Sunday, November 12, 1989
The house looked like a theatre. People of all age groups had gathered at each and every corner in the main hall. There were plastic chairs occupied by men at one side and a big mattress spread out in the center that had talking and fighting children on it. They were making such a racket that a seventy-year-old retired judge looked at them and yelled.
“Stop fighting right this second! The one who talks now will go out and never will come inside again!”
Children became obedient and placed a finger on their lips. As soon as he turned away and went behind the curtain that acted as a partition between the main hall and store room, an eight-year-old boy pushed a quietly sitting boy in front of him. That angered the little one and in retaliation, he clutched the hair of his offender. Other kids looked on and joined in the fight soon.
Women had finished their respective works in the kitchen very early. They were the first ones to have woken up at 4am. They had cleaned the house and washed the floor. Then they finished making breakfast and served it to their family members quickly. So that everybody could eat easily before the neighbours arrived. They prepared lunch and kept it ready so that they needn’t worry about it later if they got late. They went in the pooja room and collected some incense sticks. They placed it in the main hall in front of the TV along with a match box. Some women went outside on the street to collect some fresh red hibiscuses growing on the road-side trees. They plucked all the visible flowers that their hands could reach and brought it back home. One of them was a sixty-five-year-old proud mother-in-law. She squealed excitedly while washing some clothes under a handpump. That brought her to the attention of other women in the aangan.
“Now we also have a colour TV! Today all the neighborhood will come to know! How good that my son married this girl and the TV landed in our house! One good has finally come out of this marriage so far, thank god!”
Siya flushed on hearing her mother-in-law’s words but didn’t dare to say anything. She finished cleaning the cutleries in the no-roof bathroom under the spotless blue sky and went to change her saree. She wanted to look at her best like a newly arrived bride in front of other women, who would be arriving soon within an hour from the back door of the aangan.
“Arrey judge saab! Where is my seat? I had told you yesterday that I want to sit in the front today!”
The retired judge looked at the main gate. The crowd of youngsters who had brought wooden stools and small mattresses from their own houses, were making space for the new arrival to go through them. It was a tough task for the judge’s best friend to reach the main hall amongst the impatient and jostling crowd. He panted on reaching the main doorstep and hit a young boy with his walking stick, who was sitting on the threshold, busily picking his nose and hadn’t noticed anyone behind him.
“Oi you! Budge up young man!”
The boy hastily stood up to let the old man pass. The judge came forward, apologized and helped his friend to take the place that he himself had vacated now. Then he moved his eyes in search of some another suitable place to sit and spotted his son. He gave one look and his son vacated his plastic chair. The old man occupied it and relaxed. Meanwhile his son searched for another vacant place for himself and spotted an unoccupied corner of the mattress. He moved towards it. Quickly like a flash of lightening, a hand appeared and it placed a handkerchief at the place. The son looked up at the source. A small girl, wearing a glittering frock and neatly tied plaits, grinned and replied,
He glared. No place for him to sit in his own house!
The boy sitting in the front was asked to switch on the TV. He pushed the power button with his little thumb and the screen flashed. Everyone cheered. The women folk sitting behind the curtain folded their hands, whispered prayers and became attentive. Those who were sitting in the verandah shouted to their neighbours. The neighbours in turn, informed it to the birds sitting on the branches of the huge Neem tree, which flew and spread the news to the entire colony. The street outside became empty. Not a soul on the road. Shops closed. Street stalls vacated. No vehicles on the highway outside the colony. No one in the temple. The priest had locked it and was sitting in the center chair of the main hall in the judge’s house. Today, every devotee was present around the first color TV in the whole neighbourhood. A pin-drop silence fell in the room. The most anticipated show was about to start soon. And then it went off. The channel started hissing sounds and mosquito like images appeared on screen.
“Did they reach?”
The message was passed on from men to boys and from these boys to the youngsters who had finally reached the terrace under the hot sun. Those youngsters shouted at the top of the lungs in affirmative and started pushing the antenna left and right.
The judge was on tenterhooks. Brand new colour TV in the house, impatient crowd sitting behind him and a worst antenna ever invented in the entire planet on terrace.
The screen suddenly cleared. Men got up from their seats, looked upwards and shouted towards the roof “STOP”. As a safety measure and not to lose time later if this incident repeats again, a young boy was ordered to be on guard to push the antenna again if needed to.
The most awaited show of the weekend started.
“JAI SHRI RAM!” the crowd thundered.
Somebody lighted few incense sticks and placed it near the TV. The smoke rising from these sticks soon started spreading in the air. Some men picked up their kids and placed them on their shoulders so that they could see the Ramayan clearly. When Ram and Laxman appeared on the screen, an old lady got up and placed fresh Mogra flowers in front of it with tears in her eyes. Women forced the toddlers sitting on their laps to fold their hands in a Namaste. When Sita arrived, a middle aged lady stood up, pushed the crowd around her, reached the TV and placed a 10 rupee note in front of it. This was followed by more people standing up and going towards the television to offer their devotion in the form of some 1 or 2 rupee coins, five rupee notes and even 20 rupee notes.
“Monkeys!” a boy sitting in the back of the verandah suddenly shouted.
Heads turned. There were few monkeys with very long tails that were getting down from the branches of the Neem tree and walking on the street outside.
After a few seconds, the priest shouted,
“Hanumanji has arrived!”
The crowd roared their approval,
“SIYAVAR RAMCHANDRA KI JAI!”
After some time, when Ravan came in disguise to kidnap Sita, the visual changed to black and white moving spots with a khar-khar sound. The crowd went mad. People got up from their seats in protest. Some banged their hands on the television set in an effort to bring the serial back on the screen.
“Arrey…who pushed the antenna?!” the judge bellowed.
The question was passed on from boy to boy in the verandah and finally to the youngster on the terrace. He shouted something that was passed back from boy to boy and finally to the irritated crowd in the main hall.
“It’s the monkeys! One of them is sitting on the antenna!”