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A Little Surprise…

by Sujaya Mohan
(Bangalore, India)

This story goes back to the good old days of Doordarshan.

I am sure most of the people would agree with me that the decade between 1985 and 1994 was considered the golden age of Indian television. My childhood was during this time and I remember DD churning out memorable shows like Byomkesh Bakshi, Tehkikat, Farmaan, Circus and not to forget the television epics like Ramayana and Mahabharatha.

One such show that has remained etched in my memory is 'Surabhi.' This was my family’s favourite too. I have vivid memory of all our family members assembling at around 9:00-9:30 on a Sunday night and waiting to see what new topics would be covered on that episode. The show was popular for its cultural theme and covered the length and breadth of India. The show spanned over several interesting topics like history, art and dance forms, handicrafts and handlooms, traditions etc to name a few. The hosts Renuka Shahane and Siddhartha Kak did a fantastic job of showcasing these myriad aspects of our country. Every episode had something new in store and drew the attention of viewers across all ages and stratas of the society. It was truly a one of its kind.
In order to ensure viewer participation, they even had a quiz at the end of the show. The viewers had to answer using the 15 paise postcard prevalent at that time. The winner would be announced a couple of weeks later. This gap was provided to ensure that the viewers from every nook and corner of the country could participate. The mobile phones or internet were nonexistent and the post cards took time in travelling from such nooks and corners to reach its production house. They even gave a small hint which left us all guessing the answers.

For me, the quiz was the most awaited part and what would further amuse me was the way in which the winner was declared. A huge pile of post cards would be poured in front of the hosts. They would then shuffle the pile and pick up the winners. The prize was generally a holiday for the family either to Goa, Kerala or any other such tourist destination.

It was my dream to be a part of this pile and then be declared as the winner. So, for every episode, we used to keenly listen to the quiz and the hint that followed and try very hard to come up with the right answer. A post card would be bought the next day and a lot of care would be taken to write the answer. I remember using sketch pens to write and even decorate it by drawing big floral patterns around the edges. I used to feel that by doing so, it would catch the attention of the hosts or at least, I could recognize it from the pile when the cards were tossed about. As I was the darling of the house, I was given the privilege of signing it with my name- Madhavi....even though the answer would be contributed by a different member of my family.

In one of the episodes, they played a melodious tune and asked which material was used to produce that sound. The sound resembled the one played from a flute. My uncle recognized the sound immediately. According to him, a particular leaf was rolled and held in between the lips. Air was then blown through our lips to the gap in that leaf and thus the sound would be generated. It was just like playing a flute and a part of his childhood games.

Looking at his enthusiasm, I suddenly became confident that we were the only ones with answer right and I would definitely be declared as the winner of this quiz. The very next day, we bought a new post card and with much fanfare I wrote the answer. I even spent a lot of time decorating it. And if I had it my way, I would have even taken it to a temple for the blessings before posting it to its destination. The card was finally posted. If I could, I would have kept my fingers crossed for the whole of next week, till the announcement was made.

The next few days were the longest days of my life. I kept counting the number of days left for the telecast of that particular episode. I would dream day in and day out about my post card being picked up from the lot and my name being announced as a winner. I would become a celebrity overnight. I also made grand plans on using the prize. As the days passed by, I started growing very restless and could think of nothing but yet to be telecast episode of Surabhi.

The D-day finally arrived. I just longed to move the hands of the clock to the time when the show would be broadcast. I was so nervous the whole day that I could neither eat nor drink properly.

And Lo and Behold….the auspicious time finally arrived. We all gathered in our living room as usual and waited for the show to begin. I noticed the expression of each and every member of my family and was disappointed to see that they were all extremely calm and did not have an iota of nervousness that I possessed. I found it quite strange.

Whatever was said and shown in that episode went above my head. I just wanted them to announce the winner. That’s all.

And the moment that I had been waiting for the past couple of weeks finally arrived. They repeated the question by replaying the music again. And then to the utter delight of my family, the answer was right! I now started feeling closer to my precious prize. They then showed us the technique of how the leaves were used as musical instruments.

After the customary pouring of the post cards and shuffling them through left, right, top, bottom and center, the divine card was chosen. I craned my neck in every possible direction, but was unable to see what kind of postcard was that. Was it a plain one or a decorated one? I just sat still and waited with bated breath for the announcement.

Renuka Shahane with her million dollar smile glanced at the post card, smiled even broader and did the honor of announcing the winner..
When she called out the first name…each one of us froze in our respective places... the name that she announced was M-A-D-H-A-V-I…

My uncle knowing the kind of enthusiast that he was, was almost ready to jump and shout with joy. My parents and grandparents had their eyes and mouth open equally wide. They didn’t even want to bat an eyelid for the fear of missing this historical moment. I got ready to react like a winner of a beauty pageant-the look of utmost disbelief, with both my hands paced strategically on my mouth and with tears ready to trickle down my eyes in any moment.The only one who seemed unfazed but delighted to announce the winner was Renuka Shahane.

After the dramatic pause following the announcement of the first name, she announced the last name (or the surname)…..
And Alas…IT WAS NOT MY SURNAME. It was not ME, but SOME OTHER MADHAVI…!!!!!!

We were all brought back to this earth with a sudden jolt. We blankly watched the TV and a beaming Renuka Shahane and Sidhharth Kak were giving details of the prize won.

A surge of disappointed swept over me. Two weeks of excitement and dreams all came to an end. I did not know what to do now. There was nothing to look forward to. After a few days, I got over this fixation and moved on. I continued to love Surabhi and enjoyed the quiz part more than ever. I now understood the anticipation of thousands of viewers, who had responded to the quiz just like me.

As the years progressed, with the invasion of satellite television, hordes of shows have been telecast that invite the viewers to participate and win fancy prizes. Though I have responded to a majority of them, lady luck has never shone on me. But, I am always reminded of this humble show and the very episode that held a little surprise for me……nevertheless for a few moments.


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Oct 05, 2015
by: Lila

Great Narrative...I too participated regurlarly in the quiz, but never got any prizes

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