By Raamesh Gowri Raghavan
Have you ever felt the need to purchase a variety of electronic equipment, often under no stimulus other than the reason that it is there on a shop shelf in front of you?
I confess to owning an electronic violin tuner. It isn’t a very useful gadget – except to sit around when I rummage in drawers, and make me feel guilty about my now lapsed violin training. All it does is trigger a half-hours violin tuning and riff-playing on and off, to the janglement of neighbourly nerves. The rise in neuronal disorders in my area has been attributed to it, but all I ask is – where is the proof? (I must say with some relief though, that the little electronic keyboard gifted to me on my eleventh birthday has remained a well-kept secret.)
Probing a little further in the drawer are the corpses of three ‘electronic diaries’. There used to be four, but one has mysteriously disappeared. Not that there is any intention to solve the mystery. And I call them corpses, but they would come to life if one could find the batteries that will do the job. And the will and intent to find the batteries.
Once of course, they were a must-have because every kid had them. So I had one and my sister had another one. The disease spread to my parents too, which is why we had four. Once it was always in the front shirt pocket, numbers of best friends, not-s-best friends, friends-turned-enemies, family members, distant relatives whom we would never want to call in life but felt the urge to store their numbers, and some random people with whom numbers were exchanged for some reason which one has forgotten now. If only one would get the will to get the batteries, one might call them up and ask why their number sat in my diary.
The discarded, slowly discolouring carcasses of several bulky and outdated mobile phones clutter my drawer too. Lucky for us we skipped the short-lived Pager Era. Which means there were no irritating messages from mom and dad about our current location, requiring a visit to the nearest PCO (now a critically endangered species) to reply.
Unlucky for us, we were converts to the 1G Epoch of the Mobile Era, which meant mobile phones (and their corresponding chargers) the size and weight of a brick. At that time short messaging service (SMS) was such a novelty, one preferred that over a short phone call. And it was cheaper too, at a time when a one-minute call could cost upto five whole Indian rupees. Which was then the price of two whole samosas, especially the tasty ones at ‘Hotel’ Gurukripa outside my college in Sion, Mumbai. As mobile costs and sizes went down till they fitted my pockets, these trilobites went deeper and deeper into the drawers. A few got lost, leaving their widowed chargers to twist a knife into the heart.
I admit I still use a dinosaur of a mobile phone that can only work as a clock, alarm, camera, planner, sound recorder, torchlight, gaming console and address book. Apart from texting and making calls of course. I haven’t switched to the smartphones of the 3G Epoch. Call me a DMK loyalist if you will, but I’m sticking to my 2G phone. Actually I’m not, since I am now using another phone because way far too many telemarketers know my number and want to sell me insurance plans, timesharing holidays, pre-approved loans, astrologically divined stock tips and Muammar al-Gaddafi’s underwear. But it’s still 2G.
There lie the defunct remains of a portable music player I once much loved. One could store a substantial quantity of music on it, and listen to it in whichever order one preferred. It served me faithfully for years before its much suffering soldering gave out. I returned my faith in the old warrior by having it re-soldered many times, until it slipped into a permanent coma last year. It serves as a data drive now, but its melodious voice (since most of it was M. S. Subbulakshmi) has fallen silent forever, or at the least till I can find a repairman willing to solder the ‘obsolete’ gadget. M.S. now sings out of an iPod, but there is something coldly Chinese about it, quite literally.
Then there are all manner of cables. For connecting the phone to the computer (not usable because the software CD came corrupted), a cable to connect the music player to the computer (much abused), one to connect connect the music player to the mains, and some cables which I have no idea what to do with. Perhaps I might leave them around for some suicidal manic-depressive to put to suitable use. Some of who, are suicidal manic-depressives because of the violin-tuner in the first place. And who have attempted to disconnected our flat’s electricity mains.
Which brings us to the subject of emergency lamps. We have a mini-United Nations of them in the attic – German, Amreekan, Taiwanese, Malaysian, Bulgarian, Indian (of course) and some stateless ones bought off the grey market and allegedly imported from Dubai. Some lasted the journey from marketplace to home, some managed to light up a few minutes of load-shedding, before dying a horrible death under the screwdriver. Which was brought in to attempt life-saving surgery after the light started flickering or the wiring gave off fumes.
And now a round-up of those that did not make it to the medal podium, but are close enough of ‘honourable mentions’. Electronic clocks that fail to alarm you about the crisp, bright morning sun; shoddy digital cameras bought at Heathrow airport by returning cousins to establish their London-return credentials; remote controls to TVs that were surrendered for larger ones in exchange offers; and something that the packaging said was an electric massager, but whose chief use so far has been as a blunt instrument to silence dissidents.
Some items are just memories, since they have since passed over to the next world. Chief among them include the once-ubiquitous portable cassette player, which isn’t missed. That is because it left a gigantic hoard of audio cassettes behind, matching in size (but sadly not worth), the Thiruvananthapuram temple trove. One one should be a memory, but is not because it it still ticking away happily, firmly nailed to the wall. That is our electronic doorbell, which belts out in monotones, some of the most horrid filmi songs ever composed.
All these gadgets will, one day, provide fodder for the multi-billion electronics recycling industry. But till then, they have provided fodder for this gyration that you have just finished reading.