• Tuesday, Oct 19, 2021
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OP-ED: The lost world of a 1950s child

  • Published at 12:42 am September 23rd, 2021
Radio Nostalgia
So much of life revolved around the transistor radio BIGSTOCK

Radio, train rides, the charm of waiting for the newspaper -- the magic of that era is now gone

For one born in the 1950s, it is often hard to come to terms with the world of the 2020s. Take the simple matter of handling laptops or even the mobile phone. You try writing, as you always do, on the laptop and then realize the degree of vehemence with which a computerized message informs you that your subscription has expired. 

You never knew you had to have a subscription to continue using that laptop. All you know is that you purchased the laptop at a point and once you did that, you could write away in glory. So what happens now? There is a simple yet vexing answer: You rush to the repairman in the neighbourhood, who reassures you that he will fix the problem. And so you wait for good news.

In very large measure, those of us -- or many among us -- coming to life in the 1950s did not or could not imagine that there would be a world of the kind we live in today. When a classmate once informed us, back in school, that someday we would be watching movies not in the cinema halls but at home on something called television, our response to him was derisory. We thought he was a proper fool and told him so. 

But, decades later, here we are, switching our television sets on and watching all those films through such means as Netflix. Do not ask me how to operate Netflix, for the simple reason that in the past few months I have tried to do it and have cheerfully failed in getting a hand on it.

But here’s the point. We who were born in the 1950s began going to the movie halls with our parents in the 1960s, for there were all the good, family movies in those days. Nothing of what we observe today, stories of a futuristic world in English and duets in Hindi movies which suddenly see hordes of young men and women appearing out of nowhere to accompany the “hero” and the “heroine,” was there. 

Altaf sang the Abdul Jabbar number “tumi ki dekhechho kobhu jiboner porajoy” in the movie Ato Tuku Aasha and we wept. We came back home, to reflect on the pathos involved in the story for days on end. That is what we, ageing men and women in our 60s, miss today. 

And we miss much more than movies. We recall the beauty of our mothers and aunts, of the gentle, almost literary way in which they wore their sarees, enough for us to rush headlong to them and feel the warmth in them. Bengal’s women were an epitome of grace and elegance in those days. Their long hair, topped by that ubiquitous khnopa, added to which was the teep on their foreheads, was a rich symbolism for us. Our fathers came home from work, sat down to read the newspaper as they supervised our school homework. We literally quaked for fear that we might not be able to impress them.

We who were born in the 1950s addressed our parents as “abba” and “amma” and “baba” and “ma.” There was little question of ever going for a Western approach to our dealings with them. Not for us “dad” or “mom,” not for us “ammu” and “abbu.” Our uncles and aunts were always “kaka” and “kaki,” never “kakku” or “chachchu” or “chachchi.” 

Nearly all of them have gone the way of all flesh, but the love they showered on us, despite the poverty they were trapped in, are images which keep flashing in the memory land of our childhood. There are other memories -- of travelling on planes which took a beautifully long time picking up energy, given that their four propellers were set going one after another before they could take to the air. 

It was sheer joy travelling by train, with our parents making sure that at relatively longer stops on the way to our destination we came by food -- fish eggs, warm bread, steaming tea -- to whet our appetites. 

That magic has gone with the passing times. And so has the charm of waiting for the hawker who would deliver the newspaper at the doorstep and our mad rush for it. 

In those days, happily for us, there was no television and hence no chance of being bombarded by soundbites and news which today leaves nothing for the listener to reflect on. We read the newspapers avidly. And we learned of the world beyond the classroom, beyond home. My father’s colleague told me to make sure I read the editorials, for that would help me form my own opinions. I followed his advice, gratefully.

Born in the 1950s, we loved the radio. The little transistors, the huge Grundig, the minutes which went by as they warmed up before we could begin fiddling with the needles in our attempts to reach the radio channel we were looking for -- these are the innocent times we miss. The songs we sing and hum today are those we heard on the radio. 

Mercifully, we did not “watch” songs on television. On Christmas Eve 1968, the radio crackled to life as Frank Borman and his fellow Apollo 8 astronauts read from Genesis from the vicinity of the moon. Seven months later, we heard Neil Armstrong speak of a giant step for a man and a giant leap for mankind. 

The radio and the newspaper were our world. We read the classics in illustrated form. We took part in school debates. Early stirrings of romance launched us on the road to composing poetry for the pretty girls next door. We wrote letters to our grandparents back in the village. Happily, we were free of text messages and emails. 

We scoured the libraries in knowledge gathering missions and mercifully we did not have Wikipedia. Football and kabaddi were our games. In school we loved baseball.

We stepped out of the rickety buses we loved on the highway and walked the miles through paddy fields and tall jute plants to our villages. The breeze played in the palm trees and created ripples in the pond. We were the children of pristine, undefiled nature. Deep into the winter nights we watched the jatra, in ecstasy.       

Syed Badrul Ahsan is a journalist and biographer.

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