Of Cassettes and Keds
The three of us (CAR) have found a way to go back in time for solace and laughter. With objects that are now stripped of their functionality but have become portals. This is an ode to that past continuum. In C’s house, in that glass cabinet, there is an old black-coloured audio cassette from back then.
The 1980s was the time of cassettes. We would play the one side and then turn it over and there wasn’t much “skipping” possible. If you had a heartbreak and you wanted a particular song that kind of reflected your mood, you had to keep rewinding and fast-forwarding. If you listened to the song too many times, it would even fade and you would have gaps or static. But we had learned the songs and we filled in with our voices to keep the sequence unbroken.
We would also buy blank cassettes and go to some electronics guy to get the songs of our choice recorded on those cassettes and gift them to those we had a crush on. C had a few of those. Guys would record their dedications and the cassette would be that confession. Sometimes, they even wrote a cover letter describing why particular songs were dedicated and if some songs had words that could have any sensual or sexual connotation, they would also make a disclaimer just in case the girl misunderstood the intentions of the boy. Love was grand and was expressed with letters and at times, recorded on cassettes that were re-purposed and recycled.
We Had Limited Means
We knew from growing up in the pre-liberalisation era that re-purposing things was a way of life. Hand-me-downs were normal. We even overwrote the songs on old cassettes with the new ones. The audio quality would be affected but that wasn’t an issue because we had limited means and limitless imagination.
We were not the only ones overwriting though. My mother’s first cousin had gifted her a tape recorder when she got married in the 1970s. My maternal grandfather who looked up to Jai Prakash Narayan (JP) gave my mother a set of three cassettes of JP’s speeches. My paternal grandfather loved listening to Osho and he got JP’s speeches overwritten with Osho’s lectures. When my mother’s father visited and asked her to play JP’s speech for him, it was Osho’s voice that came from the recorder. I do not think my maternal grandfather ever forgave my paternal grandfather for this overwriting.
Now, the Walkman and cassettes have become collector’s items. Last C checked, the Sony Walkman was priced at $350. She is a hoarder and has bags full of nostalgia objects. An old CD hangs on her wall. A voice recorder is placed in a glass case in her house. She is a romantic. We try to be those practical people who don’t think houses weep when we leave. She does.
R finds all this amusing. He sometimes sits in an armchair for hours and says his grandmother did that too. His asked C the other day if the dampness in the house meant the house was expressing its sadness. We all laughed.
A Lost World
We all have a few things. From that time. Like stationery that used to be bare minimum and unlike the wide range of choices available today. There was no online shopping then and some stationery shops in small towns sometimes got some fancy stuff. I still use a fancy one from back then, a kind of upgrade from the basic ones that everyone had. It was this round, big, retractable multi-coloured (Four) pen. One just needed to slightly push the retractable button depending on the colour one needed. It was magical! Back then, when we graduated to a higher grade, we took our new books to the book binder. Some we covered ourselves with brown paper called ‘Zild’. We marked our books with name stickers. Hardbound books weren’t a rarity. Now, it has gone to the “luxury” category like Khadi but at the time, it was just done for a small amount and people loved books and wanted to preserve them. Paper options–florals, checks and stripes in different colours–were available. There was also an insistence on equality in terms of school accessories and we wore uniforms. Our bags were standard. Bata was known for sturdy shoes and we had those canvas bags and raincoats and black umbrellas. Bata’s white canvas shoes were used for physical training classes and we had to wash them and whiten them with liquid white chalk. We had never heard of Nike or Adidas. The tiffin boxes were of steel and plastic and then, there were the Milton water bottles that only rich kids brought. Mostly, we had plastic water bottles with built-in straws and you had to ask the teacher’s permission to drink water or go to the toilet. You had to raise your hand…
We remember. Therefore, we are.
Ashutosh Salil of CAR, an acronym for three friends