"Aayo! Aayo!"The Advent of Television in Nepal

By Amar B. Shrestha 2016-05-19

Aayo! Aayo!” This was an oft-repeated refrain in many homes in the early 1980s. It’s not easy to translate into English (closest one is, “Here it comes! Here it comes!”), but if I explain the reason for it, you’ll understand better. Fact is, those days, television sets were just making their way into an increasing number of Nepali homes. It was a novelty; conversations would frequently roll around the stirring subject of television. More and more people were traveling to places like Hong Kong and Bangkok, and they would bring back the astounding news that television sets were on 24 hours of the day in those cities, and one had a choice of hundreds of thrilling channels! Talking was not all that they did, almost all of them from lugged back a set themselves. Those not lucky enough to make such trips, especially people living in the towns bordering India, bought Indian brands. In any case, a television set became a must in every household. 

Problem was that catching signals of nearby Indian channels (or rather, Doordarshan, since that was the only one there at that time) wasn’t easy.  Overnight, large aluminum antennas began to sprout like mushrooms from numerous rooftops. However, soon enough, people began to realize that just having a TV set and an antenna weren’t enough. Delhi was too far off. Businessmen, smelling a kill, began to import signal boosters of varying power and cost, while other equally enterprising guys opened workshops to make all kinds and sizes of antennas. People with a mechanical bent opened establishments offering their services to have the ponderous job of installing antenna, boosters, et all, done properly.  Indeed, the introduction of television sets into the country spawned a virtual industry. It wasn’t long before video cassette players and recorders also became essential parts of importers’ orders, since many TV set owners simply gave up any hope of receiving clear signals, and switched to watching recorded movies instead. 

Anyway, coming back to “Aayo! Aayo!” (the battle cry of those days), TV set owners  spent days in tinkering around with boosters and antennas, and in rotating dials (of cheaper Indian brand TVs) and pressing switches (of imported Japanese brand TVs) just so the fuzzy images became a bit less fuzzier. On the rooftop, hours went into twisting and turning the antennas first to the east, then to the west, then to the south, the north, the northeast, the southwest, and so on. You get the picture? Sadly, for the most part in those early days, the pictures just refused to reveal their true selves. If one were to go visit somebody’s house, it was a high probability to find the son (or the servant) up on the roof with his hands around the aluminum pole with the antenna on top, while the father (or the homeowner, in the case of the servant) handling the dials and switches on the TV set in the sitting room with the finesse of a fine art artist. 

If, by sheer luck, the image on the screen became something identifiable, up would go the cry, “Aayo! Aayo!” It would be echoed by the women and the children hunkered around the TV set.  Soon, there would be a clamoring of “Aayo! Aayos!”, and without fail, neighbors on both sides of the house would be craning their necks out their windows to see in which direction the lucky guy’s antenna was pointing. Note would also me made of the height of the aluminum pole; many of the more enthusiastic TV set owners competed among themselves to have the taller pole. Not tall as in tall, but rather, long poles tied strongly at one end, one after the other, so that when the antenna was installed at the top and the booster (or boosters) were locked in place, and the whole unwieldy contraption had to be straightened, it became a pretty challenging feat requiring enthusiastic (desperate) owner, eager wife, excited children, and of course, energized servant, to finally have it reaching for the sky.

After going through this strenuous process, and all things going relatively well (such as no thunderstorms and hurricanes), one could expect the rousing cry of “Aayo! Aayo!” to resound through the whole house, upon which, the servant (or the son) on the rooftop would let out a huge sigh of relief and scamper down to the sitting room to be a part of the enthralled group staring at the 12-, 16-, or 20-in TV screen with unblinking eyes. As I remember it, the earliest super hit program of the time was an Indian soap called, “Hum Log”, which was not only Indian television’s  (Doordarshan’s) first soap opera, but also the first serial drama series in the whole of the subcontinent. For the record, it started telecasting on July 7, 1984, and ended on December 17, 1985, by which time, there were many other programs to entice the viewer. Needless to say, “Hum Log” became a hit here, as well.

Nepal Television started its regular programs on January 5, 1984, and succeeded in airing quite a few programs that went on to become very popular, two examples that come to mind are “Biswo Ghatna,” a compilation of international events of the week, and “Hijo Aaja Ka Kura,” a satirical comedy based on current social trends that made its producer/director/actor Santosh Pant famous, and Nepal’s first TV star. Well, the early days of the advent of television in Nepal were heady, to say the least. 

I remember my own father hauling over a very compact looking Sony from Hong Kong in around 1982, and then after having it occupy a place of pride in the sitting room, his constant struggle to elicit the joyous cry of “Aayo! Aayo!” from the family. And, yes, you guessed right, I did spend quite a bit of time on the roof, twisting and turning the long pole with the antenna in all directions. It must be said that the early days of television in Nepal contributed quite a lot to cooperation and collaboration in numerous families like mine, besides of course, bonding us together in the pursuit of true happiness!