I am not feeling quite well today. Woke up in the middle of the night and not able to sleep anymore. But just before I woke up, I was having a dream. Of listening to music in my old Philips two-in-one. After waking up I was feeling a bit nostalgic about the old days and because I haven’t written on this blog for quite some time now, I thought why not write something on that.

The earliest days of listening to music that I still vividly remember is sitting in the open on a charpoy under a bright moonlit night with my father and sisters and listening to Binaca geet mala (or Cibaca or anyone toothpaste for that matter). Ceylon was another of dad’s favourite stations. Father would lift the antenna up just right and twist the transistor radio so that the sound quality is decent enough to distinguish between a Mohd. Rafi or Lata Mangeshkar. Along with father, we all practiced twisting the radio to get a clearer reception. It was an art that we desperately wanted to learn.  How exciting it was to move the vertical red pointer below the numbers written under three rows (MW, SW1 and SW2), listen to the gurgling sounds of signal noise and skipped stations, make out a song playing somewhere in the noise of static and carefully turn the knob and twist the radio to listen to the obscure melody! Just a little bit of extra turn on the knob and the signal is gone.

When I left home to study upper primary, the luxury of listening to the Binaca or Cibaca geetmala (and to the soulful voice of Amin Sayani) was gone. Though I continued to listen to radio in the quarters of our school’s physical instructor for taking news notes for the next day’s prayer class, it was far from exciting. My only source of music in the confines of a residential school was the loudspeakers going off during Pujas and other sundry festivities, including marriage processions. I would run out of my dormitory and put my ear to the source of the sound wave. I would strain my ears hard to make sense out of the broken lyrics. Lyrics were important because, one, you could show off your precious knowledge to friends, and two, more importantly, it helped you sing and impress girls passing by. But unfortunately, given my limited grasp of the Hindi language at that point in time (I had just started learning it), catching the lyrics was painfully difficult.

Interestingly, something came to our rescue. In small bookshops or at road side vendors, there used to be small pocket books of latest Hindi song lyrics. Looking back, even though I feel that these cheap lyrics books written in Oriya have done more damage to my relatively large database of Hindi song lyrics than help it, at that time these were the only means to be able to hum an entire song, including the antara. Published in haste and written by people who hardly understood Hindi or Urdu, the mistakes in the lyrics in those books ranged from innocuous to stomach-churningly funny and atrocious . Do you remember the song, ‘Yun hi tum mujhse baat karte ho, ya koi pyar ka iraada hai‘? In that song, one of the antaras says, ‘…haal-e-dil samjho sanam, kahenge muh se na hum, humari bhi koi maryada hai‘. Thanks to the pocket books, I used to sing the last line as ‘….kahenge muh se na hum, humari bhi koi mar jaata hai‘. Childhood learnings are so difficult to unlearn!

I had an obsession with being able to sing the entire song, including all the antaras. I jumped with joy when I could hum along the record player. In front of my sisters and friends, I took pride in being able to sing ahead of the record. I loved it when the record followed what I sang.

As I grew up, radio slowly started to lose its charm. Our first black and white Onida TV with gold accents on its semicircular legs took over dad’s radio as the prime means of entertainment at home. Chitrahaar and Rangoli replaced Cibaca and Binaca. Moreover, we also got our first Philips two-in-one that could play and record audio cassettes and also occasionally play the radio (however, the quality of radio reception in the spanking new two-in-one was far worse than the 1960s Philips transistor radio of my dad). The ability to record audio cassettes gave rise to another obsession: listening to my own recorded voice. I would sing songs and recite dialogues from Hindi films and listen to them play on the two-in-one. I would jointly record voice with my sisters and cousins and play them later at family gatherings.

However, even though there was a two-in-one at home, whenever I went to a Philips shop, I salivated at the gorgeous Philips Powerhouse (the majestic stacked-box hi-fi player) and wanted to have one of those in my drawing room.

How have things changed today! The desire for a large Philips Powerhouse has given way to the eventual owning the small and sleek iPod with ear canal phones. With most lyrics available on the net and songs a download away in a p2p site, the charm of desperately looking for a song and locating its lyrics is gone. I don’t have to run out of my house anymore to listen to a song playing on a loudspeaker. Everything is right here, inside the 32 GBs of my iPod touch. I don’t record film songs in my voice anymore. These have been replaced with the more mundane voice memos, to-dos and other ‘important’ stuff. The joy of showing the stacked collection of cassettes to friends and renting those out to them isn’t there anymore. Today, it’s one click and your entire collection can be transferred to your friend’s hard disk. What advantage are you left with?

However, amid all these, my obsession with being able to sing the entire song with all antaras still continues, though with much less fervor. Though there aren’t too many opportunities these days for an Antakshari, I remember my college days and the early employment days, when coming second in an Antakshari competition wasn’t acceptable.

Ah, those days!

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