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Unwrapping the New Year

While participating in these seasonal sprees is a difficult task because of the crowds, there are many who are holding out for the return of the 8-Track or, better yet, the Radiogram, writes Anirudh Bhattacharyya.

columns Updated: Dec 13, 2013 23:32 IST

Recently, the electronics flyer tucked into our daily newspaper proffered items that left me startled. One was advertised as equipped with an “isolated and suspended motor, solid acrylic chassis, deluxe 9cc tonearm and Sorbathane damped adjustable cone feet” and another featured a “multi-layer MDF plinth with aluminum damped platter.” If you were wondering if these were hi-tech accessories for a Mars mission, you would be wrong. They were extolling brands of the record player, once considered fossilised, like the coelacanth, returning to our world.

The 1970s seem to have turned the tables on the 21st century. And we may well witness the reanimation of the cassette deck, that device that so wonderfully chewed up magnetised tape and regurgitated it like poorly cooked spaghetti.

Since North America is experiencing a boom in matters vintage, I wasn’t really surprised to find the likes of David Bowie, Black Sabbath and even Led Zeppelin, among the Grammy nominees for the 2014 awards. Led Zeppelin’s ‘Kashmir’, nominated in the Best Rock Performance category, was first recorded in 1975 and was of beer-buying age by the time the Grammys’ youngest nominee, Kiwi chanteuse Lorde was born in 1996.

But at this time of the year, it’s not just the music that’s getting old. This is after all the holiday season, and somewhat like Diwali gone crackers, marked by a shopping frenzy that commences in late November with the American Thanksgiving holiday.

The day after is called Black Friday, when sales reach a fever pitch, though now, there also appear to be the preceding Gray Thursday, and possibly even, Off-White Wednesdays. The following week we have Cyber Monday. The original Black Fridays related to financial meltdowns, and given the propensity of shoppers to suffer credit card fatigue during this period, that may be a suitable term to apply here. Or, as many among the nearly 275 million seasonal shoppers realise, time for In-the-Red Tuesday.

This seasonal experience of buying can get old pretty fast. From suffering the muzak in stores, that appears to begin some time in late autumn, to surging crowds that remind one of the masses at Tahrir Square during the Arab Spring, this is an endurance event where the consumer has to be King Kong to survive. Certainly, sellers like Amazon are attempting to streamline the process through innovations like drone-dropped shipments. That could leave potential customers, like some in the badlands of Waziristan or Yemen, fairly conflicted about online shopping.

From what I perceive, the gift-giving catalogue for this season will tickle all the senses, though they may not be sensible. Some of them smell. Like the Scentee, a USB device for taking in the aroma of food like salted tongue or buttered potatoes. As its creators gush: “Referred to as ‘tasting with your nose’, it is a whole new Yakiniku experience.

It releases an overflowing scent and you’ll be drooling all over.” If you’re into tactile sensations, there’s the Condiment Gun, a sidearm useful for squirting mustard or ketchup and getting hauled in by airport security. Then there’s the Handpresso, for that jolt of caffeine while in your car. Move over drive and text, we’re changing lanes to steer and brew. I guess it’s a matter of taste.

But then this could also be considered the time for tastelessness, like marshmallows featuring Instagram images or, as in the case of world leaders, snapping grinning selfies at Nelson Mandela’s funeral.

Then, of course, there’s the day after Christmas, with another bout of sales with Boxing Day, observed in Canada, though in the United States, the returns and exchanges counters at stores that day have longer queues than those at checkouts. Perhaps, this principle can be fittingly applied to retail politics, especially after voters suffer from buyer’s remorse.

I rarely participate in these seasonal sprees, since I’m averse to lines, but I’m certainly holding out for the return of the 8-Track or, better yet, the Radiogram.

Currently based in Toronto, Anirudh Bhattacharyya has been a New York-based foreign correspondent for eight years.

The views expressed by the author are personal