Whatever little imagery stuck in my head from the time I was growing up goes far beyond photography. Television was new to us and programs would only be aired in the afternoons and the evenings. As kids, we would wait with excited anticipation with the television switched on before the scheduled time. I remember the blinding static followed by the colored bars. With that switch, the drone of static would give way to a maintained whistle of a sound that was almost as sharp as the colored bars accompanying it on screen. It meant that soon there would be a countdown to the now iconic Doordarshan (state owned television channel) montage that presented the start of the afternoon’s program. It was all so bad, that it was one of the coolest things I had ever seen.

On television, an animation piece called Anek Chidiya (One Bird, Many Birds), which spoke about strength in unity through a story about birds, seemed to play on television almost every day of my 1980s life. Considering that this video piece had been made in 1974, and from my hazy memory seemed to have lasted through a good chunk of the eighties, it must have been a masterpiece. We were still at the edge of the orbit of socialist India and, more importantly given that I hadn’t yet hit the age of 10, it was not weird at the time to happily sway to propaganda through television meant for children. With the rise of Hindu nationalism and religious violence against minorities in India now, the same tune would take on a far scarier tone if it were to be aired today. My first encounter with a photographer was with film characters Vinod Chopra & Sudhir Mishra. They ran the best photo studio in Bombay and their cheeky confidence, their attire, their hairstyles and, most importantly, their glitzy cameras had me in splits. They ended up photographing a murder by accident while trying to make photographs to enter a photo competition and had all the bad guys chasing them. I was almost eight at the time and having just watched the cult film Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro I dreamt of becoming a photographer for the whole of the next week. I only understood what satire was when I got older.

Towards the late eighties and early nineties, through the phase of liberalization, India had started to open up to the world. I had also started to experience a new world of special effects. Amitabh Bachchan’s Ajooba blew me away and each subsequent B-grade Horror film by the Ramsay Brothers scared the living daylight out of me. It was almost at the cusp of my teenage years that I started to notice photographs.  But it was always events that led me to these photographs and the events were always the horrific ones: the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, Rajeev Goswami setting himself on fire during the Mandal Commission protests, the Babri Masjid demolition in Ayodhya, the Bombay riots, the 1993 Bombay bombings. I remember the images quite clearly because I felt scared when I looked at them. Life was a lot slower and there was far more time to process all these images. It was only later that I realised how much images, both on and off the television, had shaped my way to relating to the world up until then. The seeds of majoritarianism that had been lying dormant amongst almost my entire generation were being nurtured through the images that we saw and with the absence of those that we never got to know of.

The binary of ‘Good vs Evil’ that would play out every Sunday morning in television soaps being watched at home with my grandparents would be based on mythologies including the Ramayana that would be rooted in re-asserting caste, regional and religious hierarchies and very much in alignment with an Aryan sentiment. Gods would always be depicted to look like fairer skinned North Indians while demons and animals would always be shown to resemble either darker skinned Dravidians of the South or the Adivasi (indigenous) community from central India. As a kid at the time I couldn’t quite understand why other kids would make fun of the fact that my mother was Bengali and not from the north and that my parents belonged to different regions, culture and language. I too felt completely justified in giving it back equally to anybody who had been deemed as being my unequal by signals given by the television. To think of it, it isn’t a surprise that only a few years after the success of the now famous 1980’s Television series Ramayana images of those epic battles between Good and Evil that comprised long extended scenes of arrows from the opposing parties, sprouting fireworks, had been replaced by images of conquest of the domes of the Babri Masjid mosque. People who had overrun the mosque had been identified to belong to fringe groups that supported the idea of Hindu supremacy at the time. Today that fringe has blatantly turned into the mainstream and the images that we continue to watch today are often trophy videos of lynching of Muslims, Dalits and people from other communities. These visuals are often accompanied by the one-time invocation and now a rallying war cry, Jai Shree Ram – Long Live Ram, Ram being the main protagonist of the epic telecast on television for so many of our formative years.

It was only in university in the early 2000’s that I came to know of the mass rapes by the Indian army at villages of Kunan & Poshpora in Kashmir way back in 1991. As a child I had first heard the word terrorism on television in the aftermath of  Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination in Sri Lanka. This word was repeated once again when we watched news about the exodus of Kashmiri Hindu Pandits from the valley. Over the years the television would continue to sputter out the same word for any incident including Muslims but in other instances, such as the demolition of the Babri Mosque it would be struck sudden bout of amnesia and the word Fringe would always be used to describe the events. As the television lies on its deathbed today, I continue to wait for it to utter the words Kunan & Poshpora maybe in naive hope that at least now its dying moments the television might have a stroke of conscience to resolve unfinished buisness.