We live in curious times. There was a post right here on the SCI, claiming that Rig Veda was rigged. The Times of India reports that there are two Lexus cars in Bombay. One is owned by, (as of a few months ago) by Harshad Mehta and he loved his Lexus the most of all the cars in his fleet of 23 cars. My cousin Mahesh, who just recently came to this country from India, has settled down admirably in Philadelphia. In fact, he told me that one of his classmates, who also came here about two weeks ago, has already applied and got a Citibank Visa credit card. Trust these IIT Madras guys to do these things. And do you know that by 1994, all non-desis entering New Jersey will be required to obtain a visa ?
But this post isn't about all these. It is about a piece of history.
The year 1973 was some kind of a wonder year in history. It was somewhat similar to the year 1972 and was a precursor to the year 1974. The Vietnam war was coming to a climactic finish. Nixon was shakily administering a second term. Eating salads had suddenly become a rage. And Pooja Bedi's parents were contemplating about making Pooja Bedi.
Meanwhile, somewhere in a smelly, steamy TV factory in Illinois, Mr. John Smith had just finished tightening the last screw on a massive console TV set. He caressed the set affectionately and put a sticker which said 'Checked by Inspector # 9'. He then turned the TV on. Satisfied, he muttered "She ain't goin' to sound better or look better. No sirree, I'm telling you". He lit up a cigarette and then went home to a cold bottle of Pabst beer and high cholestrol dinner. He was laid off a couple of years later when the USA stopped manufacturing TVs.
Which is how the TV was shipped to Pittsburgh and displayed prominently in an appliance store. Mr and Mrs Brown, who were expecting their first baby in a few months, fell in love with the TV set the moment they looked at it. The salesman told them how wonderful it was. "It can do everything except washing dishes" he told them." Next year they might not make these beauties. And even if they do, the price will go up at least by a hundred dollars." Convinced, they hauled the TV in their father's truck and set it in the living room. Mrs Brown would watch 'General Hospital' and Mr. Brown would watch baseball games. In a short ten years, the Browns felt that the TV had served them well and wanted to get a new set. Realizing a ten year old TV probably had no resale value, they donated it to their church. Which is how the TV ended up in the 'Rummage sale' in the corner church, organized especially to help the new International students.
Ajay Palvayanteeswaran had just arrived from India to join school in Pittsburgh. His uncle, who is a 'Mayflower' desi and president of the Greater New York Tamil Association, had advised him over the phone to watch out for such Garage Sales and Rummage Sales. So, at the crack of dawn, Ajay and his two roommates showed up at the church, waited till they opened the 'sale'. One look at the huge 25 inch console television in the far corner, they flipped for it and doled out ten dollars per head and bought it outright. They carried it on their heads to their apartment complex, affectionately known as 'Daravi' (Pittsburgh guys, how is Daravi doing these days ?) and gently crept through the rickety staircase. After much debating, they set it up at the most central spot, plugged it in and after three minutes of 'warm-up', the TV sprang to life and there was much joy in Ajay's apartmenthold afterward. He called his classmates, wingmates, hostelmates and told them about the wonderful purchase he had just made.
The TV altered their lives immensely. All their twenty odd years of learning about the world, years and years of IIT education - were nothing compared to how much they learnt through the TV. It seemed like there was a whole wide world outside and the TV was the window to it. Everyday, after 5.00 PM, all the fresh desis would congregate in Ajay's apartment, occupy vantage points in front of the TV and spend quality time together. Being a harmonious group, they took turns cooking and sitting on the best seat in the house.
They got hooked to the Channel 6 local news. They liked the woman anchor especially and realized that she changed her hairstyle every two days. Also, when all the news guys suddenly started cracking PJs and kidding each other, the new desis realized that weather report would be coming next. The fresh graduate students laughed in unison watching 'Cosby Show', were mesmerized into watching 103 consecutive hours of synchronized swimming, David Letterman and the hostage crisis in South West Pennsylvania. They loved the commercials and sometimes, they watched some shows just for the commercials. Some days they wouldn't even answer the phone if an interesting show was on. Occassionally, when there was a show on India, they would call all their buddies and organize that evening into a cultural event.
On weekends, Ajay's apartment would transform into the epicenter of paradise. The other desis who lived in the other apartments of Daravi, would cook spicy subjis and take them to Ajay's place. Someone else would rent a video player and they would sit down and watch 'Sholay'. The apartment complex would reverberate to the sounds of twenty odd people shouting 'Teenon mar gayen'. In the middle of everything, the 'Lakshmi Talkies' would have an intermission and Ajay, who made the best chai this side of Mississippi, would proceed to make two dozen cups of tea. A fun time was had by all. On special evenings, 'Lakshmi Talkies' went XXX and dirty movies were shown.
Life moved on. After three years, the three roommates split. It was time for the TV to go. They sold it to a bunch of freshies for twenty bucks.
Somebody conned them into buying a cable connection and a remote control. The joy of watching TV got multiplied twenty folds. Unfortunately, around this time, the roommates realized that the TV was finally showing signs of old age. One day they noticed that almost all the football teams looked like Washington Redskins and there was an orange glow all across the screen, like in the movie 'Parindha'. One day, the picture suddenly died. The roommates let go a pitiful scream and panicked. Instinctly, Srini gave a gentle tap on the left side of the TV. Miraculously the TV came back to life. Pretty soon, the picture started disappearing on a regular basis, especially at the most interesting moments of TV watching. It was quite annoying to say the least. The four dudes had by now become experts at hitting the TV and resuscitating it. They knew exactly where the 'sweet spot' was and how hard to hit it. Srini would lie spreadeagled in front of the TV, with the TV between his legs. When the picture disappeared, he would give it a violent kick and bring it back to life, without losing any time.
Occassionally the roommates fought and they would stoop low and criticize each other's TV watching habits.
"You, nervous, channel flipping, psychotic son of a ..." one would say.
"And what about you ? Discovery channel-watching, girraffe-mating-watching-on public TV. Its like pot calling kettle black."
"Oh ya, who watches golf on TV and who watches saturday morning cartoons and 'The Sound of Music' three times a year." Ad infinitum.
Finally, when it was time to finish their Masters, they handed over the TV to their juniors Bala and his roommates, who had just arrived from India.
"Bala, what I am giving to you today is not just a TV" a tearful Srini said, as he handed over the TV.
"I know" replied the newest student, Bala. "I know I can use it as a desk or maybe even as a large cutting board."
"No, idiot" Srini corrected him. "This TV is like a family jewel. You know the Desi community is like a whirlpool, a blackhole and it sucks everything into it. TVs, cars, bicycles, you name it. Once it is absorbed into the community, it never escapes the desi circles. Hindu theologists would call this 'Karma' and history dudes would call this history repeating itself. Take this apartment for example. It has been handed down from one desi generation to the next, without a break for the past two decades and the landlord hasn't cleaned it even once. We guys are the biggest conservationists. We cycle and cycle and cycle and if anything is left after that, we even recycle. So, machi, I hereby hand over the baton to you. Treat her well. Let the TV be handed over to the future Balas and Srinis and Palvayanteeswarans. Enjoy."
They wiped their tears off. Bala called his classmates, wingmates, hostelmates and told them about the free TV. He called a local friend also. "Why don't you come to my place tonight, Machi ? We can both have dinner and LISTEN to TV."