Television sets: Muted and unmuted

Photo: Fine Art America

By Nishi Pulugurtha

Television entered our lives sometime in the eighties. It was a community affair mostly as only a few households had a television set those days. Even when it became a common thing in homes, we did not have one. Appagaru (my dad) did not approve of it – it was the idiot box and would surely be a distraction for us. It came into our home much later when I was doing my masters. I watched little and only when I had absolutely nothing to do or did not feel like doing anything else. And even when I did, I would mostly be surfing channels and linger on at some for a few more minutes before moving on to see what some other channels had in store. As the lockdown set in and home was where I was for over a year, I watched my share of movies and series on the television. This time, though, things had changed, and I was able to pick and choose things I wanted to see and was keenly interested in.

I am not going to write about my lockdown television viewing which surely could make for some interesting writing, given the wide variety that caught my attention and the time at my disposal. As I listened to a lecture on YouTube (again something that has been a part of my life and work in these times), I heard the author Sumana Roy speak about the ‘I’. There was something in that talk that caught my attention and took me back in time, relating to the television and life. She said if there were two television sets in a room, there would be a cacophony. Now, that was a scenario I had seen and that had left me surprised. It was something that had always remained with me, one of those memories that makes one feel nice and brings a smile.

I was visiting a friend’s place. She was someone I had been acquainted with at the time. We bonded well and the fact that we attended the small school might have added to it. I was at the university delivering lectures and she had called me to ask me to drop in at her place on my way home. Since a hot beverage and some adda are always welcome, I decided to drop by her place. Her home – a building over 100 years old, as she later told me – was in the older part of north Kolkata. That was another reason why I was interested in visiting her. The building had a high roof, with old beams, big windows with grills, terrace walls, and the ‘roack’ at the entrance. The neighbourhood buildings stuck close together like old friends and acquaintances that have always been together whether they liked it or not. The place exuded a charm of its own.

It was not difficult to navigate my way, given her perfect directions. Soon I was inside her house. I was taken up a flight of stairs, into a large room, where I met her in-laws. The old couple were more than happy to see a guest and we began talking. I don’t remember much of the room, except two wooden large cupboards. What caught my attention, however, was a side of the room. In the space between the large wooden bed and the large windows, there were two tables, which could have been cupboards too, if I remember right.

On each of these tables/cupboards, there were two television sets of the same size. When I walked into the room and spoke with the two septuagenarians, both the television sets were on. They beamed two different channels – one had a Bengali serial and the other had a cricket match in progress. Uncle had the remote of both the television sets in his hand and he was not toggling the channels on these two sets. Both he and his wife were engrossed in the programmes and each was focused on his/her set. As we kept speaking, their attention moved from our conversation to the television. As they both spoke to me and made sure I felt more than welcome, I noticed the televisions. It took me some time to realize the scenario, though. Uncle muted one television at a time. When the Bengali serial was on the mute, the cricket match commentary could be heard; when the cricket match was muted, we could hear the dramatics of Bengali serials. The whole performance was enacted seamlessly.

As we moved away to the terrace talking and taking in the sights, all that remained with me was what I saw in that room with the two televisions sets on. I even mentioned it to my friend who said that this was how things have been with the two older folks for some time now. And no, there was no confusion, no cacophony in that room, as the couple went on with their lives and their television viewing. Both of them seemed completely at ease with the arrangement.

In a world where violence of all kinds is so much a part of our lives, a world where we refuse to work our lives so as to ease things a bit, I am always reminded of the two television sets in the room. When the news of uncle’s passing came in some years ago, my thoughts turned to the two television sets in the room, one switched off now as the viewer was no longer there. He might have another set wherever he is but, like Aunty, he is surely missing the images flickering on the muted one.

Dr. Nishi Pulugurtha is Associate Professor in the department of English, Brahmananda Keshab Chandra College and has taught postgraduate courses at West Bengal State University and Rabindra Bharati University. Her research areas are British Romantic literature, Postcolonial literature, Indian writing in English, literature of the diaspora, film and Shakespeare adaptation in film. She is a creative writer and writes on travel, Alzheimer’s Disease, film, short stories and poetry. Her work has been published in The Statesman, Kolkata, in the anthology Tranquil Muse and online – Café DissensusColdnoonQueen Mob’s Tea House and Setu. She has a monograph on Derozio (2010) and a collection of essays on travel, Out in the Open (2019).


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Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine“Pandemics/Epidemics and Literature”, edited by Nishi Pulugurtha, Kolkata, India.

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