Friday, 10 June 2011

Radio Activity

My family was the first in the locality to acquire a radio.

This was back in the 1930s, and said radio – which still existed, albeit in non-functional form, when I was a child in the seventies, so I saw it – was one of those affairs with a wooden cabinet, a cloth screen to cover the speakers, and huge knobs for tuning. It’s the kind of thing you keep seeing in Second World War propaganda posters.

Almost exactly like this.

This radio created something of a sensation in the world of 1930 India – somewhat like acquiring a Formula One car, or one’s private Space Shuttle, in a society still stuck with horse-drawn carts might be. Apparently, people from all the locality came to see it, and to listen to it, not just once but over and over again.

My grandparents, who were the owners of the radio, rather enjoyed the attention, I suppose. Certainly they didn’t discourage the people who came rubbernecking. And these people reciprocated with open admiration.

Except for two families of neighbours.

These two neighbours were actually my grandfather’s brothers, and their wives and children. They burned with jealousy at the thought that it was my grandparents who were getting all the attention. For a long time they didn’t come at all, even though they’d only have had to cross the street. Finally, one of the two families sent a delegation to see what the “radio” thingy might be.

My grandmother told me the tale with great relish:

“They went back, and began telling everyone, ‘Don’t bother going. It’s only a box, and when you press a switch, noises come out from inside and people start talking.’ “

Much later, in the early 1980s, television finally became a common thing in India, and while these neighbours and we weren’t on friendly terms any longer, you can bet your socks what they’d have said:

“TV? Humph, it’s nothing. Just a box, and you press a switch and people inside it begin moving and talking.”

I’ve just finished writing this, and now I’m imagining what they’d have said to a mobile phone. The best one so far:

"It's just a box. You press a button, and  the people you want to talk to will become small and crawl into it and talk into your ear."

Now excuse me while I crawl into your computer and write stuff there.

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