Published in Deccan Herald on 15 July 2016
Honey, I've shrunk the machines
By Brig A N Suryanarayanan (rtd), July 15, 2016:
In the army in 1963-64, only tiny Sanyo transistors would be sold by a draw of lots.
The other day, I got a WhatsApp video showing how a smartphone or a tablet of today has shrunk over 20 different instruments that we used to have from the 1950s to the noughties into one. The same day there was an email too showing how a desktop of 1981, cluttered with many different machines, has shrunk to a laptop.
Coincidentally, we were in a restaurant the same day, where my granddaughter saw a transistor radio in a display case and asked what it was. I told her how that used to be a craze in the early 1960s, when even vegetable vendors could be seen ‘karaoke-ing’ with one hanging around their necks, belting out loud vernacular songs.
Reminiscing about ‘those days,’ the first scene that came to mind was the purchase of a valve-radio at home in 1948. Dad had six different brands and models brought – one every day – for trial and chose a GEC with 7 bands. Strict orders existed forbidding anyone from touching it; he would listen to AIR news in English and Tamil, and Carnatic songs from Trichy, Madras and Bangalore stations; and that was all.
In his absence during market/temple trips, the ladies of the house would request me, his pet, to tune to film songs from Radio Ceylon. But the moment his cycle bell was heard from a 100 yards away, I would get the band and metre needles back to the Trichy station, switch it off and disappear into my room.
Once, we didn’t hear the cycle bell warning because of the loud volume; still, I quickly put it off but couldn’t change the band. Dad had heard film music wafting from inside the house; and upon entering, he touched the top of the set and found it warm. I owned up and was excused. The radio served him faithfully for 28 years and for 16 more, till we sold our property!
Sony, Phillips and National Transistors were status-indicators. But in the army in 1963-64, only tiny Sanyo transistors would be sold by a draw of lots (10 per 30,000 troops)! I was lucky to get one. Then, scrounging from a meagre pay, the wife and I managed a Panasonic Piano type portable audio-cassette player in 1978.
It took me 11 more years to get a better one and a national VCR through a friend returning from abroad. Even a B&W Dyanora TV was difficult to own as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1979, which we bought in Rs 100-installments for 12 months and watched the Asiad 1982 in it, while posted in Delhi, despite the advent of colour TV.
Today, thinking back, I laugh to myself at the ridiculousness of it all, with everything easily available thanks to PVN-MMS or NDA. I?forgot to tell you: I have kept all the old machines nicely wrapped for display for any restaurant that may request them; but first, I must show them to my granddaughter!