Haresh Shah

How Did I Get Myself Suckered Into Having A Television?


When I say to people that I have never owned a television in my whole life, their first reaction is that of a disbelief. The second, if they are sitting in my living room, their heads swivel around. ‘Uhm, you’re right, there is no TV!’ Big revelation!! They are confused because my living area is configured differently. The couch and the love seat are pulled forward away from the walls and nearer to the fireplace, with a large rectangle cocktail table in the bullpen. The corner where there should have been a huge flat screen, is the corner of the wall with paintings on the either walls. And there is empty galley space between the back of the couch and the sliding door opening on to the Juliette balcony. The very first week when I had moved in and my couch was just delivered, I asked my neighbor Paul’s opinion about what did he think of the placements of them in an L shape.

‘Let me call my wife, she is better at these things.’

Melissa not as much survey as points in the opposite corner.  ‘Let’s see. Well, that corner of the walls would be best for your flat screen television. So starting with that…’  My friend Hurley had the flat screen on the wall space above the fireplace, where I had planned to hang my Radha-Krishna painting by an anonymous Indian folk artist.

‘Wrong!’ I butt-in both times. ‘No television!’

Don’t ask me why. Not even when I had first left India back in 1964 and found myself sitting for the first time in my life in front of a television set in the student common room in London, my extent of watching tele contained of two regular shows a week: an episode of Perry Mason series, probably because at the time in India, the boys my age were all into reading Earle Stanley Gardner, Agatha Christie and Ellery Quinn mysteries. It didn’t hurt that uncle Tulsi’s company was the sole distributor of the American Pocket Books, which I was allowed to pluck from the revolving display in his showroom.
Of all the characters in them, Perry Mason, Della Street and Paul Drake remained fresh in my memory. So it was natural that I would be attracted to its visual version. And I always loved music and never missed India’s most popular countdown, Binaca Geetmala every Wednesday night on Radio Ceylon, moderated by silky smooth voice of Ameen Sayani.  Another natural draw for me was England’s weekly hit parade,  Top of the Pops. I still remember Petula Clark belting out Downtown and bare feet Sandy Shaw performing  her Eurovision hit Puppet on a string. And I watched occasional current affair broadcasts like Harold Wilson’s Labor Party winning the election, Winston Churchill’s funeral and Queen Elizabeth’s opening of the parliament parade.

When I was brought back years later to live and work for Playboy in Chicago, and my very pregnant partner Carolyn and I merged our combined household possessions in our newly acquired condo in Hyde Park,  she too came without what was then often referred to as an “idiot box”.  But it was when we bought a house in Evanston and our daughter Anjuli was about to start her school, did Carolyn feel that we needed to buy a TV for her to at least watch popular kid’s programs, such as Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers and other shows, of which  Reading Rainbow was her all time favorite, so that she would be able to make informed conversation with other kids in the school.  We went out and bought her a smallest screen TV we could find, and put it into her room.  Even so, she was allowed maximum of an hour to watch it. As it turned out, it was fine with her. She took the TV with her to the college and when it died, bought another one equally as small and non-visible as the first one – to be tucked away in an obscure corner. Because other than some of her favorite programs, and renting of video cassettes to watch movies, she too never got into watching television in any significant way.

Without going into psychoanalysis of why I never got into watching the boob tube, an honest answer is: Television has never appealed to me. It wasn’t  something  even on my lowest priority list. I did have a television in each of my two Prague apartments.  But they came furnished, and I ever barely turned them on.  Ironically, I was editor-in-chief of Serial, the magazine devoted entirely to television shows. I did then have a television set installed in my office which beamed as many as 500 channels from around the world. That too, I barely watched.  Zapped was more like it.  Once I got the gist of a new series and a feeling of what the show was all about, enough knowledge to be able to discuss it coherently with my editors was all I needed to know. They would tell me the rest. I must confess though, that when I was invited by the PR department of  The Bold and the Beautiful, to spend a couple of days on its set and given access to interview any and all of its stars of the time, I did watch the show in its entirety for a couple of weeks prior to landing in Los Angeles. In those episodes, not much happened on the day-to-day basis. But I could see how easy it would be to get hooked to something like that.

But still!

So the day the light blinked on my ringing desk phone in my office, I wasn’t too thrilled at the news it brought. On the other line was Millie Gunn, former wife of Mr. Playboy himself, Hugh M. Hefner and the mother of his two oldest children, David and Christie Hefner.

‘Congratulations on your fifteen years with the company.’  She said in her usual cheery and friendly as can be voice, which was for real. Millie worked for the company as its Employee Relations Person. Not to confuse with the Human Resources. She had a certain congenial and very warm way about her. Platinum blonde, dignified and still extremely good looking, she must have been pretty as a Playmate when young. Her effervescence and enviously upbeat demeanor had made her darling of everybody in Playboy’s Chicago office.

‘As a token of our appreciation, the company would like to send to your house a state of the art big screen Sony television set.’  I heard her saying.

‘Television set?’ Probably wondering why I wasn’t jumping with joy and screaming exclamations the way they do on radio shows when one or the other listener is called and told he/she had won a vacuum cleaner or a couple of tickets to a concert.  Instead, sensing my voice dropping, she offers: ‘I get it. You’ve  already got a nice set of your own. Your other option is a VCR.’ Still not getting any rise out of me, she throws at me the next option; ‘How about a camcorder then? Its top of the line. Also a Sony.’

Finally I had to interrupt her.

‘Millie, I don’t have a television, so what would I do with a VCR or a camcorder?’

‘That makes it easy. Then TV it is.’

‘No, no, no. I hate television. How about good old cash?’

‘That we can’t do. Against the company policy.’

So a TV set it had to be. I put it into the most remote corner of my rambling three storied, seven bedroom house.  Bought an old but a classic decorative Radio Gram console from my next door neighbor, Mr. White, who was black! Propped the television on the top of it diagonally opposite from my slat-top desk and the computer. That’s where it remained for years – occasionally watched by house guests. I watched on it O.J. Simpson’s white SUV chase, funerals of Princess Diana and Mother Teresa. And that was about it. But it mostly remained unwatched, unwelcomed and unloved by me.

Before making my big long term move to Prague and putting up my house on the market, instead of holding a traditional “garage sale”, I decided to give away all of my furniture and other material possessions I no longer wanted to keep, to whoever would take them. Anjuli and Carolyn got the first picks. Before choosing television, Carolyn looked at me with a knowing smile: I suppose you won’t be too heart broken if I took the television!!

Note: Originally published as Television, VCR, Camcorder & Me

 © Haresh Shah 2013

Illustration: Jordan Rutherford



Next Friday, January 18th, 2013


You have already met Barbara and Dagmar in the process of  their becoming the first two German Playmates.  I was privileged to get to know them beyond the glare of the photo studio and without makeup. Mini profiles through personal reflections.