You see, millennials, once there was a thing called an audio cassette. It was used for storing and playing music — on a ribbon-like tape. And giving a girl a mixtape — a compilation of songs one recorded on a tape — was the greatest show of commitment. Not the drag-23-mp3s-into-a-device stuff of today. You had to find out all the songs that she loved — or thought she loved. Then you had to call your friends to find out which of them had audiotapes with those songs.
Calling your friends wasn’t easy either. Remember, there were no mobile phones, but dial-ups. And if you came from a middle-class family, your mother put a lock on the phone. Not a passcode, but an actual padlock. So, you had to wait until you hung out with your friends — physically, as there was no WhatsApp — to ask them for the songs. But when you asked them for those songs, you lost your self-respect. Imagine an 18-year-old dude going to his friends and saying, ‘Hey, um, do you have ‘Nothing’s Going to Change My Love for You’?’ The irony was that each of them had that those cheesy songs, but would be damned before admitting to it.
Essentially, it meant getting hold of 15 different tapes that had these songs, which we had to fast forward or rewind, pause, play, stop… repeat procedure with another cassette for another song. If things were still exploratory, you would get her a 60-minute tape. If serious, a 90-minute one.
In the 90s, the object known as a ‘pencil’ still existed. It was mainly used for an activity called ‘writing’. But if the tape-recorder’s fast-forward or rewind button was wonky, one would take this pencil thing, stick it in one of the two grooves on the cassette, twirl it around, thereby manually rewinding or fast-forwarding the tape’s ribbon.
For the purpose of recording songs, we had devices called two-in-ones. You’d put the tape that had the song in one deck. In the other one, you’d put the blank tape on which you wanted the song recorded. One side had a play button and the other had a play and record button. You had to press them both with military precision.
The upside of it all — the recipient of the mixtape would not only get a peek into (what she believed to be) your taste in music, but also a confirmation that your eye-hand coordination was reliable, and you weren’t the fumbly kind. At the risk of coming across as an Uncle-ji, today, things are mighty different. Today, you could be at the most boring party ever, but five people will get together, click a pic, stick it up on Insta and write, ‘Oh my god… last night was
!’ Oops, I meant, ‘OMG…. last night was EPIC!’
I don’t understand the use of the word ‘epic’ here, no matter how much capitalised. The Ramayan is an epic. The Iliad is an epic. You getting drunk and passing out on a sofa can’t be the same literary genre, can it?
I’m an analog man living in a digital world and hardly qualified to give relationship advice. Especially to a generation that is more creative, intelligent, savvy and worldly-wise than we ever were. But one thing I know for sure — the greatest gift you can give anyone is your time. In the form of 60-minute mixtape if you’re still iffy. A 90-minute one if you’re serious. I just checked. A TDK 90-minute audio cassette costs ₹1,290 online. Hell, I don’t think I’m ready for a relationship yet.