Of Walkmans and Bulky Players

I do not have an iPod. I have a Walkman, a DVD/CD player and an old cassette player. The Walkman is 30 now. I resisted it, as I have resisted several new innovations. I like the comfort of things I am used to – smells, sounds, images. It is as though wrinkles tell so many tales and I like hearing the stories of a time gone by.

When the Walkman walked into my world it was already an established entity. It relieved people of the tedium of heavy music systems. It made music mobile. In buses, in the streets, at the jogger’s park, by the promenade, everyone was swaying to music. Sometimes, if it was played too loud, one could hear strains, as though their ears were blasting sounds that were getting trapped. It became a young hip thing to do.

Music for me had meant something else. Days when we sat listening to the radio and old Hindi film song cassettes in those large players. I loved the cassette. If the reel came off we tried using our little finger or a pencil to turn it back. There was concern that it might not work.

I recall once putting in a blank one and recording a song, a ghazal…Qateel Shifai’s “Pareishan raat saari hai sitaron tum tau so jao” (The night is worried/At least the stars must sleep) made famous by Jagjit-Chitra. This became my claim to family fame.

I often took this player to the bathroom, since I had long baths. It sat on the window sill and I would stop mid-soap or mid-water or mid-whatever just to soak in the voice, the instrument playing…I had always been interested in classical and semi-classical so the idea of raga malhar dedicated to rain seemed like such a potent idea, so much sensual potential…

Someone or the other would bang on the door and ask me to hurry. The day passed and at night before retiring to sleep I’d take that player to bed, hug it close to me and again listen to music. A cousin had gifted me some real nice ones by Frank Sinatra, Boney M, ABBA. I often shut my eyes to “Strangers in the night” or “Fernando”.

The CD looked like a flying saucer to me. I did not know how to hold it, there was nothing to unspool. It looked like the records of old, but I had not much exposure to those records, except at Chor Bazaar, the old market area where real and fake antiques mingle to create an atmosphere of the new trying to be old, a reverse Botox.

I used the Walkman only when I was on the treadmill. No fast-paced music. I must be the rare one who managed to increase my speed and heart rate listening to Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, the classical music maestro, or the soft strains of Mohammed Rafi’s silken voice or Tracy Chapman singing “Sorry, I'm sorry, all that you can say”. Oh, this one really got me going, thinking of all those I could hit with this number. She was da woman and I was sweating it out, with the workout and the anger building up. “If I had a hammer…”

Beyond that, I did not like music right in my ears…ears are for whispers. I like the sounds to seem as though they are coming from someplace else. How else will I reach out and go towards it unless it beckons me?


  1. Are there towns where casettes are still sold and bought and played? I have been thinking what to do with my collection. I am so possessive about it, mainly because they taught me so many songs i love... I would hate to give it away though they are lying neglected. I have contemplated just keeping the covers and giving the cassettes away..

    "ears are for whispers.." nice :)

  2. In our home in Kolkata we have a antique gramophone and after first jerky sound it is clear, we like to show it off.I never liked Walkman or ipod. Thanks for taking me back to so many memories

  3. FV Wow just what I looked forward to on a long weekend.From college we would walk down DN Road and pick up cheap cassettes.If we had more money during college it was Rhythm House.What memories and nice to share with a Bombay person :)

  4. Atul:

    You don't get just cassette players alone, though I am told Panasonic has one. But there are a few that come along with CD players. There is a bulky one by Samsung.


    This reminds me of so many old classics, and some Bangla films and Malik House and Tagore Museum and...memories...


    Both D N Road and Rhythm House still rock...now you get CDs, though. At DN dirt cheap. Lots of porn too :)

    I am not a Mumbai person, not a Bombay person...


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