For whom the darkness speaks: reflections on Ravish’s prime time show

Manohar Kumar

What does it mean when a TV news anchor dims the light of the studio and slowly disappears and melts into the darkness with only his voice piercing the screen? For once it unsettles you, for once it seems something is amiss, perhaps a technical glitch. But then words appear suggesting that such is not the case, the background voice reassures you that it is being done intentionally: it is done to tell you what TV news has become today; what we become when we are exposed to it for long hours.

The darkness does not only ensure the primacy of the spoken and the written word (the written words are merely markers, questions, often pleas to think). It does something else: it takes you away from the immediacy of the moment; the immediacy that distorts thinking; the immediacy that bombards you with images of people howling and screaming at each other (where no word is discerned but those of the anchors, where practiced, prejudiced, and unverified lines are pushed down your throat with the force of the noise).

The anchor is aware that some will drift away from the channel; they will find it disturbing to stare at darkness; some will not be able to wean away from the habit of the 9 pm show; some will drift away in the absence of images. But he is not concerned. He has opened a door to a dark room where glitter and cacophony will not overshadow you. He asks you to dim the light in your room or put it off.

It would be easy to read the darkness as a dirge against existing news practices. It of course was. Darkness is a sign of protest, a sign of mourning, a lone voice introspecting his profession and himself. This indeed it does, but it does something more. It takes you into the inner recesses of where you fear to tread. The voice is modulated in a manner that gives space for the pause: the time required to munch upon words, to chew them again and again before they settle in your mind. You need that space, that darkness to confront yourself. The current media does not give it to you, it thinks for you. What you consider your own might just be handed down, without pauses for introspection, with commercial breaks that fill the gaps between the noise (creating some of its own). Sometimes the breaks appear as a relief to flip channels and to keep yourself occupied with the sameness that (almost) abounds in the media sphere.

You need the darkness to tread within, to confront who you are when you are not in the immediate. It is sitting in solitude, a voice urging you to listen to different voices, and judge. The primacy is not accorded to identifying those voices, but merely to listen to its content, to what the voices say. This listening, for a moment, frees you from the burden of sight that dominates, that precedes judgement, that colours your views even before you begin to reason. Often caught in the everydayness of life and the daily struggles it is easy to suspend judgment and be an audience to the spectacle. This is especially true when the spectacle speaks to fears that are deep seated, that arises from the precariousness of daily life among struggles to survive. It works on these uncertainties, the worries, and often diverts your attention to their real sources. The spectacle plays it again and again, across channels, across mediums, and if due care is not exercised one starts associating our own fears with it.

It is from this every day that this palpable darkness seeks to liberate you. Before you turn into a mob, a mass, and surrender your judgement and with it your autonomy this darkness appears as a plea to step aside for the moment, to suspend judgement, to reflect. It appeals you to reason which requires being aware of prejudices, to critically ponder over statements, rather than rush up to form opinions. The darkness dissociates you from those faces on the screen that you so associate with and whose opinions you probably began living with. This dissociation opens up the possibility of listening. You might still be aware of who those voices belong to, but the superimposition allows you to distinguish and capture the similarity and distinctions (if any). The superimposition also confuses you, but such confusion opens up the space for doubt. It is this doubt that levels the field for reclaiming your agency; an agency which is lost in the multiplicity of (often) similar voices that shape opinion. Before you turn insignificant and lost in the crowd or be the crowd the darkness is a plea for individuality. For a moment you are freed from the culture of instant news where you are made to feel that you are missing out if you are not part of it. It demands constant presence in that instant.

When most things in the world is becoming instant (instant coffee, instant food, instant news, instant social media updates etc.) the darkness steers you towards a dark street away from the city lights. This scares you, you are taught that demons live there. Slowly the demons appear in form of voices, the voice of the anchor disturbs you, you want to run, and hide. Perhaps you wish to switch off the TV. The voice resonates within you, shakes you up for a moment from your stupor. The voice is pleading you to be who you are, to free yourself from the crowd, the mass that you have become; the mass that will swallow you one day as it has done to countless others before. You are not aware when you joined this queue (you never bought the ticket), when you started to speak in unison claiming it to be your own.

Even if you consider your prejudices as genuine you might still be shaken. You will see some pieces falling off. Perhaps you will shake them away and dust it off your sleeves. But perhaps for the moment you will stop, you will want to tread the dark alley, you will want to escape the immediate, the spectacle. But it requires courage to not turn off the channel (or perhaps not). You might consider it as a minor irritation, a slight itch. You will start reducing the show, the anchor as belonging to a certain ideology, or just claim it is done to increase the TRP. I will urge you to pause for a moment and take his invitation. If you manage to defer it for a while you will hear his voice fading away. You will start hearing your own. His being in the background like the gadfly that irritates but also distracts you for a tiny moment. In that distraction sometime you see something that you never noticed, you hear something that you failed to account for.

Perhaps in the end it will remain nothing, and mean nothing. Perhaps most will still be part of the crowd till they are its receiving end. But maybe some will splinter off, take this dark road in the search of a voice that was their own, which they had forgotten. This is where he leaves us with a hope. The images start coalescing, after having scattered and disappeared. You see a figure being formed, the figure of the voice (that till now you could imagine or recollect from memory), and Ravish Kumar appears on the screen. You realise that you have not returned to normalcy.