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Growing up with PTV in Poonch: Saqib Mumtaz

September 13, 2011

Guest post by SAQIB MUMTAZ

Away from the revolution of direct to home (DTH) and cable TV networks, the nineties were the time of one channel, when Doordarshan was synonymous with Television for most Indians, especially in rural areas. There was not much on television for a kid growing up except the occasional cartoon clips and Shaktimaan. I was fond of Meena and her parrot Mithu. They were loveable unthreatening characters. The duo imparted important lessons on a variety of social issues. Movies were a strict no-no and the news was other things adults were interested in. Every evening my grandfather would tune in to the Hindi news which was followed by another news broadcast in English. Even as a kid I could sense the repetition but never the reason of watching the same news twice.

In my memory of those days, it’s not Doordarshan that I associate myself with. Luckily for many of us near the border there was PTV.

We had the option of choosing between the two. There was variability in its reception depending upon the terrain. Once I moved to Poonch, a town which is near the border, there was no PTV. If it hadn’t been for the cable network then we would be stuck with Doordarshan.

I was browsing through the songs of Tina Sani after listening to Mori Araj Suno in Coke Studio and I hit a jackpot. It was this one song. It brought back those memories of PTV – see the video at the beginning of this post. The song is from the TV series Moorat which aired about a decade ago. “Babbar” was a character I had never forgotten. It is the story of a boy who finds shelter in a group of transvestites and becomes a part of it. It is a beautifully written series that spoke of human nature in its raw form. Now that I am watching it again thanks to YouTube, a lot of things make much more sense. It provided me my first, and I have to say my only glimpse into the ‘third gender’. It was much later in my life that I got a chance to interact with one.

Uncle Sargam and Rambo (Guest House) are still floating in my head. Who can ever forget, “My name ij Rambo Rambo, John Rambo, Silver Stallone, Cockroach Killer.”

I loved enacting the line. Even as I write this post it is playing in my mind in a loop. Every evening, every season of the year, after dinner the entire family would gather in front of the TV for about an hour. We would have watched at least a dozen quality drama series. I still remember the names of a few — Moorat, Guest House, Tango Charlie, Ainak Wala Jinn.

The serials had a definite ending, and perhaps in Pakistan they still do have the concept of an end, unlike their Indian counterparts, which some times run for decades. The stories were realistic and the relationships not difficult to understand. They did not shy from being critical of society. A comparison with popular Indian series would be futile as they lack both lustre and spirit. I don’t remember any popular Indian series depicting the third gender with such optimism and faith.

During Ramazan, PTV acted sacred. There were transmissions of recitations from the Quran, verse-by-verse translation in Urdu. Azaans with the usual announcement, “Karachi mein Zuhar ki azaan ka waqt ho chukka hai. Baki sahar apne maqmami waqt ke mutabiq namaz ada karien (It’s time for prayers in Karachi. Other cities should pray according to local timings),” followed the dua. It is from here that I learnt the first dua along with its meaning in Urdu. Then there would be advertisements of Knorr and for pesticides for Kapas (cotton crop). TV was a part of the routine during Ramazan too, compared to the present day when a lot of people shun it for its alleged lack of decency, especially during the holy month.

Eid was a special day as it today, but PTV made it even more exciting. The entire day featured great performances. The video tapes of those programs are still a prized possession. There were some really good entertainers. Eid was about humor, a break away from the banality of everyday life. Since Eid is a rare event, only twice a year, I don’t remember the names of any of those popular stage dramas and serials.

PTV too acted as a source of information when the conflict in Kashmir was at its peak. I learnt my first lessons on Kashmir from TV. There were two sources reporting the same news, Doordarshan and PTV. At times the version differed. Militants would be equated to Mujahids. Even as a child I knew Azad Kashmir was the same as Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and there was some place called Indian Occupied Kashmir (Bharti Maqboza Kashmir). Tango Charlie summarized life in the army for me. Then there was the stage of fierce propaganda from both sides with the likes of Pakistan Watch. I could easily say I had a greater understanding than most kids of my age on either side. There were dichotomies and contradictions that I as a kid was too young to question and now am too grown up to understand.

For whatever Urdu I understand, and for the very little that I can read, I am thankful to PTV. I never received formal training in Urdu. Hindi was the trend. All the private schools like the one I attended didn’t have Urdu as an option. I learnt the language completely by listening to and watching PTV. I am not proud of my Urdu, but I can understand Iqbal and Mirza Ghalib. Urdu is the primary and official language of the Jammu and Kashmir state, but it does have a strong hold as Hindi in north India.

Even before I could understand the idea of the National Anthem, before I learned Jana Gana Man in school, I knew Pak Sar Zamin-e-Pakistan by heart. PTV relayed it at least twice a day, at the beginning and end of every transmission. It sounded nice and I learnt it without any conscious effort, just like the Mile Sur Mera Tumahara that came later. Nobody questioned you back then if you happened to know the national anthem of Pakistan.

If technology and media shaped us to any extent back then, I would be a product of the Pakistan Television Corporation.

(Saqib Mumtaz is a student at the Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi. He grew up in Poonch, Jammu and Kashmir.)

19 Comments leave one →
  1. September 13, 2011 2:02 AM

    nice write up………..

  2. Kitapati permalink
    September 13, 2011 11:33 AM

    Nice article. Growing up in a remote south indian village, I grew up listening to BBC. Even now I have a cockney accent and consider ‘Long live the Queen’ as my national anthem.

  3. Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal permalink
    September 13, 2011 1:58 PM

    Interesting. I think my generation can relate to this even better, having grown up in Jammu, watching PTV , which is so deeply embedded in our lives with all its poetry and wonderful serials, in times when they had their best productions – 70s and the 80s. With the added benefit of there being no political propaganda (other than singing paeans in praise of the Pakistani government of the day). miss Moin Akhtar and Anwar Maqsood especially! What fine sense of humour and so classy.
    Doordarshan was just a channel remembered on three days – sunday movie and two chitrahaars.

  4. September 13, 2011 3:05 PM

    What a lovely post. Someone on Twitter said it reminded him of growing up in Shillong with Bangladesh TV!

  5. September 13, 2011 4:00 PM

    This reminded me of the days when everybody at my home used to watch a show named Neelam Ghar hosted by Tariq Aziz. PTV again. It was so much fun. Only two or three channels to surf (only if you are lucky enough to receive the transmission) and life was so much easier.

  6. September 14, 2011 1:10 AM

    bahut dandora pit raha PTV ka, magar jo kuch mein idhar do serials ka chote se episodes dekha hain usmein to kuch khas nahin hain. Perhaps in those days when private channels were not widespread in India they offered some entertainment to viewers across the borders. But now it is a different story here – technically and even story wise.

  7. Sadhia permalink
    September 15, 2011 8:15 AM

    Awesome work (:
    how can you remember such small details?

  8. Umar permalink
    September 15, 2011 11:21 AM

    As a Kid I was very much interested in Television and Radio programs. I would watch PTV on booster-supported antenna which is still lying in our attic. It was PTV that introduced the concept of advertisements and shows like Neelam Ghar. DD those days was too raw to telecast or make such programs. True that Urdu is the official language of JK, but most of the people in JK during those days would completely rely on PTV to learn and understand Urdu.
    Brilliant Piece.

  9. Ankita permalink
    September 16, 2011 1:18 AM

    Actually this reminded of my childhood too. I am a Bengali brought up in Lucknow. I guess it was late 80s or early 90s when there was just one house in our predominantly Bengali mohalla that had a VCR. My mum including other kakimas and jethimas would finish their work and go to our neighbour’s house in the afternoons and watch Pakistani serials that were available in video cassettes in those days. I was too young to remember the character or content, but some names like Dhoop Kinare, Ankahi, Tanhaiya still stand out. I dont know how much Urdu they mom or others followed but they loved it. After reading this post now I am tempted to find these serials on U Tube.

  10. Nomaan Hafiz permalink
    September 17, 2011 1:20 AM

    it brought up all those beautiful faded memories………feeling like revising my past with much more understanding …………… hats off…!!!!!

  11. Ovais permalink
    December 1, 2011 9:16 PM

    Saqib’s vivid depiction of the childhood reminiscence is thought provoking and realistic!
    The repetition of the news telecast by me was due to the clarity and comprehensiveness of the DD English news. I am much pleased that his approach is realistic and the language is lucid. I wish him success in life.

    GRANDFATHER ( YOUSAF KOHLI)

  12. Gowhar Rafiqi permalink
    July 19, 2012 9:36 PM

    For a kid to remember the minutest details is really wonderful. The vivid details remind me of my early childhood in Kashmir when we would go to a neighbour’s for watching the Sunday movie over Doordarshan. There were no restrictions on part of the neighbours and everybody irrespective of one’s faith, class or status was welcome. It was an entirely different atmosphere and I would watch the movie so that I would be able to narrate the same to my classmates the next day. Except for this reason, I had no interest in movies, but to be left alone during the discussions on every aspect of the movie was just horrible.

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