For a moment, I was disoriented, gaping at the entire album that had loaded on iTunes. Where was this playing from? Were they streaming? In those few disoriented moments, my mind quickly played in a flash the ways I'd listened to music throughout my life so far. Cassettes, AIR, CDs, mp3, FM, iPod and now...it all rests in the ethereal air around, ready to be plucked and played at a moment's notice.
My mind played this scene etched in my memories: of sitting at the table having breakfast, as All India Radio announced 8 o' clock playing a clip from Raaku Mutthu Raaku, the lead-in music to 'Priya Vision-in Priyamaana Neram'. That meant I was running late, and I'd gulp down breakfast faster.
But AIR has more bad memories in my mind than good. It reminds me of the horrible-sounding kutcheris that would play - records from the 60s or older that would be played on a dry, still afternoon, that my family would insist on listening even as the violin screeched and the singer sang terribly at octaves the human ear cannot hear. They would make me want to burst into tears, all the more because I was learning vocal Carnatic music that days from a teacher who was eroding my confidence weekend after weekend even though I was a fairly good singer. Those horrid kutcheris would remind me of the agony that was to come with the upcoming music class.
Appa would buy, on the day of release, cassettes of AR Rahman movies. Only Rahman movies had the privilege, as other songs would usually be recorded by some music shop guy as a mix tape with other songs. My sister and I would pore over the cover, for they would contain clues of the movie, and read the names of every singer and instrumentalist. Those were the days when I knew who had sung every song Rahman had ever composed. Swapna Awasthi in Chaiyya Chaiyya, but Rehaanaa for Thaiyya Thaiyya. Minmini, Malgudi Subha and Sujatha in the early years of Rahman. These days, I don't know most singers. The cassettes would sometimes have the bonus tiny, folded booklet with the lyrics. My speed of reading Tamil as a child surprises me today, when I increasingly struggle to speak it coherently. It used to take me all of two or three days to know all the lyrics by heart.
Soon, cassettes were replaced by CDs, and within a year or so, with mp3 collections. Some guy would religiously compile songs from 20 odd recent movies, which Appa would bring home. P!racy only :( I took these compilations with me to Singapore, and would know exactly which CD contained songs from any particular movie. These CDs also found their way out last year.
By the time I spent two years in Singapore, there was an explosion in the range of music I listened to, and these CDs could no longer help. I'd freely take songs from others who'd willingly shared their computers on the university LAN. Sometimes, I'd take an entire lot of songs from someone whose taste in music I thought aligned with mine, in the process discover more songs, and cementing my love for music from the 70s.
From when I reached Singapore in 2004, I'd look longingly at iPods that, it seemed, every Singaporean teenager/university student had. There was nothing I wanted more, but I had my financial constraints. I couldn't use Appa's money to buy myself an iPod when there were tuition and boarding fees to pay. Although by second year I'd started earning some dollars doing research, the money went into funding my flight tickets back home or to pay hostel fees. The iPod was a luxury and it had to wait.
I got my chance in my final year. After a six-month internship that paid a stipend, which I'd saved to pay some fees and flight tickets, I decided I could spare $250 for an iPod. On my birthday, with my closest friends around me, I ordered an iPod Nano on the Apple website, as they cheered. It came through five days later, on Oct 9, 2007, and my thrill knew no bounds. The iPod was my own, engraved with 'Life at its resplendent best!'. It was my loyal companion through my everydays at work, during my post-graduation and the difficult pre-wedding months in Delhi. 4 GB seemed less but I used it day in and day out. I lost it in 2014 along with my purse, which was grabbed by two men when I was in an auto. That night, before I went to bed, tears streamed down my cheeks; not for the money or phone I lost, but for losing my beloved musical companion of seven years. Until last year, if I ever saw an old-generation silver iPod Nano, I would quietly take it and turn it to see if it had my engraving.
Today, I have an iPod Nano that's got a touch-screen and no click wheel. There's a phone with Apple Music that plays songs I know and helps me discover stuff from genres I like, and I buy music from iTunes. The radio is relegated to Uber rides, and I don't have a cassette even for nostalgia's sakes. I'm really curious to know what's next in my journey of listening to music.