' What is special about Aaina Mahal? Where is it located?
' In which tribe in India is Red Ant chutney a delicacy?
' Who are Bene Israelis and what is unique about their cultural identity?
' In which state of India do people wrestle without using their hands?
' What is Nastarang?
' What is an Imambara?
No, these are not questions of quiz. But in a way, they are too - questions from theSawaal Jawab section of a television programme; questions that made you rack your brain; questions that you wanted to find an answer to in any which way you can with the limited resources one had, especially in those non-googling days; and if you couldn't find the answer questions that made you wait eagerly for the next episode of the show in which answers were revealed. Does this strike a chord?
In early nineties, when Doordarshan was still the prime channel of the nation and cable television was in its state of infancy, a program on the national channel captured the imagination of the nation in a way nothing else had. The accolades this show received is actually mind-boggling. Take a look at this:
' Limca record for the longest continuous anchoring of a TV series
' India TV Academy's Milestone Award
' TV & Video World Critics Award for the Most Outstanding TV Series
' TV & Video World Critics Award for Best Series
' Limca Record for the Highest Measured Viewership
' Limca Record for the Longest Running Programme on Prime Time
And that is not a complete list. Does that strike a chord?
Remember Renuka Shahane and Siddharth Kak? Remember Surabhi? To me and many others I am sure, Surabhi is indeed one of the defining programs of Indian television. It began in 1991 and very soon became the much-awaited programme of the week. When it began, not many would have expected it to enrapture TV audiences year after year. But it did. And for eleven years Surabhibrought the beauty of India and its people to one's drawing room. No one really expected the show to enthrall in such a manner, running at prime time as long as it was on air. But it did, and in what manner!
I have often wondered about Surabhi's popularity. What was it about the programme that had audiences asking for more? Was it to do with the girl/boy-next-door anchors of the show? Was it to do with the toothy smile of Renuka Shahane or the extremely endearing Siddharth Kak? Was it to do with the format of the show itself - highly simple, yet extremely enjoyable? Or was it to do with the emotions it evoked in every person - sense of pride and wonder at who we are, what we are and the unique history, culture and tradition we shared as a nation?
I believe it was all of this and more. The greatest plus about Surabhi was definitely its anchors. This, as far as I remember (apart from Ashok Kumar as thesutradhaar of Hum Log) was one of the earliest anchor-based shows of Indian televisions. Renuka and Siddharth became household names and were much loved by every one. What also helped was that it was a knowledge-based show without being didactic. In its format lay its appeal. And finally, what also spoke for the programme was the "Indianness" that seemed to waft through the entire show - the show of course was about India; but the sets, even the way Renuka and Siddharth dressed, added to the entire theme of the show. What also helped in the popularity of the show was the timing itself - in the nineties India was going through a transition; the economy was opening up and the fundamentalist forces were on the rise; even as a part of India was jumping on to the "modernization" bandwagon, there was a part of each one of us which wanted to hold on to age-old traditions. At a time such as this, Surabhi seemed to redefine us in some way, give us an identity, showcase what it meant to be Indian.
Whatever it was, Surabhi created history becoming probably the only show to enter the Limca Book of Records as the only programme to receive the highest ever documented response in the history of Indian television - over 1.4 million letters in a single week! Interestingly, this at a time when audience had no access to SMS or EMail! This itself speaks volumes about the programme.
I am not sure why this show has never made a comeback on the innumerable channels we have today. There should definitely be takers for it.
Why do I think of this show now? A desultory stroll into BookPoint and a cursory glance at this book brought back innumerable memories. Surabhi Ke Sau Sawaalis a compilation of questions and answers from the show's Sawaal Jawab section, one of its most awaited segments. The questions and answers have been compiled by Siddharth Kak himself. The questions asked in this section of the show were not only posers to the brain, but also helped a lot of us reacquaint ourselves with our culture, history, folklore and a lot more.
Go get the book - you are certain to immerse yourself in it, having a "enjoyable time, quizzing, wondering & learning, the way millions of Indians did when this show was on air". It is sure to bring back a lot of Surabhi ke sunehre pal.