Month: January 2019

Melodies in Vinyl

If somebody in your family has been a music lover, a connoisseur of music, chances are you may have been handed down a collection of vinyl records. You may have wondered for a while what to do with the huge collection – they are heavy, they take up space, and gramophones and record players have long ceased to exist. You can’t junk them because there’s huge sentimental value attached. But, thank god some good old things do come back! Yes, I am talking about the Vinyl Turntables with USB Digital Conversion audio that are now available both offline and online, making it possible to enjoy the retro melodies with a modern twist.IMG-20190125-WA0011-1.jpg

When I went home last year, I was bequeathed with a huge collection of vinyl records – a rare collection put together by my late uncle to which my mother later added, now lying locked in an almirah. “Your father wants to throw these records away, such great music,” my mother complained. “They are just taking up space, your gramophone doesn’t work, and you don’t even play them anymore,” retorted by father. “I will take them,” said I, to my mother’s great relief.

The sight of those records brought back memories of my late uncle, a music lover, an amateur poet and an actor by passion. Though he had a regular job, he was fairly well-known in the literary and theater circuits. The ‘Radior Ghar’ or the Radio Room in our ancestral home, the cultural and entertainment hub for the entire extended family, was carefully put together by him. The long table along the wall had a Murphy radio and an HMV record player lying next to each other. In a shelf the vinyl records, both the smaller and the bigger ones, were carefully arranged. The room also had a book shelf with volumes of poetry, English and Bengali classics. That book shelf was my first window to the world of literature.

My mother often talked about the ‘Radior Ghar’ and the lively gatherings in that room every evening. My uncle and his friends, many of whom were connected to the world of literature and music, would get together in that room after office. The HMV player would play yesteryear greats like S D Burman, Bhupen Hazarika, Hemant Kumar, Manna Dey, and the list went on. There would be music, poetry, laughter and discussions over numerous cups of tea. A newly wed bride from Lucknow, a brilliant singer and a music lover herself, my mother was warmly welcomed into that circle.

After my uncle’s untimely demise, the ‘Radior Ghar’ and its collections fell into disarray. Some of his vinyl records and books were borrowed never to be returned, some were broken, and many got damaged. The shock of his sudden demise was too much to bear and for a while nobody cared for his vinyl record collection. Finally, my mother took over what was left behind and added to it. Growing up I remember listening to the yesteryear greats playing on the HMV record player. My taste for music, that developed in those days, is still tilted towards the melodies of the yore.

The HMV record player one day gave away. By then there were tape recorders and cassettes, and vinyl records seemed old fashioned. Soon there were two-in-ones, the much-coveted Sony Walkman, fancy music systems, CDs and CD players. When I started working, I bought myself an expensive music system that played cassettes, CDs and FM channels, with fancy speakers and all. It was my prized possession for a while. Then suddenly one day music went online, and nobody cared for music systems or cassettes or CDs anymore. When my music system started giving trouble, I didn’t even bother to get it repaired, just gave it away to the society care taker (maybe I will regret this one day).

IMG_20190126_123329.jpgAs a music lover, I am glad for the range of music that is now available online, but listening to ageless strains of  yesteryear’s masters’  on vinyl LPs was a different experience all together, something that I had long forgotten. The very mention of vinyl records during my home trip, brought back those memories. Thanks to my new vinyl turntable and those magical vinyl records which my mother carefully kept all these years, I can now recreate the immortal melodies of my childhood!

Savouring the flavours of childhood

Tiya bit into the murir moa (laddu made out of murmura and jaggery) with delight! She was visiting home for Pujo and her college friend had called her over for Lakkhi Pujo (Laksmi Puja). Goddess Lakshmi is worshiped in every Bengali household on the first full moon night after Bijoya Dhashami. As her mom didn’t do much at home anymore, she decided to go to her friends’ place in the evening. To her surprise, her friend Piyu had followed all the traditions in her adulation of the Goddess, right from the clay idol of Lakshmi to the rangoli to making naru (nariyal laddu made out of jaggery), moa, sandesh and all the other delicacies offered to the goddess at home.

Tiya hasn’t eaten a homemade moa or naru in ages. There was a time when they were served murir or chirer (chirva) moa as evening snacks, with a glass of milk of course. She particularly liked khoi er moa or khoir er upra (sweetened parched paddy) which was no less than caramel popcorn, and far healthier. And sometimes there would be muri makha or tel muri, narkel muri (murmura served with freshly scraped coconut) or chire bhaja (roasted chirva with onion and peanuts).

There was a time when her mom and grandmon would make moa and naru in the afternoon. She remembered the whole process of melting the jaggary to the right consistency, putting muri or chirva in the hot jaggary and mixing it well. She remembered them shaping the hot mixture into round laddus, their palms would at times go red. Her mom continued to do these alone for a while after her grandmother passed away. She probably she stopped after Tiya and sisters left home.

Mom would even make samosas at home, phulkobi samosas were her speciality, and green pea kachori (puri stuffed with green peas) served with aloor dum. Tiya remembered as a child her family would rarely eat out. Her mom made delicious food at home, there was always such variety. Even pickles and jams were all homemade. Her nani also made aam padad and chiki at home. The homemade moa and naru served by Piyu brought back the almost forgotten delicious flavours of her childhood.

poppins

Who eats moa and naru now, lost in the world of candies, popcorn and burgers do today’s kid even know what they taste like? When Tiya was a little girl she was so much easier to please, few orange toffees would make her day. Yes, round wrapped orange toffees that you rarely see now. Parle did try their hands on it but it wasn’t the same. And there was Poppins and Gems that came in different colours. Then came five stars and milk chocolates that were more expensive, and Tiya and sisters were allowed to indulge in them only occasionally.

The pink bubble gums came next. Tiya remembers chewing those gums endlessly till her jaws ached and blowing them, most of the times they would blow up on her face. Those chewed gums created lot of mess in the school – she would find them stuck under the desk, in the books, worst was boys sticking those gums in her long hair.

As Tiya grew up and went for tuitions with her friends they would occasionally indulge in chanachur (Bengali mixture with onion, mirchi, nimbu & stuff) or the roadside mutton chops. Tiya and her friends would walk to the tuition classes, saving on the rickshaw fare so they could feast on chanachur and mutton chop on their way back.

Probably Tiya’s generation saw the advent of fast food or junk food with the launch of Maggi, it was such an instant hit. Tiya still remembers looking forward to Maggi as school lunch or Sunday breakfast. When she left home, she was introduced to the world of pizzas, burgers, pastas, wraps, rolls, tacos and what not, and the humble narus, moyas and samosas were soon forgotten.

Once Tiya started working and living on her own she started cooking, in fact started enjoying cooking, but not the typical Bengali stuff. She would dish out international cuisine, sometimes Italian, sometimes Lebanese. She started baking and her cakes became quite a hit with her friends and colleagues. Looking at the array of traditional home-made delicacies laid out by Piyu, Tiya suddenly felt a twinge of guilt mixed with nostalgia. It’s time to dish up the traditional flavours and surprise her friends with naru, moa and jhalmuri and kachori!

Waking up to ‘Yeh Akashvani hai’

‘AIR to cut cost with shutdowns,’ I looked incredulously at the news clip in Sunday’s TOI. It opened a floodgate of memories. As a child I woke up every morning to ‘Yeh Akashvani hai’, my father would turn on the radio at 6.30 a.m. for the morning bulletin and that was our que to leave bed. Ameen Sayani’s Binaca Geetmala and various other music programs that my mother would routinely listen to, plays that were aired on the weekends and of course the matches. Be it test cricket, or Mohan Bagan vs East Bengal football matches, the AIR commentators brought them alive. We could feel the excitement in the air!

murphy radio

For a long time, Radio was the main source of entertainment and information, TV came only in mid-eighties. There were many AIR stations available at different frequencies airing variety of programs. I vaguely remember there was a room assigned to Radio back then – Radior Ghar or The Radio Room. The room had a table with a Murphy Radio plugged in. The whole house would gather in that room for important bulletins or football matches.

Mohan Bagan vs East Bengal matches were a big draw then. People would either bunk office or leave work early to listen to the live commentaries. Hailing originally from Bangladesh, every member of my family was a staunch East Bengal supporter. We kids were made to offer flowers to the Radio with a prayer for East Bengal’s victory. The excitement and the tension in air during those matches is something that I haven’t witnessed even in stadiums. My father, uncles and sometimes uncle’s friends would sit together to listen to the commentary – the Radio would be playing at full volume, the shouts and the cheers whenever East Bengal scored a goal, the tension and the dejection when East Bengal played badly or lost, are integral part of my childhood memories. The atmosphere would get further heated if relatives or friends from West Bengal (Mohan Bagan supporters) were visiting during those times.

philips transistor

Then came the battery operated and portable transistors (Philips I think), one for my grandmother who was hooked to the plays, and one for my mother for her various musical programs. I developed quite a knack for the plays and would sneak into my grandmother’s room on Sunday afternoons to listen to them. Those plays were really well made, the actors bringing the plot and characters alive just through dialogues. There was a special show for children as well – Shishu Mela where children would perform, recite a poem, sing a song – that we would religiously listen to every Sunday morning. There were informative shows like talk shows on agriculture and farming. My father who was a senior official with the state agriculture department would be invited often to talk on those shows. Sitting around the radio, listening to out father’s voice reverberating in the room, we would feel no less than celebrity kids!

Growing up, I found the world of radio or the world behind it enigmatic and magical. Those voices in the air – sometimes deep, sometimes sonorous, sometimes sweet and melodious – transported me to a magical world. I would try very hard to give them a physical shape, to imagine what my favourite anchors and commentators looked like.

Then one fine day there were televisions, and music systems and VCRs and what not and Radio lost its place of prominence. My father still listened to the AIR bulletins and my mother to her select music programs. When I left home, Radio vanished from my life all together, the only form of Radio that I now know is the music system in my car that plays the FM channels, and also a few AIR stations that I rarely tune to.

But All India Radio still holds an iconic status for me, the news of AIR downsizing is like an era coming to an end. I really hope AIR uses this opportunity to reinvent itself and connect with the millennium. Waiting for the day when the tech savvy urban Indian will say, ‘Shut up Alexa, I am tuning into AIR!’

The Fountain and the Pot Affair

Pinky lived happily in her comfortable little box. Every morning she would go to Tutu the pot for a little chit and chat and to get her fill of the royal blue warmth that she would keep pouring out through the day. Over the months the friendly chit chat became more loving and earnest, Pinky would look forward to seeing Tutu every morning, they would hug each other affectionately and talk lovingly about the day ahead. Tutu would gently urge Pinky to script beautiful pieces with her royal blue fill and not to spill in the wrong places. For if Pinky spilled in the wrong places like Tiya’s textbook or her white shirt, Tiya’s mom would be really annoyed.pen & pot

Soon Pinky and Tutu’s affair hit a rocky patch, for there came Payal the pilot who was forever vying for Tutu’s attention. Payal was smart and witty, quick to take her fill of the royal blue warmth that she would never spill out wrong. Though Tutu would tell Pinky that she’s the one he wanted and hug her affectionately, Pinky could sense that his affection was clearly divided, sometimes more tilted towards Payal. Tutu’s eyes would light up moment Payal would walk in, he would laugh happily at her witty one-liners and compliment her for being so smart. Pinky would sulk standing in one corner feeling ignored. And to make matters worse soon there was chic and haughty Impy the parker.

IMG_20190104_130843.jpgImpy the parker made even Payal very uncomfortable. Impy was sleek, with a steady flow that never spilled, and Tutu was forever gushing over her and sometimes even failed to notice Pinky. Though he still affectionately hugged Pinky and apologize for the oversight, she would feel slighted and hurt. And not just Tutu, even Tiya started choosing Payal and Impy over Pinky. Though Pinky was Tiya’s first fountain pen and Tiya adored her even though she spilled at times, upon her mother’s insistence she started opting for Payal and Impy more often. ‘They write better and don’t spill, please stop using the clumsy Pinky,’ her mother would tell Tiya again and again.

IMG_20190104_130721.jpgThings went downhill with ball point Kim and cello Jill joining the fray. In fact, now even Tutu was worried for Kim and Jill didn’t need his fill. And Tiya preferred them over the rest as they were convenient and easy to use, she didn’t need to fill them every day, they lasted for weeks. Though Pinky, Payal and Impy wrote better, who cared about handwriting nowadays. Tiya had a lot to do and she had no time to spend on silly old fountain pens. Arch rivals Pinky, Payal and Impy were now boxed together finding solace in each other’s company. For Tutu it was even worse, he stood dusty and neglected in one corner of Tiya’s study table with no one to turn to.

Then one day the lid of the box opened, ball point Kim and cello Jill were dropped in. Pinky, Payal and Impy glared at them angrily and pushed them in one corner. ‘How dare you come here? You are the ones who boxed us?’, they growled angrily. ‘Please spare us, it’s not our fault,’ pleaded Kim and Jill, ‘It was Tiya all along.’ ‘She picked us over you, coz we were easy to use. And now that she has a fancy tablet and a laptop, she doesn’t need us anymore. We pens are out of fashion you see. Tiya prefers the use and throw kinds for her occasional scribbles, and smartly keys in the rest in her fancy gadgets.’ Pinky, Payal, Impy, Kim and Jill sighed together, held each other’s hands and lay down quietly in the box.