A husky, gruffy noise emanated from the speaker as the stylus needle caressed the grooves of the 45 RPM (revolutions per minute, for the uninitiated) long-playing (LP) vinyl record.
That HMV radiogram was such a wonder — my first brush with personal music and a home audio system.
Asha Bhosle or Boney M on the turntable, aroma of fresh mutton — carefully treated with a delectable concoction of spices by mummy dear — wafting through the house, and cricket on that dirt strip called "neighbourhood road" would serve as the precursor to a perfect Sunday lunch and beyond!
Growing up in Dum Dum, in the northern fringes of the eastern Indian metropolis of Kolkata, in the early 1970s, the sheer proximity to the His Master’s Voice (HMV) factory was something to brag about.
HMV, then the largest music company in India, was quite a household name and very much a brand to reckon with in an age and time when brand-loyalties were more esoteric in terms of their association with life as it was — and not quite dictated by a gadget freak’s now-or-never push for a "been-there-done-that" proclamation.
The day father brought home the HMV radiogram, it marked my initiation into the world of music — the sheer joy of being able to be in command of what one loved to listen to, and not necessarily dependent on what the All India Radio programme presenter thought music ought to be.
The turntable had indeed marked a turnaround of sorts, in our household and with our next-door neighbours as well, bringing home entertainment in the pre-television days to the front-and-centre of community living.
In the months and years that followed, from Bengali ‘modern’ songs to The Ventures, from Kishore Kumar’s evergreen Bollywood hits to Nazia Hassan’s chartbusting Disco Deewane ... life was a breeze.
And the Sundays in particular were the icing on the cake – with gully (a narrow lane) cricket and mutton curry being the other pieces that completed an exciting, sonorous and aromatic jigsaw called childhood.
Casette tape era
But by the time one Michael Jackson took all of us by storm with his Thriller in 1982, there was a new fad in town — the cassette tape.
Slowly, but surely, the bulky turntable and the unwieldy vinyl LP were losing out to the sheer portability factor of a cassette player and the compact size and format of a spooled tape in a handy plastic casing.
Over and above the advantage of being able to listen to ‘music I love’, a cassette tape-recorder offered the new-age audience the added benefit of recording every bit of ambient noise: The music — and the cacophony as well!
No wonder even the almost puritanical behemoths at HMV decided to churn out more cassettes than LPs and more tape-recorders than turntables.
Soon, my growing love for the cassette turned the tables on our good-old radiogram, forcing Baba to get a tape-recorder.
“It’s the ‘in’ thing,” I reasoned with him. Shelves at music stores in Kolkata and practically the world over had fewer and fewer vinyls and an ever-growing number of cassettes.
And by the time I reached college in the early 1990s, a glistening CD hi-fi system had replaced the Bush tape-recorder on the front-room entertainment unit. Compact discs were the way to go — digitally stored, crystal clear, lossless audio, played in any order of preference.
But the Sundays were never quite the same.
Without that gruffy note picked up by the turntable stylus and the gully no more coming alive with rambunctious ‘would-be’ cricketing heroes, even the aroma of mutton curry still wafting through the house had somehow lost its allure.
We have really taken our entertainment indoors – from the gully to the TV screens, from the radiogram’s community feel to the privacy of hand-held devices and those ubiquitous smartphone-era paraphernalia called earphones and headphones.
That is why, almost four decades later, when I see vinyl making a glorious comeback to Virgin Megastore shelves today, I cannot but feel happy — that my childhood memories, my first brush with the whirl of the black rubber mat on the turntable and the gently swaying bent arm of the stylus still have enough stylistic rectitude to hold its relevance for a generation that has grown up on a heavy diet of all things digital.
Sitting in Dubai, as I write this piece, my iPhone ‘pings’ an alert from Amazon: ‘The Essential Bob Dylan in a two-LP set is now available.’
I am tempted to send a quick message to my son in India: “Do you know what a vinyl record is?” Pat comes the reply: “Yes, I’ve checked a couple of YouTube videos. It doesn’t impress me ... I need to carry all my music on the go.”
I reach out for the phone again, to log in to my Amazon Prime account. Time to order that Denon DP29F mini turntable.
Time for initiation — time to send one more ‘digital addict’ on an analogue ‘crash course’. And then perhaps the two of us shall exchange notes — 20 years hence.
You can follow Sanjib Kumar Das on Twitter: @moumiayush.