Too much choice is definitely a bad thing and so is having no choice at all. But the latter situation was a reality in pre-liberalisation Indian TV yet very few thought ill of it (given that most of us weren't aware of any other way of existence). There were only the Sunday morning National Geographic documentaries on TV and the cartoon shows like "The Jungle Book" and "Disney Hour" for us the younger 'uns and we'd find something else to do for the rest of our hyperactive hours before being glared into going to sleep. We had only one TV channel and try as I might I can't figure how we did spend our hours when something interesting was not on, which was like 23.5 hours a day. In fact, even the single channel, the national carrier DD-1 was not on for 24 hours, with the colourful VIBGYOR no program signal staying on for a major portion of the day.
Fortunately there were a few programs which my parents would watch with us and not roll their eyes at. Remember the show "Surabhi" of Siddharth Kak and Renuka Shahane fame, the only window to the strange and exotic places within India? We as a family were devoted to the show, bitten as we were by the travel bug, each and every member. Unfamiliar places came alive within our drawing rooms, like the village where the residents spoke only Sanskrit and other such real life Wonderlands. At the end of each show, they'd put forward a ridiculously simple question the answer to which was to be sent on a 2 rupee 'competition' postcard to an address in Andheri (E). Whatever happened to the competition postcards from which the Postal Services minted a lot of money over those few years? Every week we'd send in the right answer but never would our postcard be pulled up from the golden urn from which the lottery was drawn.
The prize of a 3 day, 2 night holiday package to Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary remained an unfulfilled dream for us and especially for me. The images of the elephant wading through Kerala's waters while a tiger watched warily as Siddharth Kak's voice announced the winner's name in the background was a reminder that there were locations in the world like this where the extraordinary was commonplace far removed from the cultivated regularity of the homes where the program was being watched and from the studio where the program was being shot. I have wanted to be in those kind of places ever since those days: in Ranthambore, in the Sunderbans, in Ladakh, in the Serengeti, on the Andes, anywhere whose name causes my heart to skip a beat. Periyar came to be the first name that I associated with an existence more adventurous, the others followed as my ability to retain names and places grew. Today I was sampling a fish pickle bought from an Indian store in Attleboro at lunch and no prizes for guessing where it had been packaged. "Periyar" the name sparked up bright and clear, fizzing with unspent potential and the promise of a life less ordinary.