Dubai-based expatriates take us back to a not too distant past
Biju Mathew, Online Editor , Seyyed Llata, Senior Designer , Shyam A. Krishna, Senior Associate Editor , Sharmila Dhal, UAE Editor , Bindu Rai, Entertainment Editor , Jay Hilotin, Senior Assistant Editor , Alex Abraham, Senior Associate Editor , Justin Varghese, Your Money Editor , Imran Malik, Assistant Editorand Sadiq Shaban, Opinion Editor
Handwritten letters, fountain pens, rotary phones, typewriters, Walkman, film cameras, VHS tapes -- are these the stuff of the yesteryears? An essential yesterday, forgotten today. Have they lost their charm and utility with the passage of time, leaving just lingering memories?
A rotary phone that was all the rage in a Mexican village before the advent of the mobile phone; a fountain pen that made all the difference to a growing up girl and her handwriting in an Indian city - obsolete gadgets and their impact in bygone eras make for a fascinating recall. Check them out – with a piece of history and some quirky facts.
Typewriters: the stain and pain
By Shyam A. Krishna, Senior Associate Editor
ASDFGF ;LKJH…I pounded the keys of the typewriter incessantly during a summer break after Grade 10 exams. That was the time most children in my neighbourhood enrolled for typewriting classes. I too did, but it didn’t last long. It was boring, and my fingers tended to slip between the keys with painful results. I opted out. My father backed my decision, saying: “Anyway, I don’t want you to become a typist.”
That turned out to be a poor decision: one that came to haunt me six years later. During my journalism master’s, my professor insisted that we learn to typewrite since it would be helpful in our careers. His advice fell on deaf ears.
I regretted it as soon as I landed my first job. The work at the Mofussil Desk entailed rewriting stories, which meant typing. Lots of it. There was no other recourse, and I started typing by peering at the keys.
It wasn’t easy, but I soldiered on. Although I don’t use all my fingers, I did gain some speed. I merely used five fingers, and that was good enough. Good enough to file reports from far-flung places when I became a sports reporter.
A friend gave me his portable Remington typewriter and I lugged it around India, reporting sports events. The problem with typewriters is that you can’t make too many mistakes; because you cannot erase them. You can score it off; that’s the best you can do.
So I had to be very clear in what I wanted to write. With a bit of experience, I managed to type away once I had a lead or intro in my mind. Despite my five-finger typing, I managed well.
By the time computers and laptops came around, my typewriter keys had worn out. The letters were getting smudged, and I left the Remington with my father. But he refused to throw it away; he never throws away anything. Especially if they are mechanical devices.
The Remington must now be rusting in my father’s workshop. Do I miss it? Not really. I prefer the PC: I can type, erase, and retype. My five-finger typing is best suited to the electronic age.
The fountain pen and my founding years
By Sharmila Dhal, UAE Editor
When was the last time I used a fountain pen? Honestly, I don’t remember. But as my fingers go click-click on the laptop, as against putting pen to paper, I must admit the train of thought is beginning to transport me into the wonderful world of nostalgia.
A world when you literally had to come of age to be given your first fountain pen; be trained to hold it gently but firmly between your thumb and index finger, the nib touching the paper at a precise slant, not straight up nor stooped down, with no undue pressure being exerted, all so that you could make a smooth transition from the yester-grade pencil.
Let me think. I must have been in Class 3 when I began to make the grand shift, my cursive writing turning from grey to blue, even as I learnt to avoid any blotting and use an ink eraser if I needed to make amends. I also picked up the art of fuelling my pen on my own by carefully filling it with ink drawn from a humble bottle with the help of an eyedropper. My parents took special care to keep the ink bottle out of my reach at other times, lest I knocked it down, resulting in a besmirched pool of blue.
Those were the days when people took immense pride in their cursive writing. The flourish with which we could employ the fountain pen was something we aspired for right from our younger years. We grew up with diaries and scrap books, our handwritten notes providing a window into our unlikeliest whims and fancies. We treasured charming letters handwritten on beautiful letter pads. And our joy knew no bounds if we received a fountain pen as a birthday gift. A Parker or a Sheaffer fountain pen of our very own, like a family heirloom almost, was our ultimate possession.
I am not sure at what point I began to use pens with ink cartridges or for that matter the ballpoint pens, which for a long time were taboo for us at school for fear that we would ruin our handwriting. But over the years, technology and convenience must have prevailed. Just as the digital age has taken over and it is almost natural for us to write on our computer or mobile screens today.
Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Well, I’d rather not go down that lane. Let’s just say it’s a sign of the times.
Hello, we waited for days to make or receive a call!
By Seyyed Llata, Senior Designer
We carry our phone everywhere, from dining table to the toilet, we live in an always connected world, but it wasn’t always like that.
In the mid to late 80s telephones were not a common gadget in Mexico, not even in the cities. You could find one or two landlines per block. In the farming village where I grew up, there was only one landline. That was and still is 4 by 7 blocks, with a population of less than 700 in the good old days.
The place is called Martin Rocha, Tamaulipas (Google it, though no street view is available). It is 6 kilometer of dirt roads until the highway, 12 km to the next town, 60 km to a city with a doctor and is surrounded by corn fields, inhabited by falcons, rattle-snakes and cactus.
The Rotary dial phone was installed in the one and only drugstore in the vicinity, and it was one of the most important landmarks in the village, its bell is second to the old church’s. If you needed to make a phone call or receive one, you had to make an appointment.
Date and approximate time had to be carefully scheduled in a log, managed by the owner of the drugstore. The drug store owner would give you a 30 minutes window to call (or receive a call), and hopefully the person you called would be reachable, because they, as well, did not own a landline and must had made an appointment with a neighboor or office around their place.
People would call and ask to convey a message: “Please tell Professor Alfredo (that’s my dad), that his brother Luis called. Call back at 555-XXXX next Wednesday around 3PM."
It was an interesting event to watch and observe the handset of the Rotary phone being lifted: “jhashhhhhh… tk,tk,tk… jhashhhhh, tk,tk,tk,tk,tk” made by the disk… the silence before the “Bueno…”; as well as the excitement when it rang, “Who is calling, to whom, is it super important?”
As kids we were more than happy to run as a wild pack to deliver the message in a little piece of paper to one summoned to the mystical gadget.
It was good business for Pedro, the drugstore owner: you have to pay few pesos for the message, few more for calling, each time, and then of course for the soft drinks and little snacks you bought while waiting.
People gathered there, every day, waiting to receive or make a call, and then talking about it with the neighbors. Each call was important.
Imagine waiting for few days to make a call, just to be told the person you are looking for will call you next day or next week?
A telegram that brought happiness packed in a red plastic cover
By Jay Hilotin, Senior Assistant Editor
Where I grew up, the nearest phone or calling booth was an hour away. For many decades, telegraph lines where ubiquitous in the cities and countrysides. Around February 1987, months before my final year in high school ended, my parents received a telegram late afternoon. Can’t remember whether it was RCPI (Radio Communications of the Philippines Inc.) or PT&T (Philippine Telephone and Telegraph). I still vaguely recall the colour — red — of the plastic cover. The telegram had a message from the university registrar’s office, noting that I had passed the entrance exam given months earlier, and must report by a certain date to keep my scholarship slot. I think my Papa was well pleased with that news. Later, on one occasion, I clearly remember him literally drawing a rotary phone dial on a piece of paper — using a round plastic lid for his guide, to demonstrate to me how to place a call. In college, I did most of my term papers initially using a portable typewriter. It was hard labour. During the latter part of my university years, computers started to emerge.
PT&T and RCPI still trigger memories—both good and bad—on how important the telegraph was before smartphones came. The erstwhile ubiquitous telegraph lines are no more. Till then, they were our only links to the whole wide world.
RCPI, founded in 1958, saw a management buy-out in 2005, and the company changed its name to Universal Storefront Services Corp (USSC), which has 1,600 stores and sub-agents all over the Philippines, a remittance services and the number one agent of Western Union in the Philippines. PT&T, founded in 1962, has turned into internet broadband service provider.
Handwritten letters and a walk with my father down to the red mailbox
By Bindu Rai, Entertainment Editor
As children, my sister and I would eagerly count the hours, awaiting the arrival of our father from his frequent trips to India, who would always return with a treasure trove of delights that would while away the hours that were beyond the entertainment scope of the resident Channel 33.
Yet, tucked between the crisp copies of the latest Nancy Drew adventures and Tinkle comics was a cargo far more precious – letters penned by our cousins from India. Those white envelopes with their blue and red trimmings were often our gateway into a faraway land that was far more inviting than any Enid Blyton novel.
Minutes would be spent examining the writing on the envelope, weighing its precious content, debating whether this particular letter was perhaps heavier than the previous one and holding it up against the light to make out faint markings of…. was that a sticker?
Growing up in Dubai during the late ‘80s and early ‘90s was a time of analog living – the cellphone was still very much a twinkle in the eyes of its creators while emails were a luxury limited to governments, banks and organisational juggernauts.
For an impressionable seven-year-old, the only form of communication to the outside world that her pocket money would extend to were handwritten letters. And what a time that was. Hours would pass in minutes as every minute detail of the past few months were neatly crammed into the scented pages of the A4-sized letter pad that the neighborhood Al Fahidi Stationary would keep in stock.
Red pens, crayons and markers would enunciate for us where our voices couldn’t carry, while our precious stock of stickers would come out with zeal, indicating a person’s worth in our hierarchy of likable cousins.
In return, we expected no less. Tales that were perhaps a tad less adventurous than swash-buckling pirates were meant to leap from the pages. What happened when the teacher discovered the slime poured into her purse? Was the resident hostel ghost still haunting the halls late into the night? Surely, you didn’t encounter it in the library that evening, did you?
My love for letter writing only grew over those formative years, especially when our school encouraged each of us to return one summer with a pen pal with whom we could communicate with regularly over the school term. Every week, I would dutifully lick that stamp and walk with my father down to the red mailbox down the street to drop off a letter to my pen pal in Pakistan, counting the days when a reply would come.
But as time went by, those walks became longer somehow, those frequent trips to India became lesser and life found its way to distract us towards many other discoveries. Yet, a wistful evening decades later can sometimes lead me back down the garden path to return to that cargo of letters and relive those memories so preciously crafted at time when imagination was all we ever needed to embrace life.
The intimacy of a handwritten letter
By Shyam A. Krishna, Senior Associate Editor
Imagine my surprise when I was identified as the author of letters to a friend. I was at my bestie’s son’s wedding. The groom was a young boy when I last met him, and the intervening years had sepia-tinted our memories of each other.
After the wedding, when the groom came around to meet the guests, I asked the dreaded question: ”Do you remember me?” He looked at me intensely and said: “You are my dad’s friend. The one who wrote long letters; black ink on what looked like graph paper. You have beautiful handwriting.” That was how he remembered me.
Those letters were written more than three decades back. Long before the groom was born when my friend was studying for MBA at Sambalpur University, Odisha (Orissa at the time). Those letters were our sole link for two years. They contained news of our neighbourhood and of all the interests we shared.
My letters were long. They would run into more than five A4 size pages, written neatly on both sides. Always in black ink. I loved the contrast of black letters on white paper. It looked great. The fascination with black ink wore away over time.
I kept writing to friends who cared to reply. My friend in Delhi received news of our cricket club’s wins and losses, my review of new films, new books I’ve read and the pursuits of our mutual friends.
When my first job took me away from my hometown, letters were the only mode of communication with my parents. They were shorter and newsier.
The letters to my girlfriend naturally were of a different nature. I wrote more frequently to her, sometimes even before receiving a reply. All those letters are safe with my wife, away from the prying eyes of my daughter.
I no longer write letters. My handwriting is no longer neat; it looks more like a scribble. The death of letters killed my handwriting.
Emails and text messages are faster, but they lack the intimacy of a letter. I still have some letters. I re-read them occasionally, and memories come flooding back. Memories of a different time. Memories of my youth. They lie entangled in those words and letters.
When an entire wedding service was recorded on audio tape
By Alex Abraham, Senior Associate Editor
When I was in Grade 3, my aunt, then on a visit from the US, gave us our first cassette recorder / player. In the absence of a TV at home, for the next few years it would remain the primary source of entertainment for the family.
My earliest memories of the cassette recorder are of using it for my aunt’s wedding, a few days after we received it. There were no video cameras then, so the entire wedding service in church was recorded on audio tape (at least as much as a 60-minute tape could hold). When we got back home we gathered around the tape recorder and played it back. Those simple pleasures of life cannot be explained to a generation that has grown up on a diet of digital fare.
Over the years, I used the tape recorder to good effect. Anyone coming home would be given a chance to sing and have his/her voice recorded. It was a novelty, then.
Later, when we bought our first TV, I would stand next to it with the tape recorder to record songs, advertisements, news – whatever I felt was worth listening to again.
Over time my friends started lending me cassettes or even recording songs of my choice. For many people in India those days, ‘copyright’ meant the ‘right to copy’. So songs were recorded at will and passed around to friends and family. Kenny Rogers, John Denver, Elton John and Simon & Garfunkel sang to me every evening, even when I had exams the next day.
I owe my love for gospel music to the cassette player at home. Early on I was introduced to Sandy Patty, Amy Grant, Don Moen and Michael W. Smith. I would listen to them a hundred times and then hum them for another thousand.
When I came to Dubai I brought along many of these cassettes. Over time I bought CDs and kept the cassettes safely in the cupboard.
A few years ago, on a whim, I wanted to play a few of the old cassettes. I did not find them in the cupboard, so I looked around the house. When I did not find them anywhere, I asked my wife.
“Oh, those cassettes. You were not using them, so I gave them away,” my wife said.
I did not wait to argue and accepted reality.
Betamax and VHS, memories of a bygone era
By Jay Hilotin, Senior Assistant Editor
A mechanical click is heard when you push the bulky tape box onto an open-close slot. It’s a signal. You wait for the screen to come to life with a shiver of interference. The word ‘Play’, or some blocky text appears on the edges. A curtain of white static is followed by a picture, first twitching and then kicking into motion. It’s a familiar sequence, and evocative of a bygone days — the era of Betamax and/or VHS. Back in the 1980s, my hometown had just one big movie screen: showing Jacky Chan and local flicks on celluloid. Entrance fee was 5 pesos. But recordings of the biggest live concerts and music video (MTVs) shows of the period — Queen, Pink Floyd, Michael Jackson, Journey, Styxx, Simon & Garfunkel, USA for Africa — were available only on Betamax.
Some enterprising people bought huge TV units and made us kids pay per view. Viewing fees doubled to 10 pesos. They had become de-facto movie houses. New titles shown each night.
The videos were grainy, alright. And screen size pretty cramped. But that was the best of the period. I only knew Betamax initially. Then came VHS. Because of their great ability to copy titles, video piracy became rampant.
I remember video shops would have a front display rack with legit titles, and then customers are led to a room with a much wider selection of pirated films (which were more interesting).
I realised Betamax had a relatively better sound and video quality than VHS, but the latter won, due to it being a more open format.
But even if VHS eventually won, of course, the video tape age came to a decisive end decades ago. With today’s over-the-top (OTT) generation — with content providers such as Netflix, Disney, Hulu, Amazon Prime, CuriosityStream, Pluto TV and the like dominating — we look back to this era of home entertainment with great nostalgia.
My first camera and memories of another day
By Shyam A. Krishna, Senior Associate Editor
The routine is fresh in my memory. I turn my back to the sun, and in the shade of my body, the leader is extended and the sprockets placed into the grooves. Wind it a bit to ensure the film moves smoothly. Voila, the film is loaded. Time to start shooting.
Wait. Not so soon. You got to be careful because you have only 36 frames. Every frame is precious, and each exposure requires planning. The right composition, the correct aperture to define the depth of field, and the optimal shutter speed have to be considered before squeezing the camera shutter button.
That was the era of film cameras. Now I own a DSLR, a Canon D60. But a Minolta X-700 occupies a special place in my heart. That was the first camera I bought. I pampered it with additional lenses: two telephoto lenses and a zoom and Hoya filters.
I learned photography late in my teens with a borrowed camera. First, it was a Brownie 127mm film camera; then an Agfa Isoly 120mm. Later I relied on the gratitude of a friend who lent his Minolta SRT Super. It gave total control over exposure, and even had a light meter that helped eliminate exposure calculations. Much of my shooting skills were honed on this 35mm camera.
Ten years after my first job, I owned my first camera: a Minolta X-700. Unused today, it is stashed away in a box in the cupboard. I miss it: the feel of thumb on the rewind lever while peering through the viewfinder and squeezing the exposure button, followed by the sound of shutter and mirror.
It helped capture some memorable moments in my life. My son’s childhood and my daughter’s mischief are all there in film — in negatives and prints. In between, there have been shots of still life and landscape.
When digital arrived, my interest in photography had waned. I still shoot, but very rarely. But the passion is alive in my daughter. My Canon D60 is safe in her hands.
The gone days of film photography stored in my mind
By Faisal Masudi, Assistant Editor
Smartphones have made everyone an instant photographer today. Back when I was a teen, in the mid-1990s, photography was an occasion in itself; something I planned for and looked forwarded to – and pictures meant “real” photographs I held in my hands, as a memory I could literary keep close to myself.
I’m talking about the gone days of film photography, deleted by point-and-shoot digital cameras.
Film was special; it was limited (and still is today). When you looked through the viewfinder of the film camera, you knew it had to be for something worthwhile, as you only had a limited number of exposures in the camera. I had to be selective about what I would like to look at again, as a photograph.
We all had to create that moment with friends and family, inside the frame, fiddling with the settings.
Once the film roll inside the camera hit its limit (usually 24 or 36 shots), I used to guard my dad’s Olympus film camera (and even those plastic disposable ones) lest all those memories inside the chamber be lost forever if the camera back inadvertently opened before it made it to the dark room for development.
After the trip to the photo studio, I would impatiently wait a day or two to collect the envelope of processed photos to see how they had turned out; to relive those captured scenes again. Those occasional imperfections of “red eye” and “light leaks” added a touch of surreal effects to the people or scenes in the photographs, which seemed a step closer to my dreams, the memories inside my head and heart. The technically-perfect, ultra-sharp endless images on our smart screens these days only get a fleeting glance as we swipe over to the next one, then the next one, then the next one…
A ruined photograph was a ruined memory; and no one wanted to loose that forever.
How the Walkman amazed me and faded
By Anupam Varma, Assistant Editor
If there’s one gadget from the past that I could have back, it would be my Walkman. The nifty piece of engineering drained countless AA batteries, outlived all the headphones it was paired with, and survived many a fall after getting unholstered from my belt.
Completely black in colour, as heavy as a brick, the Walkman was a gift all the way from the US. My grandmother’s elder brother had brought it in his suitcase of goodies, along with several clothes, bags, shoes, books and medicines as he landed in Delhi on his biennial trip.
Throughout its lifetime, the only maintenance the Walkman ever needed was a head cleaner that I applied to it with an earbud every two weeks.
I vividly remember the first time I laid my hands on it, only to toss it away in frustration moments later. There were no audio cassettes in the house!
We were at our grandmother’s place for our annual vacation. Packed in our suitcases with comics, holiday homework, board games and puzzles. No one had thought of packing a couple of audio cassettes. There were no music lovers at nani’s place either. So after playing with the Walkman’s buttons for some time and sporting it on my belt as I sauntered around the house, I kept it at the bottom of my suitcase and left it there until we returned home just before school.
Back home, the first thing I did was walk to the nearby music store and purchase some cassettes. I even bought some blank tapes. Connecting our music system to the TV, my friends and I made several mixtapes. MTV and Channel V used to play good music those days.
Towards the end of its life, the Walkman started unspooling the tapes from the cassette at will. Batteries, too, lasted a fraction of their usual lifetime. The headphone jack slot became loose and added a lot of static if the device wasn’t kept still.
I remember taking it to local repair shops. They could fix old TVs, VCRs and camcorders, but didn’t know how to fix a Walkman from the States.
That was the day I tossed it in a truck full of old clothes and toys. It never saw light of day after that.
My Walkman was a tape chewing monster!
By Imran Malik, Assistant Editor
My favourite song is by the 80’s supergroup ‘The Traveling Wilburys’ and it is called ‘Handle With Care’. But my Sony Walkman chewed up the tape that this tune was recorded on. Oh the irony... up until that devastating moment in the year 1990 I used to love making mixed tapes on our old Boombox and then listen to them on that small portable audio player I’d got for my birthday.
The Boombox was kept in the kitchen next to the hand mixer. That little egg beater was like a mini gym - it would make your arm sore within seconds when you had to whisk the cake mix. I was convinced it was helping to grow my biceps and this was very important to me because back then I thought big, burly arms would impress Jennifer McKinley, the pretty girl in my class.
I was 12 and that is how my brain worked…So, after a few weeks of extreme whisking which resulted in many delicious cakes and a growth spurt I did my best Incredible Hulk impression and flexed my muscles in the playground right in front of her believing she would fall head over heels for me. She didn’t. Not one to give up so easy I thought a mixed tape would be the perfect way to express my undying love so I recorded one ranging from love songs to heavy metal.
It took an outrageous five hours to make. I even produced it alphabetically, can you believe that? The first song was ‘Super Trouper’, that catchy, bouncy jingle by Abba. Then, to change the mood, the next song was the head rocking ‘Highway to Hell’ by ACDC. Then… I got tired and ditched the alphabetical order opting instead for a random approach and so the next track was ‘You Got It’ by Roy Orbison. ‘Every time I look into your loving eyes. I see love that money just can’t buy’. Lyrics like this by ‘The Big O’ and Jennifer would be smitten, I mused. However, the very next song included the line ‘You take it, you break it, you’re hurting me’ (Brian May, ‘I’m Scared’). Hmm, messages like this could be confusing but the tape was like my emotions back then, all over the place. I couldn’t stop now and start again because, well, I just couldn’t be bothered and also there was a rumour going around that Sarah Wilkinson fancied me. You know what they say? ‘Don’t put your eggs in one basket’, so I rushed to finish the compilation and added ‘Got My Mind Set On You’ by George Harrison, ‘Sweetest Feelin’ by Jackie Wilson and ‘Mr. Blue Sky’ by ELO before ending it with ‘Handle With Care’. Pondering where Jennifer and I would go on our first date I put the cassette – which was hot now due to all the forwarding, rewinding and editing it had endured – into my Walkman and listened back at the tracks in bed.
I nodded off to the soothing sounds of Jeff Lynne, Elvis and even Kylie Minogue (give me a break, I said I was 12!) but was woken up in the morning by a strange ringing in my ears. No, it wasn’t tinnitus, it was in fact the grinding sound of my Walkman chewing up the tape! Suffice it to say I never got that date with Jennifer and in my mind the Walkman is a gadget of the past that can well and truly stay there.
Rotary phones, VHS tapes, Walkman, Etch-A-Sketch, Kaleidoscopes: Some cool 90s gadgets I miss
By Justin Varghese, Your Money Editor
To be honest, there are some things I miss, and there are some things I don’t. I may miss my cell phone if it went missing right now, but I can admit that I had more time to myself before the advent of mobiles. This is what reminded me of this one item I miss from my childhood – the rotary dial phone.
I recall a time when we just had the one rotary dial phone at home (the one with a compressed cord, that somehow always got tangled) – shared by my family of four. If you were not at home you couldn’t be contacted - end of story. While I agree that it was a much simpler time before cell phones, I may be missing the rotary phone even more, but this also brings me to my next item of 90s reminiscence.
This next gadget wasn’t really practical and the music quality in particular wasn’t all that great as it is now, but I still dearly miss my old boxy Walkman. I can’t quite put my finger on it, because even though they were clunky or how at times even devoured the cassettes in them, there is something I miss about the experience of listening to one, particularly in my family car’s backseat during our weekend drives.
Maybe I miss the way I’d listen to a favourite song over and over until I almost hated it, but had learned every word, because you can only carry so much at once. Maybe it’s how the sound of rewinding the tapes made me giggle, or how they always kept your place perfectly if you had to pause. I honestly don’t know, but every now and then, I get tempted to hunt one down – which brings me to my next gadget of nostalgia.
My childhood wouldn’t be complete without those VHS tapes and the VCR machine that played them. We had about hundreds of VCR tapes stored in drawers, cabinets and boxes in our living room. Yes, the VHS cartridges and the VCR machine were big and clunky, the picture quality was poor (which only got worse with age and wear), and not to mention the time spent waiting for them to rewind. And while I agree that with movies that could be streamed, there was no mess and no space being taken up at home, I miss the simpler times the age-old devices brought along with it.
I also miss the sort of really basic technology that gave me much joy even though it wasn’t really a technological marvel. Etch-A-Sketch was a marvellous machine that looked, in many respects, like a modern tablet but involved a painstaking process of using an internal stylus, which you could not lift away from the inner screen to create designs. Similarly, another 90s play-thing were Kaleidoscopes, these wonderful little tubes that allowed you to be mesmerised by complex and reflected designs.
Who would have thought? Turns out there were a lot more gadgets I missed from my childhood than I thought.
Our transistor radio touched our heart and mind
By Sadiq Shaban, Opinion Editor
Time is a sly monster. Back when I was growing up in the 1980s, transistors radios were a thing. We had a lovely off white Murphy transistor radio in Kashmir. Those were the days when transistor was the only form of entertainment and information, apart from the occasional Black and White TV set in an odd household or two in the locality.
I distinctly remember my dad always tuned into BBC, Voice of America, and of course the All India Radio. Mother was a fan of Vividh Bharati that forever played colourful movie songs.
Our triode valve radio fitted inside a large wooden cabinet and was treated like a family heirloom. As kids, neither me nor my sister was allowed to touch it, lest we accidently changed the frequency.
The names of medium wave or short wave radio stations were labelled on the dial panel with two huge knobs for volume and tuning. As we grew up, awed by the Murphy transistor, the radio itself remained the same.
At some point I started keeping a diary and I remember entering in it all the fascinating things I heard on the radio. One entry in my early teen years went like this, “It is well past midnight now. The BBC London just said that a new species of birds called the gorgeted puffleg has been discovered by scientists in the wild. The announcer says it remained hidden from humanity for an eternity and it is green and violet. It also has an iridescent green plumage on its neck.”
I then proceeded to give my teenage hypothesis: Wonder why the poor bird had to appear now. Everyone will follow it in an effort to catenate its existence. Every flight of the poor bird shall be observed. Why do some things have to appear to cause all this flutter, I ask no one in particular? Expectedly, I get no answers.
Conjectures apart, transistors signified an innocent era. Evertime I see a transistor now (mostly with collectors or some private museum), something shifts in me. I feel nostalgia lifting slowly. The feeling is gemütlich. That is German for the blend of homeliness, coziness and comfort one associates with times bygone.
One of the things that today’s generation (I’m 40 and can safely say this now) may never experience – that many of us who grew up listening to the radio -- is falling in love with someone’s voice, experiencing a theater of the mind, and feeling intimate, personal – and inspired.