Memories wrapped in melody

I have collected everything from pebbles to seashells to stamps to books, to sundry other stuff including carefully smoothed out candy wrappers over the years. I thought of them as hobbies, but all of them eventually disappeared – either given away, lost or simply discarded. But one collection has not only remained intact, but has also grown and continues to grow. And though it sort of began in childhood, the physical collection began in my 20s when it turned into a full-fledged hobby. Do hobbies teach one life lessons? They do!

The interest was sown in me by my elder sister. Others told stories while feeding a child or putting her to sleep, but she sang songs – from Hindi films of those days with her own stories woven around them. The songs grew on me and I learnt to differentiate the voices of the singers and associating them with the stories she told. The love grew and in my teens, the lyrics caught my imagination I began collecting those — hastily scribbled in my notebook from the songs played on radio. I couldn’t afford a gramophone (remember the contraption that had a fine needle rotating over the grooves of those black shiny discs?) and just had a transistor radio. It was during this time perhaps that a mere collection became a passionate hobby.

www.youtube.com

When cassettes and cassette recorders came along, my collection began in earnest. The first cassettes came typically from my sister who copied some of my favourite songs for me. Finally I became the proud owner of a Two-in-One (a big thing in those days), and began recording songs from the radio myself on blank cassettes. Suffice to say that the collection grew and finally when my sister gave away all her cassettes, guess who got the lion’s share? My precious collection also contains the stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata my father had recorded for his grandchildren.

As collections go, it was a mixed one. Some cassettes played perfectly with the audio quality being very good. Some had the mukhda missing, some had waxing and waning audio, others had terrible static. The reason for these ‘flaws’ was that they were recorded mostly from Radio Ceylon (Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation) and the method she used to record them.

Sitting hunched over the tape recorder, late into nights, often in darkness so as to not disturb others, she painstakingly not just recorded songs but also classified them into groups: songs from one film, songs of a particular music director/lyricist/singer, songs with two versions, mazedar songs and so on. She would keep several cassettes ready and just as the announcer said the name of the movie/singer/music director/lyricist’s name, she would pop the relevant cassette into the recorder and begin recording. Now you know why some songs missed their mukhdas and others began before the announcer finished talking!

Yellowed by age, but still a treasure

Yellowed by age, but still a treasure

She would cut out pictures of the artistes and paste them on the cassette cover and give them titles like ‘Matchless Mukesh’, or ‘Lovable Lata’. She also catalogued them and made an inlay cover for every cassette. Unfortunately as she readily shared her collection, the inlay covers got interchanged, sometimes even got lost. I have saved them, if only as a reminder of the love and dedication of my sister.

It was a job to lug the huge carton of cassettes with over 300 cassettes, on our innumerable house/city shifts; but carry them I did. However, over the years, not just lugging the tapes but also playing them became an ordeal as cassette recorders became obsolete and the cassettes themselves began deteriorating and even snapping or snagging. I lost so many of them like this and the precious songs they held.

I had to convert them to MP3 format but conversion software were time consuming and complicated. Then some years ago I found a music system that ripped the contents of the cassette directly into MP3 format and saved it on a pen drive, and voila! I am happy to say that today they are all saved in the cloud, for posterity! I never tried to improve their audio quality through editing, since I wanted those little ‘flaws’ to provide me the connect I needed.

cover 2

The handwritten captions are precious

Having ripped all of them, I couldn’t bring myself to throw the cassettes away. They had been part of my life for years. For months I kept them under the bed but when we left Delhi, I hardened my heart and gave them away. I still have some cassettes with me as keepsake.

Now, for the lessons learnt from this hobby: I used to be a very choosy listener. The songs had to have good lyrics and/or my favourite singers. I never went beyond Lata, Rafi (I wrote about him here), Talat, Kishore, Geeta Dutt and Manna Dey. Though my sister’s collection included both Hindustani and Carnatic classical music, other language songs than Hindi, ghazals and folk music, and she tried getting me interested in them, I adamantly picked up only my favourite songs. It was only in my 40s that I began listening to other singers and appreciating them, tentatively at first and then with increasing interest and fascination.

I learnt to appreciate the light-hearted style of G.M.Durrani, the emotion in Surendra’s voice, the sweetness of Lalita Deulkar’s singing, the innocence in Madhubala Jhaveri’s voice. I now understood why my father had seen the Ashok Kumar movie Kismet 12 times – just to listen to the songs, for I fell in love with them myself! What wealth of music I would have missed had I had a closed mind!

This voyage of discovery has taught me to keep an open mind and not discard or condemn anything without giving an ear, or an eye or at least some thought to it.

I have discovered that being a collector is more enjoyable than being a connoisseur. As a collector my interest lies in discovering and adding forgotten melodies to my collection, appreciating some facet of the song in the bargain.  As a connoisseur, I would have ended up being limited in my appreciation and perhaps turned too critical.

There are those who are completely into music – knowledgeable about the various genres, singers and musicians themselves. Alas! I am not one of them. But then everyone can’t be an expert, can one? Though I love listening to all genres, my heart is in Hindi film music and I am not apologetic about it. So yes, my hobby has taught me to enjoy what I like without trying to justify or defend it.

And then one day, a small music group happened. Started by one of my school friends on FB, it is dedicated to old Hindi film songs, though we also post non-filmy and new songs to set themes. Some members post new songs, even the latest ones. Of course, I still don’t abide by the inane lyrics and lack of melody in most of the songs today — which are composed for a use-and-throw generation — but some of the songs shared by my friends have struck a chord and have found place in my precious collection.  I have learnt that sometimes things are beautiful when seen/heard through the eyes and ears of friends.

When I listen to the static-filled and sometimes incomplete songs from my collection, my thoughts go back all the way to the time when my sister sang to me as kid and then to the young woman who sat in the dark and recorded them, and both images fill me with love. They are my precious memories wrapped in melody. Doesn’t that make it the best collection/hobby ever?

Do you have any collection? Do tell me about it, won’t you?

Gramophone image courtesy: www.youtube.com

39 comments

  1. I need music all the time….from my childhood. My mother, her mother, my father, maamas…all were fanatics…film music and carnatic music. Father was fond of Hindustani.

    After the radio, we had a car radio inside the house as a cassette player. We had many Kishore’s and Latha’s songs recorded…personally recorded. When I was in school, we used to stand/sit beside the radio and write the lyrics…both my sister and I did and verified later and wrote the full songs in a separate note book later. Sister still has got that note book!

    Your sister is great! She had patience to do all those things! I recorded songs from the radio for my son who wanted them to take with him to the US! If the buy the movie song cassette, it had many other songs which we didn’t like and it would be expensive to buy many cassettes…one cassette for just one good song…ridiculous!

    I used to write the name of the movie, singers and song on the covers of the cassettes just like your sister did! But did not segregate like she did!

    I had two cartons of cassettes. I gave them off to people who loved music when I shifted to this flat…but reluctantly. My player also had gone kaput.

    My sons too enjoy old Hindi film music and Jagjit Singh ghazals even now. Husband also loves them. So, our home is always filled with music.

    Was happy to read this post and was happier to write a post-like comment! Thank you!

    Had gone on a road trip. So, am late here. Hope this comment gets posted here…

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    1. Loved your post-like comment, Sandhay! I guess people of our generation listened diligently to songs and even scribbled the lyrics to sing along later. Don’t forget the antaksharis we played for hours on end! Once we become listeners we remain so till the end, right? Thanks to YouTube now we have unlimited access to songs and have websites that give us the lyrics too! How was the road trip? where to?

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      1. Even now, I write down lyrics sometimes! Antakshari was/is a must in our functions, esp. mother’s side! We had been upto Mahabaleshwar this time. Wrote a post about Krishna Devi temple. You must be knowing about that temple. The scenery over there was beautiful!

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        1. Will you believe it, for someone from Maharashtra, I have never been to Mahabaleshwar? I am sure it was a wonderful.

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  2. In addition to the other one, here’s one more – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jZFJVoEtaPU
    And you should read up the meaning to the songs he sings, it’s even more amazing. Saw the interview and I was bowled over by the simplicity and immense wisdom he brings.

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  3. Zephyr, what an enjoyable hobby ! Your differentiation between a collector and connoisseur is very apt ad then you are duty bound to demonstrate an eclectic taste and criticism naturally follows.
    Your static filled and mukhda-missing cassettes are a far greater treasure than anything you could have ever bought.
    While I was not exactly a music aficionado, I used to regularly listen to Chitrahaar and Rangoli. Now when some old songs play on TV, my husband who’s passionate about music gets amazed when I am able to recollect the lyrics and tune after all these years, considering I wasnt so fanatical about it.
    I remember writing down the lyrics too.. I recently listed to Mukhtiar Ali’s songs on youtube and I was so transfixed by him and the meanings of his songs. Probably you might like them too, if you haven’t already listened to him.
    Here is the link to the same – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PJFfebWmKeQ

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    1. More the criticism, I think the restrictions that are imposed upon the connoisseur are well, too restrictive 🙂 By being a collector, I am open to listening to many new songs and genres, even within Hindi films. I think the best folk songs I can recollect offhand are from Godaan by Pt.Ravishankar. Of course there are many others, but this one is my favourite. Talking of favourites, my music group friends must be fed up of my calling practically every other song my all time favourite song — because they are! I can understand your not forgetting the lyrics of songs you had heard long ago. Hope they are the ones you like, for even the others ‘grow’ on you and keep going round in your head after hearing it many times. It sometimes happens with me and I am driven up the wall trying to shake it off 😀
      And hey, that was such a wonderful link you have shared. Thank you so much! I listened to it and can’t have enough of his singing, his voice and the devotion in it. There are so many such gems we would never get to listen to unless we are collectors, would we?

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  4. Down the memory lane…..now am too thinking of posting something in these lines….have always been interested in music, collecting lyrics…my elder sis did that…I had them by heart, so no need…loved your post made me nostalgic

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    1. Oh do post your memories of music too! We did memorise so many songs back then, didn’t we? I am surprised that many of them are still fresh in my memory even though I haven’t heard them for ages. Glad you enjoyed the post 🙂

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  5. Even i used to get recorded all my fav. songs, which are very difficult to find today, last year I bought a cassette player to listen to my old songs, whenever any cassette is damaged I feel very sad.

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    1. Cassettes spoil over time, Ranu, which is why I converted them all, but in the same order, same condition. Though we can listen to all the songs in the best condition on YouTube, they mean so much to me in terms of memories. Why don’t you convert them too?

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  6. I too have a good collection of cassettes,like you I also used to write & sing one fine day my brother complained to my mother & i got a gd thrash according to my mother listening & singing film songs was not gd on those days later after my marriage my husband supported me & I started collecting cassettes of marathi bhavgeet, hindi old songs , gazals & M S Subbalakshmi”s kirtans. still I have a suitcase full of them. Later my son started singing western songs he had a nice band group also great fan of eric clapton & pink floyed.so I have those cassettes also. Few days back my brother visited my house & almost he was in tears saying that you are the most talented girl of our house & because of me mom always used to thrash you .At that moment I felt that none of my collections are are as sweet as a brother’s confession & affection.

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    1. Great to see you here, Lakshmi! I know how it was in those days when films and film songs were frowned upon. My brother was like that too. He would only listen to bhajans and Carnatic music on the radio and if he heard me or my sister playing Vivish Bharti or Radio Ceylon, he would come charging from his room upstairs and switch it off! I am so sorry to hear that you got thrashed for listening to them. I know you have a ear for all genres of music 🙂 It was indeed sweet of your brother to own up to his mistake. I guess it was his raakhi gift to you!

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  7. My red Sony Walkman was such a trendy thing. I remember taking it for school picnics. We still have a great cassette collection of Soulful Rafi, Velvet Voice of Talat Mehmood, Romantic Kishore and others that my husband plays on our old music system for nostalgia sake. Such solace after rowdy beats of Mika and Honey Singh. A lovely post dear.

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    1. I remember my older son listening to Talat Mahmood songs when he had migraine. They helped him relax and he would tell me to keep it going even if he dropped off to sleep! The songs, even the ones with great beats like those of C.Ramchandra and O.P.Nayyar were not loud or tuneless as most songs today seem to be. I am amazed that songs that are over 60 years old are still loved by people. Can we say the same about Mika or Honey Singh? I am happy you have a music system that has a cassette player too. Happy listening!

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  8. What a lovely post Zephyr,it tugs at my heart because i have all my precious tapes but no player.I read recently that cassette players are again being manufactured.I will hunt and be the first one to buy one.
    Like your sis i too used to record from radio.Then i would go to the shops with my own list of songs and get them recorded in cassettes named like Matchless Mukesh,Lata Melodies etc.All my favorite songs are a treasure for me.
    Your post has evoked many memories-thanks.
    Love n hugs.

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    1. Philips still manufactures cassette recorders. You can check them out. If you can, get one of those that converts cassettes into MP3 format, as I had done. So while listening to the cassette, you can simultaneously convert it too. I will find out the model and let you know. They keep changing the models. And then, they are all use and throw these days. Mine went bad and I chucked it out. So you too have named the cassettes! That must mean that you know the order of the songs also. How wonderful! I am happy the post evoked memories of music, Indu 🙂

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  9. Oh, I used to have a bus ticket collection with my brother which we threw away. A pretty good audio cassette collection too but some of the tapes spoiled and some we gave away. Those tapes were notorious in getting spoiled. Me too, I like what I like to hear or read. I don’t care much for what is meant to be liked. Lovely post.

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    1. Bus ticket collection? That must have been fun, especially if done with a sibling! The reason why I converted the tapes was because they were going bad and they held many memories for me. So I just converted them as they were. My other sister edited out the noise, enhanced the sound etc. but for me the flaws were as precious as the songs. I even would know when there would be prolonged static or some other disturbance during the song 🙂 Oh,, yes. ‘meant to be liked’ is right. My interest might elicit gasps of disapproval from the connoisseurs of music, but I am just a collector, see? 😀

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  10. Such a nostalgic post, BM. I can understand how painful it must have been to discard all those tapes. I would also write the lyrics while the tape was going on to sing for myself later 😛 By the time music came to my ears, radios were still there but tape recorders were the in thing. Yes, I remember all those years my uncle painfully sat at the music shops and got cassettes recorded and would play them. For some reason, I fell in love with them instantly. I wanted to own my own ‘walkman’ but my amma never got me one 😦 Later moving on to all the places, I never got to have my collection. I asked S to buy me an ipod when it initially came, but he too never bought. Now I can buy, but the enthusiasm died. As such everything is available in you tube, so ….I would love to have it one day though. Sorry for the rant comment 😀

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    1. I know all songs are available on YouTube but do you have the time to listen to them? And enthusiasm and interest in music never die. They get revived the moment you have the time to spare. So don’t worry. For starters you can start humming while driving.It will relieve the stress and make you feel light and chirpy when you reach work 🙂

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      1. Found In Folsom · · Reply

        Oh yes….I play them at work most of the time. I put my headset on and listen to any song that pops up.. 🙂 while working. I don’t leave any chance to either listen to music or read a book if I have time to spare or speak on the phone 😛

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        1. That is the best way to listen to music.I don’t believe in sitting down to do it. It should flow around and over me and that is divine! But do hum and sing too. It is even more relaxing.

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  11. Enjoyed reading this nostalgic post. I remember the first cassette I owned – a collection of Lata songs, all composed by Madan Mohan. And to this day some of those songs remain some of my favourites from these two great musicians. Your post also reminded me of how we threw out a very large collection (well not threw out actually, but donated to a public library) of audio cassettes and LPs when we moved from the US to India. What to do, we just couldn’t bring everything! I remember we even had a sort of a catalogue of our music collection – categorised under genres, musicians etc. Really! But since those years I have never really been a collector of anything, we periodically go over our music and book collections and give away what we don’t want to hold on to. It just feels ‘lighter’ that way 🙂

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    1. Lata and Madan! What a combination they made! I have so many songs of the pair in my collection and yes, they are some of my favourites too. But of late I have begun looking for rare songs that were/are never played on the radio (even FM) and which are not there in my collection. My sister keeps asking me if a particular song is there in her collection or has been lost during one of her generous lending sprees. I look for that song on YouTube and listen to it through her ears and boy! Do I love it! I have given away a lot of my books too, books which I have read and might never read again and now I have also given away the cassettes. Thank God for technology, I feel lighter too, since all the thousands of songs are stored in the clouds 🙂 Next time you give away some books, do let me know. I am shameless that way 😛

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  12. Your cassettes reminded me of my Dad’s Rafi songs collection. He had many many of them. Whenever we were travelling by car we were treated (read forced) to the sad, romantic, devotional songs of Rafi. I loathed them as a child but grew up to like and love them. Today I can safely say that Rafi’s voice is God’s voice for me, and nothing can change it!
    I never did the recording from radio part, but I do remember recording my own voice to know how I sounded (which wasn’t very impressive, sadly). I still have a huge collection of cassettes back home. All Hindi movie songs, and like you I’m not justifying myself. ☺
    I do collect stuff although I’m not very passionate about it. My most precious collection would be the loads of greetings cards (birthday, Friendship day, Diwali, Christmas,etc) I received from friends and family. They date back to my school days and remind me of those lovely cherished moments! I miss that tradition now, very much. 😦

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    1. I can understand how you must have ‘suffered’ the songs your dad loved 🙂 I am glad that you finally grew to like his voice and singing. Yes, his voice is divine. Did you read the post I had linked about him? The collection of cards sounds lovely. Perhaps you should laminate them and also scan them to preserve them. For any paper deteriorates over time and I am sure you would like to keep them for years yet. Do you still have the recording of your voice? Maybe you could share it with me? 🙂

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  13. Just like you I remember growing up listening to my mother’s sweet melodious singing (she was called ‘Nightingale’ in her college !)….be it lullabies to my baby sisters or bhajans or singing at functions and get togethers…
    It was hearing her sing songs of old timers..the likes of Kanandevi, Kursheed, Pankaj Mallik that got me interested in all the songs of the 40’s decade early on… Then of course the love for film songs picked up steam and kept on… My older sis and I used to jot down lyrics of songs by one writing down one line and the other the next so as not to miss out any word ! We had filled up so many diaries like this… Recognising music directors, singers, movie of the song, the lyricists became a game of sorts where we would even bet with no stakes of course !
    Then came the cassettes, two-in-ones, MP3, downloading online… There’s no dearth of means of listening to any song you wanted…..
    Yet I miss the romantism and thrill of those days when we used to wait for our favourite songs to be played on the radio…
    Today I prefer listening to Vivid Bharati to listening to MP3 or my playlist on my laptop as it is here I get a vast selection of songs plus the presenter’s lovely description of the songs presented !

    Your lovely post took me back to that time of our lives where we lived on the staple of film songs ! Yep, those were the days my friend…

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    1. Oh, so your mom used to sing! I can just picture her beautiful face singing 🙂 I am sure she deserved her title entirely! Alas! For me, there was no sister, as all of them were years older than me and I pursued my interest all alone. But that didn’t take away from the joy of it all. I never enjoyed Vividh Bharti because they repeated the songs and only played the popular ones. I like listening to songs that are not so popular or those I have not heard (the collector in me!). FM is good that way. Even Sri Lanka Broadcasting corporation has announcers whose Hindi is not all that exciting and their announcements lack the charm of a say Dalbir Singh Parmar (is the first name correct?) or Ameen Sayani. I pick out a particular play list on You Tube that has old songs and play it for the day while I work or read. Sometimes a rare song throws up similar unheard of songs and then it is a feast! Long live YouTube!

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  14. sumanmaheshwari1105@gmail.com · · Reply

    lovely post,even I am music ki दीवानी.use to collect cassettes and my favourite pastime is to listen songs and gazals .Still I have many cassettes, but don’t have tape recorder.When Swati was three years old my sister’s recorded few rhymes in her voice and that cassette is very precious to me.

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    1. Oh, you must find a cassette recorder somehow and preserve at least the one which has Swati’s voice reciting rhymes! We can use one of those software that coverts the content into MP3 format. Doing just a couple of cassettes is not so hard. I will help you 🙂 Do you go to YouTube and listen to songs or do you listen on the radio?

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  15. Lata Sunil · · Reply

    The recording session has made me nostalgic. I too used to do the same.. I would have one blank cassette which was like a rough book. Record all the songs from the radio. Then classify and copy to other cassettes. Oh God! I had even made pictures and neat lists of the songs. Missing those days.

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    1. You belong to the generation after mine, Lata! Back in my sister’s and my time, there was no copying systems. It was only when she went abroad that she got herself a ‘dubbing’ system which allowed her to dub songs from one to another. Hope you have some of the cassettes for keepsake. You can tell your kids stories about those good old days! For me, more than my scribbling the lyrics and recording songs, it is the memory and dedication of my sister that means so much. In fact, this is a dedication of sorts to her, for sowing the love of something inexhaustible in me!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Lata Sunil · · Reply

        My children cant comprehend the workings of the cassette. I gave up on that. But loads of memories.

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        1. Ha ha! So you are the dinosaur, eh?

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  16. Vibe practically with every word here. The ‘collector’ not ‘connoisseur’ part esp. I like what I like and I care two hoots if it is considered ‘discerning taste’ or not 🙂 After all, he who is selective about what he enjoys has much less to enjoy in the world than he who does not approach the world with a close-mesh filter in his head 🙂

    Tell me about the two-in-one 🙂 WHAT a big thing it was.

    Looks, though, like you have adapted to technology far better than me. I have heard of esoteric things like ‘ripping a song’ and all but never thought that it could be done by ordinary mortals 🙂

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    1. Ha ha! Well said about connoisseurs being the losers for being so selective! This is especially true of old Hindi film songs (I don’t want to call it Bollywood because that golden period doesn’t deserve such a commercial term). Oh yeah! The Two-in-one was a treasure especially when I could afford to buy blank cassettes that used to cost a bomb. I have used pre-recorded ones stuffing them with bits of paper at the corners (the manufacturers would have small holes there to prevent recording!:D ) to enable over writing them. And psst! When I first saw the system ‘ripping’ (the word ‘rip’ was flashing on the little window) my precious cassette, I was terrified, thinking of it being shredded 😀 So much for my being tech-savvy 😦

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  17. Hey!! I love this post on cassettes. I had a huge collection staked over the years and thankfully have still a few for posterity. It made the memories awesome. I remember how I cut newspaper pics of stars to let it slip on the cover of the cassettes box. I remember Dad having two cassettes listening to Mukesh singing for Raj Kapoor:)

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    1. I am so happy the post brought back memories of your own collection, Vishal! For me, more even than the cassette collection are the memories they bring on – of childhood when my sister sang to me and fed the love of music along with the morsels of food. Thanks for reading.

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