Trails of a Telephile

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Most people who have gone on to know me as an adult (*we need a footnote here*) believe that I was a kind of super nerd, the sort that gave up on play time, television, nap etc to study.


I was one motherfucking slacker when it came to school and homework. I barely had any inclination to prepare for exams, study or do anything, make it big (if we must). The only kind of thing I ever did was to read and watch. I read everything, from the newspaper cartoon strips to the labels on the mineral water bottles on my journey back from Aligarh Junction. For years, I could remember what all these labels, signals, catch phrases, billboards said. I was lazy enough, to read and not react. I would read the same thing every time, again and again, until I got bored. And then returned to read it again. That's pretty much the only reason why my English and Hindi textbooks and consequently, the score was halfway decent, all along. I used like to read, almost marvelling at this skill my mother taught me.

The other thing I ever did was to procrastinate infront of a screen. I loved procrastinating in front of a television set. Films were not a commonality in my house. As far as I recall, everyone had very diverse choices for screen and consequently, we could only ever come to agreement on exercising those through television channels and separate sets. I can easily announce, for the first 15-16 years of my life, TV was my best friend. Well, almost. I used to religiously worship MTV during meals, Channel [V] for an evening snack and so on. Again, a tip of the hat to my mother, for sitting with me as a kid and watching Udham Singh take over the screen like the real gentleman from the badlands of Haryana. Move over Beyonce, the real queen was Ms Ruby Bhatia. Unknowing that this was the first time something like this happened in India, I was using this approach to entertainment during the times when I avoided studying "Light and Refraction" for unit tests and consequently, mock exams and the likes, and went on to fail all of tenth standard internal exams, each time because television had better stuff to offer. When Sahukar took over MTV, from Broacha, I was livid. Why weren't people liking Broacha anymore? Why was he being overlooked? Why was Bakra's surveillance camera technique hacked by NDTV-Star Network? The "cool" kid in me was mad. This was the first time, amongst several others to follow, my heart was broken by the TV tube, and the programming logic. The only thing I cared for was my exclusive television, that people in my school hardly ever watched, let alone talked about. I was a direct product of the consumption of this media and now it had stopped.

A decade and a half later, I sit down to research and dig deeper on the internet, to look for my story, my arguments, and my potential dissertation- in embryogenic state, left as imprints on the internet in the form of YouTube clips uploaded by production houses etc on behalf of MTV India and Channel [V]. As I look up a video of a filler, "Piddhu The Great", I find myself singing along to the track. I look at my formative years, in retrospect as not having anything remotely Bollywood to associate with. Instead, I found television, which employed cinema- Bollywood in a way, like no other country did. The 11 year old brushed past these sites regularly, unknowingly what it would become once they're dead, not only as my field of study, but also a way out to refigure my growing years and thinking process as a fully functioning adult.

Naturally, I hold no nostalgia to films, none whatsoever with the memes or the jokes. There are limited number of movies, I watched until my eyes bled. I can count them on my fingers. This strange intermedial encounter with television and film bothered me again, at the time of my admission for Masters. I was going to appear for an interview at a place, which guised Mass Communication as a Film Making course. As a pure Philosophy graduate, my background to this field was either what I had seen as a child, or the discourse of criticism that I held dear to me, which was developed over a long time as a disgust of a teenager being forced to listen to the crap/watch that in school over several occasions. I remember every bit of my interaction with the Television Professor at the interview panel, when she and I indulged in a dramatic debate over the logic of 'soaps' being the selling point of Indian television. Her closing remark? "Please go home and watch some television."

I had made it through the course. I had still not come to accept the fact that the television in circulation and consumption was different than what I'd grown up with. Having no films to back upon, and no connection to my television, I'd been forced to exit the living room and descend unto cyberspace, long ago. I knew internet better than Ray knew cinema. I had the dummy screen to my command, and that got me through along with a few friends through Masters. I pursued television, as a specialization, at the end of one semester where I directed a television pilot based on a real life incident. The same Television professor was now a fan of my work, ideas and production design. She'd wanted me to graduate with television and take up the job offer I had received, pretty much due to my association with the television pilot+ the work I was interested in. To this day, she holds a grudge at me for not doing either.

I exited the world of screens to enter a different one, at the end of Masters and somehow, I got back. I was pulled into full force by Cinema, formally. It's ironic for a person to pursue scholarly research in a field they've had no brush with. I'd made more cinema, gotten my hands dirty with the cutter stand than seen it. At the back of my mind, I knew I'd be a misfit. To bring us back, I do feel like a misfit, when everyone flashes back and forth into discussing films they saw as a child/teen and my record holds nonsense on watching television. All of it, like someone was paying me to do it.

It then comes to me as a reaction from the universe when my dissertation suddenly finds itself in the dead fetus of what has grown on to become the present day entertainment on the internet. It is surreal to find myself struggling to write on that, which I was consumed to avoid writing and perhaps everything else. When your procrastination becomes a full blown day job, what do you procrastinate to?

I'm looking for my answers in the sites and spaces I examine daily, feverishly, as I think about the child who once looked at these spaces as a means to escape. The child is still looking for an escape, through these sites. However, that escape is no longer there as a distracting agency, it is now a full blown alibi to my despondency, my incapability to ace anything, and at the heart of this site is the incomparable love I seek, as I remember the 7-8-year-old watching and getting lost in a world which was falsely comforting with its promises about future.

(First part out of a three-part autobiographical essay titled Dunce and Junk as a part of a self-immersive thinking exercise to begin dissertation writing. Presenting my proposal to the entire School tomorrow. I'm halfway bulimic, and halfway suicidal. Reasons for latter can be directed to me personally, after due appointment.)

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