An important part of people’s lives for many years, the telegram is now no more. And, we can’t help but think of such integral aspects of our growing up years that have now disappeared or have become less significant. Though they have moved aside so we could embrace a better lifestyle, they will always remain an ode to an age when life was much simpler. Anusha Parthasarathy and Lakshmi Krupa press the rewind button
In the recently released film Lootera, set in newly independent India, there is a delightful scene that captures the spirit of an era, ever so subtly. The S.D. Burman number ‘Tadbeer Se Bigdi Hui Taqdeer Bana Le’, from Guru Dutt’s Baazi plays from a transistor radio, forming a playful backdrop against which the daughter of a zamindar falls for a stranger. Those from the 1950s will speak fondly of a world that revolved around this gadget that brought home news from far away and of memories of nights spent awake listening to song after haunting song from the crackling transistor. And, most of all, of a companion they have lost now… For many of them from the baby boom generation, it is a reminder of simpler times. The device with a knob that traversed the length of the frequency chart, may have been replaced by newer, ‘smarter’ and smaller gadgets. Transistor radios, however, will remain an irreplaceable part of many people’s lives.
This isn’t even a few decades old, but the dial-up Internet access disappeared as fast as it came (thank god!). As anyone living in the 1990s has faced, the high decibel sounds that pop up just before you were connected to the Internet is about the only memory of the early Internet era. For, these connections, often volatile, would snap as soon as anyone picked up a phone or as much as breathed too close to it.
With roll films, it was never about just the photos. They were bought a day before family vacations or big events, and guarded from excited children so that they didn’t click and finish a roll capable of 30-odd photos. Poses were timed to perfection, people scrunched closer together, the pictures not really candid but the smiles, genuine. And afterward, when the films were sent to a photo studio be developed, the entire family would wait in anticipation. Now, the pictures are candid, clicked in many hundreds, immediately viewed, and yet, it is those pictures that hold the best memories.
Occasionally, in government offices or in what is left of typewriting institutes, your ears suddenly cock up at the sound of punching keys — much similar to the sound of marching soldiers — and you smile involuntarily. And just then the truth hits you — the humble typewriter and the sound of its marching band is no longer in sync with changing times.
The very word ‘gramophone’ conjures up black-and-white images of men and women slow dancing in a ballroom. Any period film or a story set in the early 1900s isn’t complete without this instrument. Its mere presence vindicates the timeframe the movie is set in. Gramophones were couture back then, coming with elegant stylus’ and extravagant horns. Then again, like all good things, they lost to changing times (think tape recorders and media players). Now gramophones have been moved to an insignificant corner, getting dusty with disuse and merely labelled ‘antique’.
Remember those little gadgets that everyone was talking about? The one your cousin’s friend owned automatically earned him respect? And those advertisements for pagers on television? With the advent of SMS, out went the pager.
Video cassette recorders were always ‘communal’ in nature. If one person owned it in a building or a colony, that was enough. Really! Sundays, especially, after lunch was VCR time! Owning a VCR was a passport to ‘coolville’ and let’s face it, it was a win-win situation. Those who owned a VCR got to show off and look generous, while the ones who didn’t, got to watch a film that was not national television’s choice. When these went out of vogue, they took with them the concept of VCR libraries too. With CDs and DVDs, piracy has become rampant. In that sense, the end of VCR marked the end of an era of innocence too...
For some reason, floppy discs remind one of assignments, don’t they? And, by extension, Internet browsing centres! And, of group projects — then dreadful, now charming. Oh, those tales of how someone had only one copy of the work on a ‘floppy’ and how it was broken, and those suspicious excuses about not knowing which way was ‘locked’ and ‘unlocked’ and hence the assignment submission ‘had’ to be delayed. You no longer had to blame your poor memory for having ‘forgotten’ your work back at home. Pin it on that floppy and move on. The disc was a trusty comrade. But it was just as ready to fail you. Comfortingly, the discs were also one of those rare devices that one was not feeling bad about moving on from. Perhaps it had something to do with the number of times one had to ‘format’ them!
Go on any ‘upcycling’ website and you will land on a dozen uses for old cassette tapes and cases. Use them to make lamp shades or turn them into a phone stand… A reminder of the cassette tape’s slow demise. But we are not just ready to let them go, completely. Think about it, cassette tapes went out of use almost a decade ago, and yet you will be surprised at how many people still have hundreds of them at home. One often wonders what they are waiting for. As if everyone is thinking “one day, we will find use for them; they will be back in vogue”. Cassette tapes are reminders of times when knowing the lyrics of a song meant over-using those three buttons — pause, rewind, play. Of queues in music stores where you could give your empty cassette to the all-knowing store manager, who would record the latest and coolest of tracks. And, of course, of using a pen or a pencil to roll back a truant reel every once in a while…