Milind Sohoni, 45, is busy having an argument with his sons over lunch. “You fractured your leg while playing table tennis,” he says.
“No, no,” Siddhartha, 15, shakes his head, “I was riding a bicycle and I fell.”
“I am surprised we don’t remember,” interjects his mother Nutan, an airhostess. “It was a momentous day. It was the first time a television entered this home.”
The second-hand screen was a gift from an uncle, forced upon them when Siddhartha met with an accident and was bed-ridden for around a month in 2007.
“What will he do without a television?” the uncle had asked.
But unlike most homes, where television is the centerpiece of the living room, the idiot box in Sohoni’s home is now gathering dust in a musty store room.
Unlike most children their age, Siddhartha and his younger brother Srirang, 11, have grown up without a television.
Unlike most children their age, they also have open spaces, a lake within walking distance, a well-equipped sports centre and laboratories they can explore. Their father is a professor of computer science at the Indian Institute of Technology in Powai, and they live on campus.
In their free time, the lanky brothers have built cars out of wooden blocks, spotted crocodiles sunbathing on the bank of the lake, cycled, played tennis with friends, opened up electronic gadgets for fun, had long conversations over lazy meals and read anything they could get their hands on.
“With so much to do, who needs a television?” asks Siddhartha.
Four years ago, along with three friends, he started a table tennis club in the local gymkhana. These days, for Rs 35 a month, they coach beginners, maintain a register and sweep the room every day. The members have begun winning school competitions.
Besides playing competitive tennis, Srirang, for instance, has developed a keen interest in carpentry and is now the family’s handyman.
“Without a television they think of innovative ways to spend their time,” says Nutan.
Sometimes, the boys admit, peer pressure gets to them. They don’t understand all the jokes their friends crack, with their many allusions to TV shows and characters. And they rarely know the words of the songs their friends sometimes break into.
So these days, they log on to You Tube to stay up to date.
There have been times when Nutan was tempted to give in. “My sons fought very often,” she says. “When they were younger, I sometimes wished I could have switched on a cartoon channel to distract them from the fight.”
But not giving in means that the family eats meals together, chatting about their day.
Milind stretches on the living room sofa after the meal. Light streams in from the large windows, birds chirp outside. Siddhartha rests his head on Milind’s arm, and Srirang sits on his lap. Nutan reminds them of the last time they spotted a tiger in a sanctuary. A friendly argument breaks out.
The only time the tube comes down from the loft is during the French Open and Wimbledon. But huddled around an outdated, tiny screen with fuzzy images, rooting for Roger Federer, they still remain the rare anomaly: a family choosing to be TV-free.