We all have skeletons in our closets – big, small, heavy, or inconsequential.
I have a giant Smriti Irani-sized skeleton in mine. Why?
Because I used to watch saas-bahu serials as a kid.
Yeah, go ahead. Snigger.
Around the time when the saas-bahu genre was at its zenith (the late 90s, early 2000s), I was among its billions of consumers who stayed up waiting to watch what would happen the next day. I watched Kkusum, Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki, and Kyunki Saas Bahu Thi (in that order, not as if I had a choice in the matter).
With the school’s subtle hints at avoiding TV and films during holidays, my folks ensured I was insulated from all sorts of bad in the world by locking up the TV in an almirah. But they couldn’t do the same with my relatives and so during summers, I stayed at their place and got a glimpse of the evil world that lay in store for me.
It began in a very inconsequential manner – I would be reading the newspaper in the same room, and look up every now and then to see what was going on. Gradually, they expect you to be there when the show starts. On a good day, they even call you into the room when the tunes of the title song begin playing.
On days when I had done something evil (like not going to a temple to attend bhajans), I did not have the license to watch the serials unabashedly. I would lie down on the cot and squint out of the corner of the eye. Or pretend to be asleep, my ears eagerly soaking in every word that the television offered.
And on a good day, I would sit bang in front of the television and gape right at it.
The stories affected me.
When Kkusum faced problems at work, I rooted for her success. If only that smug asshole boss of hers would appreciate the problems she faced back at home. And why were Om’s and Parvati’s children being such nutcases? Why couldn’t they see that their parents had their best wishes in mind? And poor Tulsi. Why wouldn’t Gomzee just see that his mother is only looking out for his best interests? That Ganga might not be as innocent as she plays herself out to be? Why do they not understand? Why? Why??
But cruel as life is, just when I was comfortable with the storylines and the characters – Bam! –summer holidays would end. Come June, and I had to return to the school. There was just one another guy in the class who watched TV serials (or at least admitted to it). I discussed as much as I could with him, informing him of my theories, and listening to his justifications.
In the next ten months, I would think of the shows fondly, wondering what was going on. I thought of the characters and their lives. The songs ran in my head every once in a while, and after carefully ensuring there was nobody around, I would hum the tunes under my breath.
There was simply no information about my favourite shows anywhere, it was like Azkaban in a way. Normally, newspapers have an entire page devoted to TV shows, some of them even venturing into broad summaries of the week’s proceedings. But The Hindu being The Hindu, it chose instead to regale us with the latest figures of buffalo vaccinations in the state, leaving banalities of TV shows to lesser newspapers.
But when you are a teenager, you have other things on your mind, you move on with life, stumbling through your obstacles. And just like that, the ten months of school would be over, and I would be back again, at home.
Now, going back to a TV show was tricky as hell.
Firstly, I couldn’t simply plop myself in front of the television and start watching the shows. I had to prove that I had better things to do, and was watching the shows only because I had no other option.
So I would spend the afternoons doing the stupid homework that the school gave, reading novels on the sly, or cycling like a maniac out on the roads. Afternoons seemed like molten wax flowing down a slide at an agonizing pace. Evenings sped past a little faster, and when it was night, the theme songs would waft into the room, I would pick up the newspaper, and walk into the TV room innocuously.
But that wasn’t the end of the complications. Half the characters from last year would have simply vanished from the show. Some of them were dead, some had come back from the dead, others had gone through a plastic surgery, or leaped 20 years ahead in time.
And it wasn’t as if I could simply turn around and ask, ‘Mother dearest, what happened to Tulsi’s nephew, that Sahil fellow?’
So the first week back at home involved stock-taking. I had to deduce what was happening, grasping at strings of hints that the show offered me, drawing links and analyzing family relations. In the absence of a Wikia or the internet, I had to use my superb deduction skills to understand the characters.
And just when I got comfortable and involved in the lives of others – Bam! – back to school again.
And so the cycle went on and on.
But when you reach your late teens, you have other issues at hand. Pimples, shitty jobs, and a girlfriend.
I stopped watching home-grown TV shows, opting instead for F.R.I.E.N.D.S because a girl I had the hots for in college kept raving about it. A friend of mine had a ten DVD set of the series, and I simply had to slide the colourful chapathi into the machine and watch all the episodes one after the other.
The only TV show that I began watching earnestly on cable television was Kyle XY, which I later learnt had gotten horrible reviews and was stopped after two seasons.
Somehow, I did not have the same connection with angrez shows. Yes, they were funny, and moving, and stirred parts of my body that Tulsi and Parvati would not dare consider, but they weren’t my own. They belonged to a different culture, a different universe.
And then, came Game of Thrones.
Having first heard of it across a bonfire with Old Monk in my hand, I had stayed away from the show since I had never felt a connect with the fantasy genre. But the raves got too much to handle last year, and I finally decided to give the show a chance.
So hooked was I, that I began reading the books, and having finished all of them, am one of the legions of fans who prays for the long life of George RR Martin on a daily basis.
Even if I know what’s going to happen in the next episode, I wait for it with bated breath. In spite of torrents, I still whip up imaginary scenes in my head, wondering how this line will be said, and how that character will be slashed at the neck.
In spite of all the TV shows and films that are floating around in the clouds for me to pick off and enjoy, I still long for Monday, for the next episode of the show.
In a way, it is a revisiting of the days of saas-bahu shows. Of afternoons spent thinking of what had happened, of speculating what is going to happen. Of passing time doing inconsequential things, with a TV show running at the back of my mind.
I am seated across a friend, telling him of my thoughts.
‘But you do realise that this is true of every show, right?’
‘As in, everybody who watches a show waits with baited breath for the next episode…?’
‘It’s just that you haven’t watched a TV show in decades, and now that you have, you keep romanticising the fuck out of it.’
‘Ahem…do you have anything to eat?’