A Cassette in Hand is Worth Two on the Stand
Just the other day, I found a cassette.
Shoved in one corner it was just collecting dust, but it was a fresh blank (an awesome 120-minute one). I tore off the plastic wrapper and immediately clicked the case open.
It’s been years since I heard that click.
You remember the sound made by those two round blobs at each end of the case, right?
In my yesteryears, I used to spend a lot of time on music. Collecting, listening, archiving, cleaning and even putting the right cassettes back into the right cases. Hours, even complete weekends would go by just doing all these things.
If friends or cousins came over to your house, they came with cassettes. That’s how I was introduced to most of the latest songs or bands. I still remember hearing ‘Korn’ for the first time when a cousin came over with a cassette tucked into his cargos. We closed the door, quietly put the cassette in and played it on very a very low volume. I barely heard it, but I badly wanted it.
You see, Korn had extremely abusive lyrics. And this stuff is still a rage in school. At that time, if a cassette had a “Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics” sticker on it, it was guaranteed to sell.
Radio wasn’t a big source of new music. AIR FM Rainbow – remember the jingle? – used to only play pop songs. But TV, oh yes, that was awesome. How can I ever forget MTV ‘Most Wanted’ by Shenaz Treasurywala? (Primarily because it’s title sponsor was Durex, which was particularly embarrassing if you’re watching TV with your parents). Making a transition from Cartoon Network to MTV and Channel [V] was difficult and frought with risks. But good ol’ peer pressure drove me on.
Searching for Music
Finally, you heard it.
That one song that was stuck in your head. Or that one guitar riff that blew you away. You just had to get it, no matter what.
You search your local market, the small music store that plays bhajans loudly but sells other genres discreetly. But he was always useless as all his stuff was four weeks old already. Somehow, somewhere, someone was going to South Ex, which had the Mecca-Medina of music: Planet M. Three bloody floors of just awesome music. Rarest of the rare, finest of the finest and trashiest of the trashiest – it was all there. You just had to ask. (Ask the right sales guy, though.)
Your heart beat stopped. Hands were sweating. Lips sealed. There it was, such a beauty. Colourful graphics, front cover, back cover (with holes). The cassette you always wanted. And there – without any pretense – was Track 3. The tune you were humming all day. Right there.
Rs. 125/- only.
Shit. Why were international bands always thrice as expensive as Indian ones?
Saving Up for Music
I actually never got pocket money, but neither did I get Rs. 125 at one go. I earned money by collecting change after buying eggs, bread, butter and milk. (On a separate note, I was quite pissed when milk started getting delivered at our house at 6 AM). The entire process meant that I didn’t buy any chocolates. Or chips. And I had to wait. Days, even weeks. God that was torture.
But that wait ends. Especially when you tell your mom that bread was not available and you keep the change. Then you rush to the music store.
Buying that Music
The thing is, it’s easy to see cassettes of the explicit-lyrics kind in a music store. No problem. You can pick them up, pretend you’re seeing it for the first time – eye pop, jaw drop, full-on acting – and put them right back.
Just buying them is bloody tough.
All cashiers have weird eyes. They’re not aligned, I tell you. They’re red at the center and even redder at the corners. Plus, they always squint. Especially at me. Shit. I make mental notes to never visit that music store again!
With eight 10-rupee notes, three 5-rupee coins, eleven 2-rupee coins and eight 1-rupee coins, I had finished everything in my wallet. Zero. Zilch. Nothingness.
Actually, not. I had traded a zero for something priceless.
Just Push Play
I quickly rushed back home, ripping off the Parental Advisory sticker en-route and dumped my bag. I slowly took off the plastic wrapper (didn’t want to ruin the case, did I?) and then I heard it:
The first click!
A fresh new cassette. YES! Anyways, I pressed eject (Gosh! Do you still remember that word?) and waited for the cassette bay to open. (This was the worst; why did it take so long for it to tilt 45 degrees open?). I shoved the cassette in and pushed … play!
(At low volume, of course).
Finish Side-A. Rewind. Play. Ugh – too soon. Rewind again. Play. Too far. Fast Forward. Play.
For the next few weeks, I was married to my Walkman. The moment I came back home, I had headphones on. When I took the dog for a walk, I had a Walkman slinging from one side. Even while I pretended to study, that song stood by me always.
And Then ..
.. I went to my friend’s house. With my cassette hidden in my cargo pocket.
His music was always four weeks old.