Sunday, August 09, 2015

The blue-green tinge of teenage memories

 *Not the actual model


The communication age received a mixed welcome of sorts in my household. The Sri Lankan airwaves did not carry a television broadcast until the late 70s'. Even then, if it created any hype and hysteria, it did not catch-on immediately with the folks that would soon be my parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. When they finally bought a TV half-way through 1981, just a few months before I was born, it was not so much out of a will to occupy their place in the age of information that would unfold in the decades that followed. Instead, they were caught up in the excitement of being able to watch the Royal wedding - the last vestiges of a colonial past that still lingered three decades after gaining independence - that tipped them over.

My father would eventually come to summarily dismiss TV as evil - even though he never missed political discussions and the like. But thankfully my grandfather had an old TV and radio to satisfy the whole spectrum of our family's cultural and technological curiosities. Whatever my grandfather lacked in terms of mastery of the technology, he compensated for by the abuse of it. Equipment that communicated an entire world's news and follies passively over family dinners, failed miserably to make its own functions and purpose intelligible to the elder of the house.

In hindsight, perhaps the power buttons, volume dials and tuners that made up the interface to technology of the 80s, seemed ill-designed for a generation whose progress was measured by the benchmarks of the Great War. For that singular failing, they endured uncounted years of rugged abuse. Yet, they built things sturdy and strong in the 80s. Cars of that era didn't have any safety ratings. Collapsible chassis and airbags wouldn't have been appealing innovations when only the strongest and sturdiest was thought to be able to protect you. The quality of TVs and radios were also judged not by counting pixels or sound quality, but by how well they endured rugged use.

My grandfather's radio was arguably the toughest piece of equipment I ever knew. Thrown into the trenches all by itself, it would have won wars for him. Even though the TV endured the odd catastrophe, the radio endured - and often won - battles of attrition on a daily basis, and yet remained as graceful in its victories as it was in the many stalemates (it never lost). It would stretch the tape of a C. T. Fernando cassette to the point that it sounded more like a gramophone, but the five year-old that fell asleep to those romantic tunes couldn't care less. Its worn out tuner was dysfunctional and only my Grandfather knew how to tune it. I always suspected that if he shook it violently, it would tune into 'Yes FM', fling it from side to side and it caught up with 'Gold FM', turn it upside down and it was Sirasa... and so on.

The TV was more precious of course, because everyone knew that my father would have no interest in replacing it if it broke down. So it was an absolute horror when everyone was woken up by a loud bang early one morning to find that Rex - my dog - had pulled on the power chord and the TV had fallen off the stand - screen first!!! But of course, it survived. There was not even a scratch on the screen, despite a gaping crack in its casing on top and a dent on its outer metal frame. Placed on its stand and plugged back in, the screen flickered back on as if from a concussion - except the red cathode tube had a loose connection. It never fully recovered right through my teenage years, forever casting my memories of the 90s in a blue-green tinge!

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