The mono cassette player at our home was one of the earliest pieces of electronic gadgetry we were allowed to handle as children. Probably a hand-me-down from our grandparents, it was already years old1 when I formed my first memories of it. It sounded muddy and muffled, of worn cassettes and dusty innards. Its biggest allure was therefore not the musical enjoyment it provided, but its ability to record our voices. Lazy Sunday afternoons would be spent before it attentively reciting a song or a poem we had learnt at school. Sometimes mom would join in and hum a favourite Hindi oldie or two. The record button had to be depressed together with the play button for the recording to begin. As I write this, I can even recall its tight tactile feel.
Video cassette players and recorders weren’t a reality yet2 so we’d occasionally deploy the audio cassette recorder to record an episode or two of our favourite TV shows. We’d have to sit quietly and mom or dad would sometimes get up and pause the recording during ad breaks. The blank cassettes, especially the Sony variety my aunt would send from the US, were quite coveted and the space had to be used judiciously. For all the effort we put in, we must have heard these recordings only once or twice. After all, the original content hadn’t been produced for radio and didn’t translate well to a medium without video. Still, I wish we had somehow preserved those recordings.
The cassette player eventually fell into disuse when we bought a lighter “two-in-one”. A black, light, boxy thing called thus because it could play cassettes and also tune into radio3. And as we grew older, the family ritual of recording our voices lost its charm as well. There comes a point in the life of an electronic gadget when it’s cheaper to buy a newer one than getting the older one repaired. I don’t know what became of the old cassette player. It was probably given away to someone in the hope that they could get it repaired and continue to use it.
I wonder if years from now, we’ll look back at our phones and our laptops with the same fondness.
It was a hunk of solid plastic and aluminum. The thing ran on electricity but also had a battery compartment on its flip side that took 2 D-sized (or was it 4?) dry cells. We rarely ran it on batteries but I still remember springs inside the compartment being rusty. A satin ribbon attached inside (to allow you to lever the batteries out easily), perennially bore the stains of fluids from some past battery leakage.↩
They certainly wouldn’t have been anywhere close to affordable for my family then.↩
Definitely AM and SW radio but probably FM radio too.↩