Publications of  Urmila Goel

Living without a television

published in Outlook Hindi, 29.11.2004 (pdf)

„Kaun Banega Crorepati“ was the topic of our workshop at the University of Frankfurt/Oder. Its significance for the development of Indian television was discussed. Comparisons to the American “Who wants to be a millionaire” and the German “Wer wird Millionär” were drawn. I was not able to participate in the discussion. Not only had I never seen KBC or the American version also the German was strange to me. Even though I am living in the middle of Germany’s capital Berlin. I do not have a television.

My parents had one. In my teens I was always in front of it. My schedule was very carefully planed. Even though this was before the age of private television, there were so many serials and films I needed to watch that no disturbance by an uninvited guest or unplanned excursion was welcomed by me. Once I moved out to join university I took a drastic measure against this external determination of my daily routines and banned television from my home. The surprising part was, I never missed it.

Then a few years back I started travelling a lot on business. The hotel rooms were always equipped with televisions – no matter whether in Germany, India or Nepal. So I thought lets see what I have missed, brush up my knowledge and get up to date with what is happening. I switched on the tv sets. I pushed all the buttons. I spent a lot of time in front of the tvs and normally ended watching BBC World Service. There seemed to be nothing more interesting. Even that was only the second best option. Had there been radios, I would have switched them on. Listened to BBC World Service and some music. I would have preferred that. The daily papers were the only reminder of home in the hotels.

Radio, newspapers and magazines are my sources for news. There I get the background information I want. Information focussed on the word rather than on moving pictures. Information focussed on content rather than on impression. Information I can take in as slowly or fast as I need and want. Television news tend to irritate me just like all the serials, shows and second rate films. I switch on the radio or the CD player if I need some background noise.

Indian newspapers are hard to get in Germany. They take weeks to reach me. But I have internet access. So I can read them online, can stay informed on what happens in South Asia without any delay. If necessary I can even watch short film clips online. But I hardly do. The technology is not yet sufficiently advanced and the benefit too small.

I admit once in a while there is something really worthwhile watching on television. But one needs to study the tv programmes in detail to find these. One has to plan one’s schedule accordingly. Then it takes so much time to watch television. I do not know where people take the time from. I just do not have any. I have to do my research, do the housekeeping, meet friends, read newspapers and books, play football, … When should I watch tv?

But I love films. I cannot always go to the cinema. Or the cinema does not show the films I want. “Mr. & Mrs. Iyer” or “Goodness Gracious Me” are just not shown in Germany. So I have bought a VHS player, my computer can play dvds and my new beamer creates a small cinema in my living room. There I can watch the films I want to watch at the time I want to watch them. I can invite friends to join me. If there is enough time. That is still the major constraint.

The only problem remaining is I cannot comfortably join in discussions about television. Even if I do know a lot about KBC and its German version. Newspapers, magazines and radio are reporting on them. Thus I probably have a better background knowledge on them then most viewers. But I just do not have the first hand experience of watching them. I have not seen Amitabh Bachchan or Günther Jauch in action. I have not felt the atmosphere. Thus I have to admit I am lacking a bit of general knowledge. Which is ok with me.

Urmila Goel is researcher in cultural and social anthropology at the University of Frankfurt/Oder, Germany.

© Urmila Goel, 2004