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House arrest!

I was locked up for 18 hours in the Bigg Boss house (for those of you who live on a different planet, that’s the reality TV format in which a dozen strangers are made to co-habit for three months in a house with no contact with the outside world). For 18 hours, I was remote-controlled by a booming voice at the end of a microphone. For 18 hours, every move I made, every breath I took was monitored by 70 close-circuit cameras. For 18 hours, I shared space with 13 strangers. For 18 hours, I was desperate to get out.

As a reporter covering five seasons of the Colors reality show (season 6 goes on air at 9pm on Sunday), one question had always popped up in my mind. Being under house arrest for three months couldn’t be all that bad, could it? Imagine three months of putting up your feet, not grappling with the tensions of work and home and if you are lucky — and smart enough — pocketing a cool crore as prize money at the end of it? Yes, in short, I wanted to live the Bigg Boss experience.

So when a mail popped up in my inbox last week inviting me to the Bigg Boss house at Lonavala in the company of 13 other journalists, I jumped at the offer. The no-nos were spelt out in big, bold letters — no mobile phones, no books, no iPods, no food items…. But all that for less than a day. Really, how bad could it get?

Well, if only I had known.

On Wednesday morning, I took a flight to Mumbai and after a two-hour drive from the airport, I found the car driving through the gates of what seemed like an abandoned warehouse. I was ushered into a huge conference room where I met my hosts. I was told that since my flight had been delayed, I was going to be the last one entering the house. Their smug smiles told me this wasn’t going to be nice.

Two girls from the production team walked in and with ninja-like precision ran a quick check of my two bags. Watch to cell phone, pen to paper, credit card to visiting card, cash to coins, pendrive to even house keys, I saw my world being taken out, sealed into plastic bags and stashed away. The only things I could take in were the clothes in my bag — and the clothes on me. “Thank god,” I rolled my eyes.

Since I was the last one in, my entry would be “a surprise” for the rest of the housemates. That sounded exciting till the time I was blindfolded and taken somewhere backstage and told to wait. Five minutes rolled into 10 and 10 into 15, but nothing happened. To make it worse, I had to walk in with a prop: a feather boa slung over my shoulder. Why? I still haven’t figured that one out.

After 20 minutes, I was ushered into a brightly-lit room. “This is the storeroom. Wait for Bigg Boss to announce to the housemates that there is a prize waiting for them in the storeroom and then walk in,” were the instructions. I still had my blindfold on. Another wait followed, till the familiar Bigg Boss voice — yes the same one that’s been playing out for five seasons — boomed out. I walked in and saw 13 strangers staring at me.

Introductions over, I was quickly made a part of a ‘passing the parcel’ game. Party games at age 30? So what, I told myself and joined in. Dumb charades followed and then Eye Spy — that I bowed gracefully out of, horrified. I did a quick recce of the house. It was huge — 14,300sq ft is what designer Sabu Cyril told me the following morning. A living-cum-dining area with an open kitchen, a garden with a swimming pool, bathrooms outside the house, an activity area next to the garden and two giant bedrooms, one in muted shades of red and grey and the other bright yellow and flashy blue. I chose the latter. The clincher? It had beds in the shape of the petals of a flower!

Fun and games over, boredom started setting in. My internal clock told me it was 7pm (we were meant to be in a limbo, remember, so no timekeeper allowed). On a normal day in office, I would have gulped down three cups of coffee by now. A quick check of the kitchen told us there were no groceries. “They will give us food and beverages… I think,” someone squeaked out hopefully.

Even something as basic as drinking water was rationed. After the initial batch of mini mineral water bottles was exhausted in the first few hours, we had to make do with drinking out of the kitchen and even bathroom taps. Some gulped down a few mouthfuls from the swimming pool!

An hour later, there was still no sign of tea. By then, all the smiles had vanished. “We never knew a cup of tea was so important in life,” said someone. “Let’s get down on our knees and beg Bigg Boss for tea,” suggested another. Desperate times, desperate measures. The moment we went down on our knees, terribly milky tea and over-sweetened coffee arrived. On any other day, it would have gone down the washbasin. I gulped it down gratefully.

Bigg Boss’s voice soon boomed. The first task of the day: the one who could eat 10 bananas in the shortest possible time would become the captain of the house. Never a fan of the fruit, I somehow polished off two, waiting for the others to get to the finishing line first. A girl from a national TV channel set a new record of sorts: packing in 10 bananas in less than five minutes. Her defence? “I was hungry!”

Time wore on. Tired after my long journey, I snuggled into bed for a shuteye. I was told I couldn’t sleep till the lights went out. Groan!

The others, meanwhile, had devised ways to entertain themselves. Some sang while the others danced, some decided to while away time with a swim, some even started enacting scenes from saas-bahu soaps! Some of us chatted. I just wanted to sleep.

My body clock told me it was past midnight, but there was no food in sight. Would we have to beg for dinner too? Thankfully, dinner arrived an hour later, by which time most of us were ready to break a few bones.

Battling a splitting headache, I managed to sit-sleep for a bit, before the voice boomed and we were handed out our next task. My instinct told me 2am. Divided into two teams, we would have to whip up dessert in half-an-hour. The good news? I had four girls in my team. The bad news? Only I knew how to cook!

After a frantic half-hour in the kitchen, my tried-and-tested fruit custard was adjudged the best. I earned some new-found respect for my culinary skills in the dead of the night.

It must have been 3am but the lights showed no signs of dimming. I had gone for nearly 24 hours without sleep. Music blared out of the speakers to let us know that we were expected to dance. I was on the verge of collapse, but had no choice. When you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

I managed to slip into an uneasy slumber around 6am. But it isn’t easy sleeping knowing that you are being constantly monitored. Every time I turned over, I saw the camera near my bed zooming in. Eerie!

At 7am, the Bigg Boss theme song started blaring louder than the mike at a para Puja pandal. I pulled my duvet over my head, but the volume continued to rise. Ten minutes later, the song was still playing on loop. “Get up or they will never turn it off,” someone whispered in my ear.

Milky tea was followed by breakfast — that we didn’t have to beg for. Minutes later, Bigg Boss’s voice boomed out: “Pack your things and leave the house in exactly five minutes”.

I shoved my things into my bag and RAN out of the house. There was no Salman Khan waiting for us outside. But I had never been happier.

I was free.

Would you want to be locked inside the Bigg Boss house? Tell ttmetro@abpmail.com