There’s perhaps no better/worse time to think about the past than these days of the lockdown. The boredom, a very stressful future, the pointlessness of it all…the urge to enter a time machine to go back to safer, happier times is something a lot of us are succumbing to today. Life, as we know it, is never going to be the same. Good people may end up becoming nicer. The shitty people are going to remain the same. Before this, death (a big word) was like a distant cousin that lived abroad. Now, it has become a next-door neighbour you don’t want to run into. Either ways, there’s no harm in grabbing and holding on to a few tiny pieces from our childhood for some much-needed reassurance, like a pat on one’s back accompanying an “All is well”.
In the beginning of the lockdown, this feeling of nostalgia felt more immediate. It wasn’t those days from the 90s one longed for. It was just for those days from a month or two ago. You know, back when ‘House Party’ was a real thing and not an app, conveniently forgetting that life was just a little less shittier then than it has become now.
But now, this nostalgia has progressed to the second, or third stage. This is made harder because, apparently, all of us have access to the aforementioned time machine. It’s called YouTube, and when one has a lot of time and inexpensive data plans, this machine can quickly turn into quite the rabbit hole. It may begin with one song. But this slope is pretty steep. What started off as a five-minute distraction between episodes of Money Heist, quickly took up the whole day, and, more importantly, the day’s mood.
The connection to Netflix is deliberate. The pleasure points this fancy OTT platform now appeals to used to belong exclusively to what one watched on Star Plus, long before it was taken over by Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi and that other one. In the earlier days of cable television in India, Star Plus used to be the international channel that would later get renamed as Star World. So, when one feels a certain thrill during Money Heist, it’s perhaps pressing the same buttons The Crystal Maze activated all those years ago.
And before the Masterchefs took over our television, there was a lot of amusement in watching Yan Can Cook (his tagline: If Yan Can Cook, So Can You!) even when you weren’t allowed to play with matchsticks.
Star Sports, too, was very different. Not just because cricket telecasts had an animated duck walk by whenever a batsman got out for nought. But because that was the channel (along with ESPN) that would air the best thing in the world…episodes of WWF (NOT WWE!). Back then, the world was divided into just two types of people; Fans of Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart or fans of The Undertaker (usually the older brothers). When was the last time you used words such as ‘The Sharpshooter’ (Bret Hart), ‘Sweet Chin Music’ (Shawn Michaels) or The ‘Vertical Suplex’ (The British Bulldog) in your sentences? Probably, when you had a cool roommate. But explaining the mechanics of the ‘People’s Elbow’ to the wife (with a demo) can be far more fun than any episode of Ozark.
But if you thought only these shows could really get to you, try watching (or, more importantly) listening to the title track of Doordarshan’s Surabhi. That’s arguably THE soundtrack that defined childhood for a lot of 90s kids. It’s not really about the show as such, because we weren’t the audience. But that track alone can single-handedly transport one back to those Sundays where the whole family got together. We’ve all probably got a hole the size of Renuka Shahane’s beaming face that we’re trying to fill with our multiple OTT subscriptions, and failing! Maybe, I’m being overly emotional, a result of this powerful rabbit hole. Maybe, it’s just the lack of Vitamin D. Because life was shitty even then, just as it is now. But the ignorance that led us to believe that WWF was real, sure was blissful.