Dubai-based expatriates share their memories from a bygone era
Handwritten letters, fountain pens, rotary phones, typewriters, Walkman, film cameras, VHS tapes — are these the stuff of the yesteryears? An essential yesterday, forgotten today? Have they lost their charm and utility with the passage of time, leaving just lingering memories?
Obsolete gadgets, habits and their impact in bygone eras make for a fascinating recall. Check them out – with a piece of history and some quirky facts.
Here is the last of a six-part series of stories. Part 5: Walking with the Walkman, which brings music to the ears
By Justin Varghese, Your Money Editor
To be honest, there are some things I miss, and there are some things I don’t. I may miss my cell phone if it went missing right now, but I can admit that I had more time to myself before the advent of mobiles. This is what reminded me of this one item I miss from my childhood – the rotary dial phone.
I recall a time when we just had the one rotary dial phone at home (the one with a compressed cord, that somehow always got tangled) – shared by my family of four. If you were not at home you couldn’t be contacted – end of story. While I agree that it was a much simpler time before cell phones, I may be missing the rotary phone even more, but this also brings me to my next item of 90s reminiscence.
This next gadget wasn’t really practical and the music quality in particular wasn’t all that great as it is now, but I still dearly miss my old boxy Walkman. I can’t quite put my finger on it, because even though they were clunky or how at times even devoured the cassettes in them, there is something I miss about the experience of listening to one, particularly in my family car’s backseat during our weekend drives.
Maybe I miss the way I’d listen to a favourite song over and over until I almost hated it, but had learned every word, because you can only carry so much at once. Maybe it’s how the sound of rewinding the tapes made me giggle, or how they always kept your place perfectly if you had to pause. I honestly don’t know, but every now and then, I get tempted to hunt one down – which brings me to my next gadget of nostalgia.
My childhood wouldn’t be complete without those VHS tapes and the VCR machine that played them. We had about hundreds of VCR tapes stored in drawers, cabinets and boxes in our living room. Yes, the VHS cartridges and the VCR machine were big and clunky, the picture quality was poor (which only got worse with age and wear), and not to mention the time spent waiting for them to rewind. And while I agree that with movies that could be streamed, there was no mess and no space being taken up at home, I miss the simpler times the age-old devices brought along with it.
I also miss the sort of really basic technology that gave me much joy even though it wasn’t really a technological marvel. Etch-A-Sketch was a marvellous machine that looked, in many respects, like a modern tablet but involved a painstaking process of using an internal stylus, which you could not lift away from the inner screen to create designs. Similarly, another 90s play-thing were Kaleidoscopes, these wonderful little tubes that allowed you to be mesmerised by complex and reflected designs.
Who would have thought? Turns out there were a lot more gadgets I missed from my childhood than I thought.
By Sadiq Shaban, Opinion Editor
Time is a sly monster. Back when I was growing up in the 1980s, transistors radios were a thing. We had a lovely off white Murphy transistor radio in Kashmir. Those were the days when transistor was the only form of entertainment and information, apart from the occasional Black and White TV set in an odd household or two in the locality.
I distinctly remember my dad always tuned into BBC, Voice of America, and of course the All India Radio. Mother was a fan of Vividh Bharati that forever played colourful movie songs.
Our triode valve radio fitted inside a large wooden cabinet and was treated like a family heirloom. As kids, neither me nor my sister was allowed to touch it, lest we accidently changed the frequency.
The names of medium wave or short wave radio stations were labelled on the dial panel with two huge knobs for volume and tuning. As we grew up, awed by the Murphy transistor, the radio itself remained the same.
At some point I started keeping a diary and I remember entering in it all the fascinating things I heard on the radio. One entry in my early teen years went like this, “It is well past midnight now. The BBC London just said that a new species of birds called the gorgeted puffleg has been discovered by scientists in the wild. The announcer says it remained hidden from humanity for an eternity and it is green and violet. It also has an iridescent green plumage on its neck.”
I then proceeded to give my teenage hypothesis: Wonder why the poor bird had to appear now. Everyone will follow it in an effort to catenate its existence. Every flight of the poor bird shall be observed. Why do some things have to appear to cause all this flutter, I ask no one in particular? Expectedly, I get no answers.
Conjectures apart, transistors signified an innocent era. Evertime I see a transistor now (mostly with collectors or some private museum), something shifts in me. I feel nostalgia lifting slowly. The feeling is gemütlich. That is German for the blend of homeliness, coziness and comfort one associates with times bygone.
One of the things that today’s generation (I’m 40 and can safely say this now) may never experience – that many of us who grew up listening to the radio — is falling in love with someone’s voice, experiencing a theater of the mind, and feeling intimate, personal – and inspired.
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