‘Couched in our idiocy’

'Watching TV!' Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
‘Watching TV!’
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“A loyal telly viewer defends his dedication to the box, adopting sometimes a ‘persuasive’ and sometimes a ‘strident’ sales pitch.”

“A thousand apologies …”, Ranjit was saying as usual in the popular TV series – ‘Mind Your Language.’ It was a chilly evening and I was all cosy and comfy, snuggled up in the razai with a cup of coffee and some snacks.

And in walked one of my brother’s friends. He is the intellectual type – the MBA breed. His idea of fun is two hours of page-to-page reading of the Financial Express, and if you ask him, ‘What’s up?’, he will respond, ‘The Dow Jones.’“Watching TV, huh?”, he asked derisively. Not a very bright question, but these guys always ask the obvious. And there was such contempt in his tone. I fail to understand why one should call the good ol’ telly, ‘an idiot box’ and all of us loyal viewers ‘couch potatoes’? I want to question the very premise of this line of thought. And I wouldn’t use the stuffy old argument about it being educational, informative and what not with channels like BBC and Discovery, for the simple reason that I don’t watch them that often.

“What’s wrong with watching TV?” I asked cuttingly. He surveyed the vast expanse of my waist and commented pointedly that it meant that one could never get enough exercise.

I went scarlet, that bloke has just taken the wind out of my sails. I said lamely, “Well, you know it was better when the old remote-less TV was around. Constant channel surfing was good enough exercise but with this remote, all that is a thing of the past.”

He mounted the attack further, “Watching TV is a dumb activity, requiring no mental alertness.” I fended this one better, saying that it was ‘trying enough’ making some sense of the story-lines of  many of our present-day soaps. And then there’s the flavor of the month – politicians and their speeches. They say a ‘page-and-half’ when just a single word would do. No wonder they are misunderstood and misrepresented. The clarifications only muddle up the scene even further. Doesn’t it then need an acute mind to unravel all the gobbledygook?

He chose not to answer that but instead launched a broadside attack, “TV is a poor substitute to real life and can’t create emotion and passion.” I was emboldened enough by now and demolished his point saying, “My mum certainly gets all worked up with what happens to the various characters of the soaps she watches endlessly. And man, isn’t it exciting to watch a cricket match go to the wire?”

Now he was on the defensive, though not quite all that impressed. I know his kind, they think you are talking real only when you are talking money. So I went on, “Didn’t you read the interview of the CEO of Dodo Food International Inc that appeared in the paper? He said that the company has grossed over a million dollars in its fast food and snacks section. He attributed the success to the loyal Indian telly addicts who gorge on snacks and has lauded them for their ‘mature viewership’ which has meant ringing cash counters and businessmen laughing all the ways to the Bank. He concluded that with such loyal support, the Indian economy was growing rapidly.”

I waited  for the effort to sink in and munched a potato wafer. And then I said, accusation ringing clearly in my voice, “Do you want the Indian industry to catch the Asian flu?”

That won him over. In fact, he stayed on to watch ‘The Bugs and Daffy’ show and deigned to snigger a little too.

And as I watched him leave, I mused to myself that all said and done, I had not given away the prime benefit of watching TV – that after having seen trash recycled time n again, one learns the art of perseverance. Don’t give up, bombard a person with your sales pitch for an ‘X-grade’ product and voilà, not only does he buy it but also agrees with you that it is worth its weight in gold!

This article was published on August 2 1998 in the ‘My Page’ column of Pune Newsline supplement of  ‘The Indian Express’ in Pune, India. I was in my early 20s and had just started to study my MBA course at NMIMS in Mumbai, so many of the potshots apply to me as well.

I had learnt by then that the humour theme helped you get published faster than other genres.The article has aged rather well as many of the jokes mentioned are relevant even today. The ‘Asian Flu’ was a reference to Asian Financial Crisis that happened in 1997. I went on to become a Banker myself  and I do track the ‘Sensex’ as well as the ‘Dow Jones’.

Instinctively people feel Bankers are rolling in money just because for us, the ‘raw material’, ‘work-in-progress’ and ‘finished-goods’ is all money. This happens to be a misnomer, however the stereotype has been reinforced many times over post the Global Financial Crisis that happened in 2008.

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