Over the last few decades we have seen the introduction of so many new gadgets, utilities and conveniences. Most of these have become part of our lives so much so that we wonder how we survived without them! Some obvious ones are the internet, email, mobile telephones, iPod. Heck, even mundane things like an ATM machine, credit cards, a remote-controlled TV, a split a/c, I can go on and on. How many of us who are now 40 years plus would have seen these in our school days, or even college days?
While it is easy to list out the new stuff, you should take a look at some gadgets which were very much a part of our growing up days and are now virtually extinct. Ever think our kids would operate or even see any of the following?
The Dial Phone:
In the real old days if you wanted to speak to someone over the phone, you could do so only via an intermediary, the telephone operator. He or she would juggle with some complicated connections inserting wires in multiple slots on a switchboard in front of him and then connect you with your desired number. With the advent of the dial phone and automatic exchanges, getting connected became a breeze!
For some reason all the dial phones were black in colour. In its dying years though it did get into bright red and pastel green avatars. These chunky phones occupied the pride of the place in the living room. An extension into the bedroom or any other place in the house was possible but P&T department would charge you an extra rental. Hence telephones with extensions were not too common.
Old-timers would remember the telephone dial where the numbers went clockwise from 0 to 9 with each digit having a dedicated slot on the periphery of the dial. You would stick you forefinger into the slot and rotate the dial clockwise till you could get no further. Then for the second digit of the phone number and then the third… till the process of dialing the entire number was concluded. And then you would pray and hope that the call would go through. It was perhaps a 40% chance that the call would go through at the first instance. When it did not, you would repeat the dialing process. Again. And again. Some creative ones would even rest their fingers and use objects like a pencil to do the dialing work.
The dialer community had two distinct sub-types. Those who would dial in consonance with the natural speed of the machine and stay with the dial on its return rotation to its orginal position. Then there were the others who would zip through the clockwise rotation as if they were driving their Bullet motorcycle on a highway and then stare helplessly at the dial on its return movement crawl back slowly to the original position in the manner of a moped (remember Luna?) negotiating the bylanes!
Very often the dial’s return mechanism malfunctioned forcing the dialer to apply considerable reverse force to get the dial to its original position before the second digit could be dialed!
When we got our telephone connection, my father had enough influence in the telephone department not only to get an out-of-turn allotment but also to get a number which others would find easy to dial: 5111. (Jamshedpur had only 4 digit number those days). This was a matter of great pride for us and a source of envy for others who had numbers like, say, 6987!
The slots in the dials also enabled enterprising fabricators to fashion little mechanical brass locks which could be affixed to the dial to prevent “unauthorized” people from using the phone. Or so the lock owners thought! I remember circumventing this several times. The system-beater, if you do not know, is simple! Taps of the button on the telephone cradle!! One tap= digit 1, four taps= digit 4 and ten taps for digit 0. This came in very useful on two occasions when someone thought he was being very nice to me by allowing me to receive calls but was “clever” enough to lock the phone so that I could not dial a number on it. The hostel warden in Nagpur where I did my plus 2 course and my landlord in my early days in Bangalore when I was a Paying Guest resident!
Why I had to do this is a different story altogether!
The Record Player:
This gadget was a major symbol of cultural sophistication of a household. Or its affluence. The record player -also called a gramophone- occupied the place of pride in the living room. Often draped with an embroidered cotton cloth or a white lacy covering to keep the dust away!
We never owned a record player. Could not afford it! My experience of a record player has been either at my friends’ or relatives’ place.
Records would come in different dimensions, though all were black and round. The difference was in the diameter of each and hence the speed you could play a particular record in. The largest one- called an LP, for Long Play- could be played at 33 1/3 rpm while the smaller one- EP or extended play- at 45 rpm. Some really old ones could be played only at 78 rpm! The rpm was set by a knob on the record player, positioned at: 33 1/3, 45 and 78! If you wanted some real entertainment, you could play a playful Kishore Kumar (like in his Jawaani Diwani movie track) at a slower rpm and hear his voice convert to K L Sehgal’s! Or imagine playing a Lata Mangeshkar’s 78 rpm record at 33 1/3!
We kids could never figure out how these flat black objects would store music and songs so well! There was something magical to these discs. They would be reverentially pulled out of their cardboard sleeves, wiped free of dust and grime by a special duster and placed gently on the turn table which was covered with a soft felt padding. The “needle” would be placed lightly on the disc taking care that the impact of the needle on the disc was minimal lest the disc get damaged.
If the disc did get scratched, the needle would get stuck and the same small piece of the music would keep playing. Like if you were enjoying the aforementioned Jawaani Diwaani number and the needle got stuck, you might here the following: “Yeh jawaaani, hai deewani, hai deewani, hai deewani, hai deewani…”, till someone rescued the situation by nudging the needle along manually!
So now you know the genesis of the Hindi saying, “uski sui atak gayi hai”, used when someone goes on and on about the same issue. (commonly muttered under the breath by the husband when the wife goes into a nagging mode)
Totally scratched records too had their uses. Like the artistic one in the family would paint on the black surface a landscape, or a bunch of flowers or even portraits of Nehru or Tagore and this disc with its newly acquired work of art would get displayed prominently on the living room walls.
(It has been a long post already, I will come back later with the remaining three devices. Suggestions, anyone?)
(To be continued)