Precisely two Sundays ago, I uncharacteristically made the unilateral decision to ban all Indian news channels that are for the most, playing in the background, even if on `mute’. They had become nothing more than Covid channels with the Wall-to-Wall 24×7 enclosed `C’ coverage. And yes, I am vehemently going to avoid the `C’ word and this is the kind of promise that does not come with the in-built rationale that `promises are meant to be broken’.

As it is, for over a year now, there is a sense of disrepair, a relentless listlessness, an inertia despite attending a staggering number of Zoom prayer meetings, dance fests and interactions of professional nature. The era of couch potatoes had commenced with an unpredictable energy 15 odd months back. People who barely had the time or rather inclination to sit for a few fidgety minutes in front of the idiot box, became mesmerized with the new toy. Reading a book or taking out one’s paint brushes to paint, an interactive process! Cuddling up with a cushion, plonked on a sofa, in front of the Telly, a passive pastime, shaving off the hours till one dozed off to face another Lockdown day the following morning.

However, our relationship with a couple of Hindi Soaps commenced last year, long before I became a control freak, banning `C’ news channels. Of course, we—my Mum, husband and myself—watched other serials as well, Sherlock Holmes, The Wonder Years, to name a few, but somehow the world of Hindi Soaps saw us, especially post-dinner, landing at their doorsteps. However, over the past few months, except for two, which have a charmingly different storyline from the rest, the T.V.s are on, yet shushed, put on mute.

Wonder why the television is not simply turned off?! Maybe it provides some backdrop colour to a blursday or perhaps it’s because the televisions in this house are used to be in the active mode, that switching them off would make them go into a withdrawal, a dormancy that most of us have especially experienced in these heightened two months. Anyways, this is a dilemma only a Hamlet could understand! In these Soaps, where thousands of us drop everything, settling down addictively to devour to the point of even silencing our WhatsApps, there is, at high-mast, bubble-headedness.

A gaggle of women living in a huge joint family are the main characters and ever-dressed as if they are due to attend some celebrity wedding in heavy Banarasi silks or lacy chiffon saris that could make good as lingerie in the bedroom. The embroidered, gold glittering saris never repeated despite the 100-something episodes aired, outstrip Jacqueline Kennedy’s `never repeat dress’ policy.

But why go that far, an Ambani bride’s trousseau would fall short. Either the producers of these shows are super rich, given the expanse of their viewership, or they have sealed a deal with some Sari Showroom where they rent and return, and every `saas’, `bahu’, `sautan’, `bai’, have myriad yards of silk to meet the programmatic requirements, tailored to make them prolifically conspicuous and so the show gleefully goes on. Film this by: women draped in most magnificent saris—it’s another story that they, may not be able to carry them off, given the fat bulging from the tummy, torso.

The backless blouses ballooning with back-fat (for the life of me, have not been able to comprehend these back-unveiling blouses). The other in-your-face reason, for the ensemble not quite being able to put together the character, is also age. Can the Saasu Mä, of the daughter-in-law, who in turn, is the mother-in-law to a cluster of daughters-in-law, despite the glossy blood red lipstick, mandatory sindoor and manglasutra that has to be worn at all hours, even while sleeping or bathing, come hell or high water, look the part in the brightest peacock hues with brocade so heavy that it practically enfolds the lady in question?!  Since I am presenting clips, might as well go the full throttle, and videograph to do away with the patchwork and make a mini-movie! Men in these melodramas, usually so, stand in the background like statues or are lame-brained pawns in the hands of their mothers, wives or whichever lady in the house happens to wield the baton.

They only come to wooden life if they have to make some earth-shattering decision, with dead seriousness (remember, no acting craft is required since stilted they already are!) that the woman who has been a dutiful wife for 30-odd years, bearing `his’ children, better tow the line or else return to her `maika’, `maternal home’, which in all likelihood, would be just a concept, with the parents of the soon-to-be-exiled wife long gone! However, coming back to these blank-faced men—who are either puppets, yes-men, lapdogs or foils to their compulsively plotting wives—depending on the unfolding story. They are forever taken in by their better-half’s politics; so swayed are they with their select family females—though it may not be visible on their bald faces and in their blank eyes. Women with their pancaked flawless faces, moon-sized bindis, necklaces that would put a `nau lakha haar’ to shame that covers thick necks, with matching pendulous earrings that with a single pull could tear the ears out, painted nails looking more like claws, given their three-inch long length, seem to be stealing the show. Their men, usually running successful businesses, overseeing hundreds of employees, are hook, line and sinker taken in by wifey dear’s conniving, crafty ways.

Machiavellian machinations, what’s that, their bone-headed cry?! And what one re-eally cannot comprehend is, why these back-to-back, scheming cunning plots in the first place?! Does their happiness lie in—besides the daily doses of event-managed, theme-based kitty parties—hounding a poor lamb, to at every turn taunt her, smear her character while the husband is a gullible onlooker. A sort of unearthly sadism?! Before winding up, must mention that the younger counterparts are dressed ditto, and yes, being blithe and slim look like evergreen brides. Slipped my mind to mention the mile-long lashed-out eyelashes, the laid-on thick sapphire or rust tinted eyeshadow. This again, age no bar! Last of all, chopping ghiya with panache, in designer kitchens with not a droplet of perspiration, that too with free-flowing, knee-length tresses. A seven-course meal opulently laid with no sweat, leaving a French chef open-mouthed! No housekeepers, cooks or gardeners needed to tend to the shimmering palatial mansion that the sprawling family resides in.

Was it not Aristotle who said, `Man is by nature, a Social Animal’? Cannot refute this. There also was his doctrine of Man being a Political Animal. Little did he know that this thesis, courtesy our Soap Operas, would extend to pantry politics, kitchen politics, drawing room politics…

Dr Renée Ranchan writes on socio-psychological issues, quasi-political matters and concerns that touch us all