Had I known what was to happen during that press conference back in 1983 (or was it 1984?), I’d have worn robust leather-soled boots instead of the Bata Quo Vadis strap sandals that I had on. It was a conference at Calcutta’s Oberoi Grand organised by Peico Electronics & Electricals to demonstrate what they had billed as a revolutionary new breakthrough in audio technology. Well, Peico was what Philips was forced to call itself, in keeping with the economic zeitgeist of those times — socialistic self-reliance and a pronounced antipathy towards anything foreign — and what the company was demonstrating was the compact disc (CD), which it had commercially launched in Western markets in 1982 after having developed it jointly with Japan’s Sony in 1979.
At that press conference, where as a reporter I’d been dispatched to, a Peico official first handed around the shiny plastic disc before proceeding to load it up on an early era CD player (clunky, I remember, it seemed). The room filled up with the crystal clear notes of a western classical symphony (I don’t quite remember what it was) and the sound was certainly sharper and clearer than what I’d heard on a cassette player or turntable thus far.
But the real action was when that Peico official took the CD out of the player’s tray and chucked it on the floor, beseeching us to stomp and stamp on it with our shoes. Several people did, with much gusto. Then, after the little piece of plastic was subjected to much hammering, he picked it up and put it back into the CD player, smugly smiling when the perfect sound once again filled the room. This is the future, that official told us all, and it was going to come to India soon.
It was several years later that I bought my first CD player and began buying CDs, replacing all my cassette tapes and LPs with their CD re-issues. A few years later, the cassettes all went into the boot of my car, occasionally making an appearance in the car’s deck. Then, when I upgraded to a CD player in the car as well, the cassettes were all packed up in a carton and donated. This was the nineties and there were still takers for cassettes but I must confess I felt a twinge of sadness when I handed them over.
There’s another round of packing that I have to do now. My CDs. All of my music is now in digital formats like mp3 and FLAC and even all of the CDs, collected over the last 20 years, have been ripped into external hard disks and iPods. The CDs will probably get into the car’s boot for a while before they are packed into cartons and given away. And, I’m sure I’ll feel that twinge once again.