At 8.30 pm every weekday, my father would sit to have his dinner. This time was sacrosanct because he’d like to savour his food with a dose of warmth that he derived from watching his favourite show Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah. Sometimes the chilli would be excessive, the curd too sour, or the food simply too hot (he hates that). He’s very fussy that way and easily loses his cool but invariably the antics of Jethalal and his Bapuji would pacify him. This is papa’s usual coping mechanism. India loses a cricket match? Switch to Taarak Mehta. He breaks his leg? There is always Nattukaka and Bagha’s idiosyncrasies to take his mind off the pain. He loses a friend? He drowns his grief by watching reruns of the show.
My father retired a few years ago and if he was not reading the newspaper or watching the news, he would be sitting in front of the TV all day, watching the same old episodes of the same old shows. It has always been this way, even when he was working. He would come back from work and the first thing he’d do is switch on the TV. I do not remember my father and mother sitting down and having a casual chat; their conversations were mostly transactional – she’d ask him what he’d want to eat, or if he’d paid the bills and he’d reply in monosyllables. It’s something that has been passed down to us. We are that middle-class Indian family which doesn’t talk much – with each other. We are bound to run out of topics when in the periphery of each other for too long. Taarak Mehta... filled those awkward silences.
Often in tense moments, the show came as a welcome distraction. Like the time when papa found out I was moving to the UK to study or when my sister informed him that she had found a guy she wanted to marry. His short temper meant anything would trigger him, even a glass of water that is not placed the right way. An argument would ensue and when my father would get tired with all the ranting, he would put on the TV. The rest of us would watch silently – until Jethalal and Bhide’s tu-tu main main would diffuse the tension in our home. Odd as it may be, watching Taarak Mehta... was the only thing we did together as a family. In all these years then, the residents of Gokuldham society have been like passive family members who have remained unchanged, no matter how much our lives have transformed.
Taarak Mehta... has now transcended from being just a show to a subconscious act of escapism.
Taarak Mehta... has now transcended from being just a show to a subconscious act of escapism, something that both my sister and I – two Netflix-watching millennials – have also taken to. I know the show is far from perfect; it’s too basic, the humour so mundane. It amplifies religious, cultural, and social stereotypes like portraying women as housewives who cook, clean, gossip, and attend kitty parties all day, while their husbands go to work. And despite all its flaws, it offers a sense of familiarity to me that is reassuring.
I remember moving to another city and playing reruns all night because I was too anxious to live alone. That’s when I realised that the Gokuldham society is like that old friend we all have who is “uncool” and hasn’t changed with time, but you don’t want to let go off because you have known her for years. Moreover, Taarak Mehta… also reminds us of the good old days when caring for your neighbour was a thing and life was simple. It is reminiscent of the time when our social networks did not consist of Instagram followers but people from our neighbourhood, when it was okay to borrow “ek cup doodh” from your padosi or visit someone unannounced.
With most of us now exposed to films and shows from every corner of the country and every part of the world, what we have lost is the wholesome family time that TV provided us. I remember, while growing up, my mother and I would laugh a lot more together, as we huddled up to watch Hum Paanch and Dekh Bhai Dekh. Today, we are all glued to our own screens and this has somewhat encroached on the time we spend with each other – even if it is in silence.
Taarak Mehta... fills a void that comes with urban loneliness and it takes us back to days when my family was seemingly normal.
Oddly enough, a lot has changed in my family, but Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah has survived in our home in this age of Netflix. I’ve moved to a different country and my father lives in a care home far away from us. But even today, my mom randomly calls to tell me about the new cast members on the show. Finding an old episode which she hadn’t watched before, often becomes the thing we bond over when we meet. It fills a void that comes with urban loneliness and it takes us back to days when my family was seemingly normal.
My father continues to binge-watch episodes of Taarak Mehta…. To him, the world is okay as long as the show keeps playing. We don’t talk much, but when we do, he always mentions the show. It’s the one thing we have in common and is probably the big reason why I turn on the TV and watch the Gokuldham gang fight a white-saree-clad ghost who can paraglide... for the 18th time.