Friday, May 18, 2007

When Talent Meant Something

In the old days, you needed talent to do something. Take for example a mundane tasks such as watching TV.

When we were in the Middle East, during the early days, there were no 24 hour channels broadcasting the latest desi soaps into our homes. All channels were Arabic, started at noon, and showed camel racing for the better part of the day. There was one channel, Channel 33, broadcast from a neighboring country, that showed a Hindi movie every Thursday night (the weekend night there).

Oh, how we would all wait for that movie. By the way, disregard complaints of adults that nowadays Hindi movies have gone too Western and show scantily-clad women in provocative poses. The 80s films all had a dance in the rain with the heroine in a white semi-transparent sari, 1 mandatory titillating rape scene followed by an obligatory maa-ka-doodh-piya-to-bahar-aja scene. In other words, family viewing.

But watching the channel used to be an art - and our family was the expert in that. We had an antenna for catching that elusive channel. Improvisations, such as twisted chicken wire, were added to it to 'boost the signal'. Thursdays our home would revert to something like this with dad calling out instructions:

"Ok you, go there, and twist the wire at a 45 degree angle."

"Alright, now sit at that position, OK? Don't move, and you will rotate with your siblings on every song."

Periodically a tap was needed into the antennae to achieve a clear signal. You had to tap it properly, at the right place with the right force otherwise you would miss the climax of the movie. Weather forecasts came into play, if it was a rainy day a metallic cloth hanger would be added to the wire to amplify the already enhanced signal.

Then came Zee TV. Our Arab landlord decided he too wanted to catch the latest Salman Khan video so we got Zee TV. And life was never the same again. Flip on the TV, the channel was there. All our skills of catching Channel 33 - gone!

Then there was of course the Camera Man Uncle. This uncle used to be seen at weddings, usually by himself, yet he was the most sought-after uncle. He had a huge black camera slung from his shoulders. Every now and then, some overdressed aunty with lots of make up or some young twenty-something girl with lots of jewelery and giggling uncontrollably would approach him and ask him to take a picture of their group of similarly giggling friends. Uncle would arise from his slumber, pretend to think about it for a minute, and then grunt a disinterested 'yes'.

He would then ask the ladies to pose. And scold them because the first picture would always be spoiled by someone. And the ladies, fearful of being on his blacklist, would do their best to oblige his strange requests, such as "You, come in front. You! to the side. And bhabi, you! to the centre please."

And then of course the girls (or ladies) would bug him for days after until he got to developing the prints. And they would be given, again with a remonstration of why they are not good subjects for pictures and when, back in the day when he was in Bombay, he could shoot Sri Devi and why she was a perfect model.

Nowadays, this uncle has been emasculated by the digital camera. Even my kid brother has one!

"Hey, take our picture, please." [At least he said 'please']

All of a sudden, as you are at a wedding wondering how to bypass the food line, when a camera with numbers such as Zikon 23.5 OPS23/22 is thrust into your hands. You take the picture. Criticism rather than thanks follows.

"Oh man, my eyes are closed. You didn't even say 1-2-3! You just went 1-2-click! Who DOES that? Here, take it again!"

And then, some other kid interrupts, "Oh don't worry. I have Photoshop x.z It has a program for handling bad pictures. We just have to correct the lighting co efficiency by a factor of 0.45, and increase the RGB value of the picture, with slight focus on increasing the R part." And off they go.

Sigh! The 80s.


Athena said...

hahahahaha oh the days of the chicken wire antenna...granted that for me it was in the 90s ;) but i know what you are talking about.

Em said...


Enjoyed the read. Particularly "All channels...showed camel racing for the better part of the day" HAHAHA -- joker!

What's the maa-ka-doodh stuff? I think that part means mother's milk? But I can't understand the rest. I recall saying this before -- your dad sounds like a real fun person to have around :).

a Muslim said...

Hindi movies are trash. Trying to get bucks overseas.

btw-I'm a guy, hijab is for men too, although not as extensive as it is for women.

Anonymous said...

It’s strange that you mentioned 80s. Most people talk about 70s. But I was also too young in 70s to remember anything about that decade. But I do have some vivid recollections of 80s. It was the era of General Zia in Pakistan (1977 to 1988). Now most young people don’t even know that there was a person by the name of General Zia but for me it’s not a name of a person but of an era. This era was marked by martial law, press censorships and Afghan Jihad. But still the directors of Pakistan Television were much more talented than our today’s lot. They produced such epic dramas like Waris, Tanhaiyaan and Dhoop Kinaray. Some people say that dictatorships and curbs on the freedom of expression stagnates the society and fetter the creative abilities. This is indeed true. But such was the talent of those old stalwarts of Pakistan Television that despite all these odds they produced some masterpieces.

Anonymous said...

LOL!I remember those days. We had a VCR that never had a remote control,so you had to go near it and wait if someone wanted to ff, play,stop etc. Sometimes it would heat up and the *picture* would start shaking,so you had to give it a good *smack* for it to *stay*. I remember this so vividly. Ahh,those days are long gone. And true,there was always that *uncle*,we had this guy who came on eids,very good mashallah,his name was ozo,poor guy,about 10yrs ago,he got killed coz the thieves stole his cameras and stuff. We had to endure the one channel back home and it started around 4pm. With local news,world news and there were a bunch on German sports/tv programs, one of them of them was Derrick,a detective or we watched football made in Germany,hehehehe,very messed up,lol. sf

'liya said...

My students use their digital cameras to take pictures of notes I write on the blackboard so that they don't have to copy them down - they can just go home and print/save them. At first I thought they were really lazy... then I realized they're so incredibly smart (and that I'm the fool for doing all the writing) :D

youngMuslimah said...


hey I know channel 33! We used to die to see that one movie. But like someone already mentioned bollywood is going trash..I dont watch them anymore..:|

Moonal said...

the "camera uncle" was my dad for MANY years. it was extremely annoying because he was one of the few uncles who

1) had a wicked camera [which to this day takes amazing photos]
2) actually had photo-taking skillz [unlike a lot of others who repeatedly cut off heads/limbs/ppl on the sides
3) was nice enough [read: too polite] not to decline

sigh. i'm happy everyone has a damn digital camera now 'cos nobody has to bug my dad! although nowadays everyone just wants to use my camera instead so the bugging has manifested in a different form :(

ps:- haha those antenna-fixing techniques bring back some good memories of watching captain majed during iftaar

Suroor said...

Haha! You are an amazing writer and so funny. I love your blog, Mezba!

Rawi said...

Hehe. I'm often struck by how much we belong to a generation!

sonia said...

"By the way, disregard complaints of adults that nowadays Hindi movies have gone too Western and show scantily-clad women in provocative poses. The 80s films all had a dance in the rain with the heroine in a white semi-transparent sari, 1 mandatory titillating rape scene followed by an obligatory maa-ka-doodh-piya-to-bahar-aja scene. In other words, family viewing."

he he so true! bangla cinema is even worse! my dad always asks in a bewildered fashion how it could have ever got past the censor board and my mother always shoos him away!

Ahmed said...

I never had to struggle with antennas much. But I do remember playing with the tracking on the VCR so that movies would play right. Then later when we got a vcr with automatic tracking and the movies still didn't work my Dadi thought I was lazy for not fixing her movies for her :(

The Bengali Fob said...

I was too young for the 80s, bu tI rememebr the 90s!!

Captain Majid ruled!!! and Captain Rabih!

youngMuslimah said...

I wonder why my comment never makes it:(

Athena said...

yayyy captain majid :D

mezba said...

Athena: I know... it was the ultimate.. no wonder Engineering in Arabia came from the Desi lands.

Em: It's true, all they did show at first was camel racing! In fact, I think even today it's there on the cultural channel (number 2, I think).

A muslim: hijabiman? uh-oh.

Skeptic: The only Pakistani drama I know is Dhoop Kinaray. Don't know about the others. Don't have much idea about the Pakistani film industry.

Sf: Can you remember those TVs that had only 8 channels? We had one old Sony like that. We sold it to someone when we left and it still worked in the 2000s as far as I know! But only 8 channels (of which 1 was in English).. how did we ever entertain ourself? Oh yes, going out to play and stuf... Hmm I wonder how many kids today know that feeling.

Liya: wow now that's something. If I was a parent I would never allow my kids to take a digital camera to school though. Who knows what else is going on. You should one day confisticate the camera of a student who's a stud on some excuse and go through the pictures.

youngmuslimah: bollywood does produce some classics even now.

moonal: guess who was bugging you about the make and model of your camera sometime back *blush*

capn majed during iftar haha at least you are a girl you gotta stay home during jummah we had to rush back to watch Remington Steele which started at 1 pm.

suroor: right back at you.

rawi: I know eh? someone recently called me a 'dada'! Can you believe the cheek of that someone...

Sonia: lol I saw some Bengali song recently 'tumi amar tomato ami tomar tomato' and I was like WTH is that... its just soft core porn... even the titles are cheesy "Ma Police Baba Chor" or something equally crazy.

Ahmed: Ah I had forgotten good ol autotracking. VCRs... I still have some tapes lying around somewhere.

Bengali Fob: points for you if you know the original name of Capn Majid (in Japanese).

Young muslimah: It did make it! I was just late in replying to everyone.

Athena: and Bombo the car and Siwarul Asal the bee and ...

thunder.. thunder... THUNDERCATS!!!

Athena said...

"Bombo the car and Siwarul Asal the bee and ..."

eh? eita to chini na :S. But yes THUNDERCATS :D:D. Did you guys ever watch 'abiad? i.e. white fang?

Anonymous said...

Hey,the cartoons I remember growing up were Scooby Doo,He-man(heard they are trying to get Brad Pitt to do that movie)and Casbah(?). Hey,let's not forget 90210!!! We were allowed only a few hrs to watch tv,now it's like one of the basic needs!!!I tell that to my 6 yr old daughter,she thinks I grew up in the middle ages,heheheehe. sf