants and the leopards in the nearby forest would also come down to witness the euphoria.
For about 10 years or so since then, the house was open to neighbours from the nearby tribal hamlets to watch TV with us. The TV room was always jam packed. So much so that the actual inhabitants of the house barely found a place to sit. People of different age groups always made sure that they catch up on the “Chitrahar” and the Sunday movies. Whenever electricity failed (which it often did), batteries were put to use! One of my uncles had a car battery charging unit. I guess the whatever he made in that business (if not more) was used up in charging the batteries for the TV.
India has changed so much since then. Bringing a TV or a refrigerator home is no longer a marquee event. We don’t celebrate them. Somewhere those big things in our life have today become obvious and bland. Is this a sign of development or lost ability to celebrate new things in life. The arrival of the Dreamliner proves that we can still celebrate a new marvel like we did in the past or may be not?