Cross-posted from Kafila
Away from the revolution of direct to home (DTH) and cable TV networks, the nineties were the time of one channel, when Doordarshan was synonymous with Television for most Indians, especially in rural areas. There was not much on television for a kid growing up except the occasional cartoon clips and Shaktimaan. I was fond of Meena and her parrot Mithu. They were loveable unthreatening characters. The duo imparted important lessons on a variety of social issues. Movies were a strict no-no and the news was other things adults were interested in. Every evening my grandfather would tune in to the Hindi news which was followed by another news broadcast in English. Even as a kid I could sense the repetition but never the reason of watching the same news twice.
In my memory of those days, it’s not Doordarshan that I associate myself with. Luckily for many of us near the border there was PTV.
We had the option of choosing between the two. There was variability in its reception depending upon the terrain. Once I moved to Poonch, a town which is near the border, there was no PTV. If it hadn’t been for the cable network then we would be stuck with Doordarshan.
I was browsing through the songs of Tina Sani after listening to Mori Araj Suno in Coke Studioand I hit a jackpot. It was this one song. It brought back those memories of PTV – see the video at the beginning of this post. The song is from the TV series Moorat which aired about a decade ago. “Babbar” was a character I had never forgotten. It is the story of a boy who finds shelter in a group of transvestites and becomes a part of it. It is a beautifully written series that spoke of human nature in its raw form. Now that I am watching it again thanks to YouTube, a lot of things make much more sense. It provided me my first, and I have to say my only glimpse into the ‘third gender’. It was much later in my life that I got a chance to interact with one.
Uncle Sargam and Rambo (Guest House) are still floating in my head. Who can ever forget, “My name ij Rambo Rambo, John Rambo, Silver Stallone, Cockroach Killer.”
I loved enacting the line. Even as I write this post it is playing in my mind in a loop. Every evening, every season of the year, after dinner the entire family would gather in front of the TV for about an hour. We would have watched at least a dozen quality drama series. I still remember the names of a few — Moorat, Guest House, Tango Charlie, Ainak Wala Jinn.
The serials had a definite ending, and perhaps in Pakistan they still do have the concept of an end, unlike their Indian counterparts, which some times run for decades. The stories were realistic and the relationships not difficult to understand. They did not shy from being critical of society. A comparison with popular Indian series would be futile as they lack both lustre and spirit. I don’t remember any popular Indian series depicting the third gender with such optimism and faith.
During Ramazan, PTV acted sacred. There were transmissions of recitations from the Quran, verse-by-verse translation in Urdu. Azaans with the usual announcement, “Karachi mein Zuhar ki azaan ka waqt ho chukka hai. Baki sahar apne maqmami waqt ke mutabiq namaz ada karien (It’s time for prayers in Karachi. Other cities should pray according to local timings),” followed the dua. It is from here that I learnt the first dua along with its meaning in Urdu. Then there would be advertisements of Knorr and for pesticides for Kapas (cotton crop). TV was a part of the routine during Ramazan too, compared to the present day when a lot of people shun it for its alleged lack of decency, especially during the holy month.
Eid was a special day as it today, but PTV made it even more exciting. The entire day featured great performances. The video tapes of those programs are still a prized possession. There were some really good entertainers. Eid was about humor, a break away from the banality of everyday life. Since Eid is a rare event, only twice a year, I don’t remember the names of any of those popular stage dramas and serials.
PTV too acted as a source of information when the conflict in Kashmir was at its peak. I learnt my first lessons on Kashmir from TV. There were two sources reporting the same news, Doordarshan and PTV. At times the version differed. Militants would be equated to Mujahids. Even as a child I knew Azad Kashmir was the same as Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and there was some place called Indian Occupied Kashmir (Bharti Maqboza Kashmir). Tango Charlie summarized life in the army for me. Then there was the stage of fierce propaganda from both sides with the likes of Pakistan Watch. I could easily say I had a greater understanding than most kids of my age on either side. There were dichotomies and contradictions that I as a kid was too young to question and now am too grown up to understand.
For whatever Urdu I understand, and for the very little that I can read, I am thankful to PTV. I never received formal training in Urdu. Hindi was the trend. All the private schools like the one I attended didn’t have Urdu as an option. I learnt the language completely by listening to and watching PTV. I am not proud of my Urdu, but I can understand Iqbal and Mirza Ghalib. Urdu is the primary and official language of the Jammu and Kashmir state, but it does have a strong hold as Hindi in north India.
Even before I could understand the idea of the National Anthem, before I learned Jana Gana Man in school, I knew Pak Sar Zamin-e-Pakistan by heart. PTV relayed it at least twice a day, at the beginning and end of every transmission. It sounded nice and I learnt it without any conscious effort, just like the Mile Sur Mera Tumahara that came later. Nobody questioned you back then if you happened to know the national anthem of Pakistan.
If technology and media shaped us to any extent back then, I would be a product of the Pakistan Television Corporation.
(Saqib Mumtaz is a student at the Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi. He grew up in Poonch, Jammu and Kashmir.