The screen was blank and so was my mind. The blinking cursor looked tired, blinking and waiting for just the right thought to come and hit me. I sat watching the blinking cursor, switched between browser windows, flitting between Twitter, Facebook and my other blog , for a word, a phrase, a sign, something. But no ideas would come to me. Even my thoughts kept deluding me. Behind the heavy, beige curtains – outside my window – it was a sultry, summer afternoon, one of the hottest since I had arrived in Maximum city two years ago, and a lonely raven cawed away on a neighbour’s parapet. Suddenly the monotony of the clickety-clack of the keyboard, whirring AC, rattling fan and the cawing raven didn’t sound monotonous anymore, an old song on the radio had filled up the ‘silence’ of the room. My fingers tapped along with the song from Mahal and my mind started to soar.
And before I could take hold of its reins, the mind had reached back, back to another long, lazy, summer afternoon. I was sprawled out on my grandmother’s mahogany palank, a volume of Sharadindu Bandyopadhaya’s satyanveshi Byomkesh Bakshi in hand. The big Telefunken radio, which had brought music into the house as a part of my grandmother’s dowry, sat in all its glory atop the mantle piece and heralded the singers, composers and lyricists before giving way to music from another past. The long shadows on the narrow balcony outside grew longer with the passing time as Byomkesh and I soared with the music in the room.
The radio for a long time had not left my side; ever since I was nine to be precise when my father had gifted me his Telefunken, one that he had bought from his first salary. This was much smaller than my grandfather’s piece, but was magical all the same. He taught me how to twist and turn the yellow ochre knobs and tune in to a station; how to “always place the radio on the north-south axis”; and how to stay away from corners that interrupted the uninterrupted broadcast.
Those were the early eighties; a time when Doordarshan was yet to offer daylong entertainment, summer vacations were long, and summer afternoons even longer because of the ban imposed on us from stepping out into the sun. On such afternoons, I had my lonely corner, my books and a radio rich with music from the sixties and the seventies. And on ‘select’ afternoons, the bill of fare became even richer with an array of drama, thrillers, science fiction and adaptations of literary classics being brought to my insatiable ears.
The radio dramas did find favour with the rest of the family as well. On Friday evenings my Grandmother’s Telefunken would come alive with plays broadcast from Akashvani’s Kolkata ‘A’ channel at 8 p.m. sharp. The large dining room, where the Telefunken was now placed, would slowly fill up – first with the women folk and then the reluctant men folk – drawn by the magical voices of Jagannath Guha, Shaoli Mitra and Debraj Roy. The radio would also find its place beside me, and many others on the terrace under a starlit sky, when the whole city was plunged into long hours of darkness thanks to a power outage, with a solitary lantern casting eerie shadows on the dark, near invisible walls.
By the time cable television changed the course of Indian televiewing habits, and people were shifting chores around and giving up social gatherings, beloved addas, to accommodate a favourite show, I had already moved on to high school. Televiewing came with too many conditions that needed to be fulfilled; too many restrictions over what we could watch or not watch at all. I stuck to my old faithful; the only difference being that the Telefunken had been replaced by a trendy Grundig two-in-one.
Then I reached college and suddenly times changed. The nineties ushered in new fangled MTV-ised tastes and with it the FM era. The rambling inanities of the RJs, current songs played on a mindless loop and the emergence of the agony aunt robbed much of the charm that the radio had for me.
I moved on to television – to greener pastures – to books, CDs, MP3 players, LDs, home theatre systems and multiplexes. And somewhere in the urge to change things, the radio was relegated to a soft, fuzzy warm spot in the mind. My favourite books changed, Telefunkens became museum pieces, my address changed many times over, and so did my afternoons. Now they are terribly busy and lack anything remotely close to character; ‘long’ and ‘lazy’ are adjectives that I see parents lavish on their wards; I catch up on my reading while my daughter dribbles, dodges, ducks with her basketball. I store my music on my iPod and fill up idle hours tweeting and updating my status on other social networks.
But I do wonder how it would feel to go back to a place where the radio plays only the rich songs of yore, and not the mindless babble of today; television programming is limited to three to four hours – and that too on a single channel; a world with no internet, where no technology led innovation rudely intrudes into our daily lives. And I realize that would have to be on a time machine dating back to my childhood. Hope persists that some day, somewhere, such a blissful afternoon awaits me, sometime in the future, possibly.
Read it on my TOI blog :