Monday, January 29, 2007

Remote (out of) Control

We weren’t the first family in the building to own a TV set way back in the days when there was just one channel and no one more entertaining than Tabassum to watch on Phool Khile Hain Gulshan Gulshan (Mr Karan Johar, please note: no coffee, just dimple-cheeked Tabby talking non-stop while the person she was interviewing tried valiantly to get a word in edgeways). No MTV, just Chitrahaar. The brand we bought was Televista, not Weston or Beltek, because it had sliding doors that shielded the precious glass screen. So, we weren’t the first family with a TV set but we were the only ones who allowed the neighbours and everyone else in the vicinity to happily crowd our drawing room when the film was telecast on Saturday (Bengali) and Sunday (Hindi). No Act II popcorn, no Coke, just water or tea and some home-made Sindhi-style pakoras depending on Mummy’s energy levels keeping up with her generosity quotient.

And there was one number Pye radio set whose valves took time to light up as we waited in anticipation while Dad tuned the knobs to get the right frequency and expose us to Ameen Sayani from Radio Ceylon doing the Binaca Geetmala. Or the cricket commentary on Vividh Bharati.

Life was boringly simple. And we yearned for variety.

Yesterday, I wanted to rewind my life and get back to those days.

Because yesterday it finally struck me that my life – always run by remote control by some unseen hand(s) – had been taken over by four remote controls that sat beside me. Lifeless but capable of ruling one’s life completely.

A remote control for the three-year old TV (a Sony Wega that’s working perfectly fine but will probably get exchanged for a flat-screen plasma TV because, again, we’re not the first family in the building to show off a wall-mounted piece of plastic electronic art).

Another for the Pioneer DVD player that came in from a trip to Malaysia four years ago.

A third for the eight-year old Sony music system that’s been connected to the TV to create a home-theatre like sound system.

And the latest entrant to the RC clan is the one that comes with the Tata Sky set top box.

Now, try and watch a movie with everything on (including the Tata Sky box on just in case one of your children sleepily saunters in looking for that missing teddy and you don’t want her looking at a scene that’s a bit steamy and need to quickly change channels pretending you’re watching the news!). No immediate problem until the power goes off and everything shuts down till the generator kicks in somewhere and you need to restart everything. That’s when you realise that irrespective of whether you have two hands or four or none (in case you encountered a Gabbar-like character who took them away) remote controls work one at a time. No two will work simultaneously when pointed in the same direction.

You struggle to gain mastery over these six-inch long objects and wonder if it’s all worth it. They’re making you lazy and they’re not exactly the most co-operative or intuitive pieces of technology, are they?

And then, you ask yourself: if buttons are all I have to hit, why can’t I punch the right ones in my life?

Why can’t I get back control of a life that’s supposed to be mine?

Why, like the plethora of TV channels that get beamed at us, do we have to multi-task and live multiple lives within this one life?

Why can’t we control the remotes?

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