Umesh is a freelance writer contributing his creative writings on varied subjects in various sites and portals in the internet.
Technology is evolving with a great pace and old gadgets are being replaced with the newer ones and this all is happening so rapidly that we are forgetting about our old gadgets which gave us commendable service in earlier times. In this article I would like to put forward the story of a mechanical Gramophone which was used long back in our house in the village Bisar in India. The story is dotted with the brief biography of my father who bought this Gramophone in the year 1960.
Bisar village location
Bisar (also Bishar) village is located in Pithoragarh district in the state of Uttarakhand in India. Pithoragarh town falls on national highway NH9. It is basically the vast Kumaon hills area where many valleys are present amid a chain of Himalayan foot hills. Pithoragarh town is in one of such valleys located about 5000 feet above the mean sea level. No doubt Pithoragarh valley (commonly known as Shor valley in local dialect) is one of the biggest one.
Bisar village is about 5 km from the Pithoragarh town. The incidents and happenings that took place and are described in this article belong to 1960's and at that time the only way to reach Bisar village from the town was on feet. For regulars it was hardly a matter of 1 hour and a few minutes to cover that distance while occasionals took about one and half hour and some times they were taking a few minutes break at the tea stall at Sukauli located almost on the mid way. Sukauli was the point upto which one had to ascend and after that it was almost a steep descent and then some ups and downs till one reaches the village. Some of the villagers went to town daily for job or some other work.
There was no electricity there in those times and one had to keep a torchlight or even burn a Chhyula (a special type of wood having some gum like substance which helped it to burn to create enough light around. About 1 foot length of this stick is sufficient to give illumination for 5-10 minutes), in case one was delayed to return back to village. Due to deforestation in the area, I do not think that Chhyula sticks would be so easily available now. Of course the times have changed and most of the people are now going by their own conveyance or bus from village to town or vice versa. Even if someone walking to village needs a light, mobile phone is handy and easily available.
1938 - Beginning of an era
After the untimely death of my grandfather in 1935, my grandmother along with my father being the eldest among the siblings, took the responsibility of managing and running the household. The only source of livelihood at that point of time was the grains and cereals from the agricultural land and that also hardly sufficed for a year or so. With great diffuculties, my father pursued his primary education and finally in 1938, he reached in his high school (class 10) and only hope was that if he gets a job after completing it then only family could survive.
My grandfather being a high class Brahmin (a high social class) in that area used to visit his Yajmans (clients) who paid him remuneration in exchange of the religious rituals he performed in their houses or temples. In fact all the residents of Bisar village were high class Brahmins only whether they undertook that work or not. Though my grandfather earned some money out of that but it was nothing compared to the expenses of his big family comprising of wife, two daughters and three sons. Whatever he earned, was spent for the family and there was no saving. So, because of some serious ailment, when he died, he left very little money behind.
The main crop yielding fields were located away in another village known as Jakhpuran and that was about 8 km from Bisar. Some little agricultural land was there in Bisar itself.
My father was a very hard working person ever since his tender age and many times he had to sell some miscelleneous fruits and vegetable items in the town market to raise his school fee.
It was my amazing grandmother who was very energetic and active and probably my father had some takeaways from her exemplery and laborious active life. She was a great source of inspiration for all the villagers.
By that time the elder daughter in the family was already married in a far off village Jajut (at 17 km on foot) to a family of high class Brahmins and there were plans going on for marrying the younger daughter in another village Pabhe (at 7 km on foot) where also some high class Brahmins dwelt and due to the much class differentiation in the society at that time it was mandatory to marry in same Brahmin class or higher one. Incidentally, Brahmins of Bisar being the top notch Brahmins in the region did have limited choices and as a consequence of that girls or boys often had to be married in far off villages where equivalent Brahmins lived.
My father completed his high school in the year 1938 and then he started looking for some job preferably in some Govt department. It was British rule in India at that time and getting a job under their administration was considered a great achievement.
Facing family responsibilities
My father since his early childhood age was challenged by so many responsibilities but he took them in a normal way and faced them with courage and conviction. He had immense belief in God and always told that almighty would do good to him. It was not simply blind faith but was coupled with a lot of hard work and disciplined life.
He had many challenges ahead which became more and more tougher seeing the financial condition of the family. One sister was to be married and two brothers were to be provided education and most of important was to search a job for himself.
Voila! My father got a job.
While searching for jobs, in 1942, my father came to know about some vacancies for clerks falling in Post Office and decided to try his luck there. He applied for same and based on his credentials got selected and was asked to join in Pithoragarh town Post Office.
It was the greatest news of that time for the whole family as well as for the whole village and dream achievement for my father that he was able to secure a job in the Post and Telegraph department of British India.
During the time of the British regime in India (1858 to 1947), two things were developed by them very effectively - one was the Railway network and other was establishing Post Offices in every nook and corner of the country. Still today these two are the biggest organisations in India in many ways and having largest number of employees in them.
My father was really very lucky that he could secure a job in Post Office which was considered a big thing at that point of time and that was definitely the turning point in the lives of all the members in the family.
Once the regular salary every month started to pour in, my father made arrangements and married off the younger sister to the already decided match and then started focusing for the education of the two younger brothers.
The next important task was his own marriage and a girl was selected from another high class Brahmin village Agraun (about 18 km on feet) and in 1950 he got married. I was born in the year 1952 in Bisar village.
He continued his job in Pithoragarh town and after a few years he was transferred to Nainital which was already a well developed tourist hill station, for domestic as well as foreign tourists, in the Uttarakhand region in India.
My father was posted back to Pithoragarh
My father stayed for 4-5 years in Nainital. My first younger brother was born there only. In 1959, he was transferred and posted back to Pithoragarh. He started living in the village in the parental house and was going to attend to his duties daily from village to town post office. However this was a temporary arrangement as my father was searching a rented house in town so that he could send us to some good school there. Meanwhile father supported both his younger brothers who settled in their respected jobs and plans for their marriage were under consideration.
Not because he was my father but he being the extraordinarily hard working person every one in our relation and family had great expectations from him. Today I realise that he had a great foresight and still greater determination to struggle and make every effort for the progress of each of the family member including himself. He had very clear vision about the future as if unfolding in front of him and he was doing his work with immense confidence and belief in God as he always said that whatever we are able to do is only by the grace of God. He was a rigid theist person and always considered God as the guiding force in all his endeavours.
Meanwhile he planned and performed the marriage of his first younger brother who having a good position in Govt organisation moved to his official banglow in Pithoragarh town itself.
1960 - My father bought a Gramophone
The day my father bought the Gramophone was a remarkable day as our house in Bisar village became a very important place and every villager had come there to see this great machine which apparently sang the hindi musical songs of that time so loudly and so clearly. I can't describe the thrill and entertainment that we had from listening those songs. Those images are still preserved in my memory though I was only 8 years of age at that time.
All of us were told and we were even alerted that the machine was having the latest technology and everyone should handle it with carefully. My father told that if it went bad then there was no mechanic available in the whole town to repair it.
So we handled it with utmost care and especially on Sundays and holidays were asked to keep LP discs (records) on the deck kone by one and then play it. It was much fun and thrilling experience to hear the songs in such a remote village.
In the villages at that point of time there was no concept of drawing room. Whatever we had were living rooms and living rooms only. So in one of the rooms, where there was a big wooden box called Bhakaar (usually to keep the grains for the whole year), measuring 6 ft x 4 ft x 4 ft, it was decided to keep the machine on top of it. It was definitely a safe and secure place for a machine so precious. I faintly remember that it costed at that time an amount of something like Rs 90 which was equivalent to 3-4 months salary of father.
About the Gramophone
If I remember correctly it was marketed by Gramophone company of India and was assembled in UK. There were inscriptions mentioned like 'His Master's Voice' on it. It was a very sturdy and tough machine and was in the shape of small box or briefcase.
I do not have any photograph for the same but one nearest looking available in freeimages.com by contributor Erik Araujo is what I am putting here as reference. The design is similar except that this one is looking more elegant with all those brass coloured things and overall getup. When you open it there was a circular deck on which we have to mount the record that we wanted to listen. Each record was double sided and had a song of 4-5 minutes interval on both the sides. The sound box was nothing but a big size of diaphragm covered with a steel housing. This unit was generally fastened at the end of the box on its wall and whenever needed was brought forward and kept on the track softly as not to scratch the song record. The only contact between the sound box and the song recorded was a small sharp needle which was to be fixed on the bottom part of the sound box. These records were generally made of plastic material (vinyl) and required to be wiped with a clean cloth before putting on the turn table in the Gramophone to avoid dust sticking on the needle. The speed of turntable was 33 RPM and any deviation in speed would affect the quality of the song.
Every time we wanted to listen to a song we have to crank the machine with an external handle and about 10-15 rounds of the handle cranking were sufficient for the Gramophone table to move for 5-6 minutes for completing one song. There was a good amount of inventory of needles in the side pocket and we replaced the old ones often.
It was easy to operate it and we had used it so much that each and every control and function was engraved in our minds.
Gramophone story ends
The Gramophone was a continuous source of entertainment for all of us and when we shifted to town from the village Bisar then we took it with us. It remained with us for next 10-15 years though it started giving problem in its speed and other things like quality of sound and moreover the needles were not available and maintaining tbe old LP records itself was a difficult task.
Meanwhile, new technologies were coming in the market with a plethora of electrical and electronic gadgets related to the music and songs so in that deluge of new and modern things we did not notice when we discarded it and gave as scrap to the scrap dealer. Today we realise that it was a vintage item and could have been a pride collection in our family. Anyway we just gave it away and that was where the story closed.
Life in the town
After moving to the town, we lived in rented house and that was the time when my father thought why not to build a house of our own in the town. It was a very ambitious thought but building a house is not an easy task. It requires money to buy a land and then more money to construct the house. Whatever be the odds against it, my father got the house constructed - a few rooms in ground floor on a small plot and we shifted in that. Slowly over the next 2-3 years it was raised to a 3 storey building and we occupied one floor and rest was given on rent fetching some regular income.
Meanwhile my second younger brother was born and we were a total of 5 members in the family. My grangmother chose to stay back in the village itself. At the same time one more function was held in our house and that was the marriage of the father's second younger brother and they settled in the village house.
Now my father focused towards us - the three children who are to be educated and supported till they settle well. He gave us all facilities and encouraged to study and today we all are well settled and residing at different places.
My father was a Karma Yogi
My father never stopped working in his life. Even after his retirement from Postal department in 1981, he started his freelance consulting work to help the people who were interested in saving their money in Post Office deposit schemes and he became so popular in that work due to his honesty and reliability that he got a lot of work to do and also earned his fees from that. It was only when he turned around 76 years of age that my younger brother who was a doctor in Dehradun city in Uttarakhand state in India insisted and pursued him to leave Pithoragarh and he finally shifted to Dehradun along with mother. He had a very comfortable life in Dehradun and unfortunately in 2015, at an age of 92 years, he fell ill and after a prolonged illness died in the winters of 2017.
He was a source of inspiration for all of us and we still feel him guiding us in our engagements and endeavours from the galleries of heaven above. We call him Karma Yogi (a saintly, virtuous, and hard working person) because his motto in life was to work continuously and progress ahead.
Today while recollecting that Gramophone, I could recollect a few glimpses of the struggles and hard work that my father did since such an early age and that is the main source of motivation and inspiration for all of us - the family members - to look ahead in our lives with same vigour, wherever we are.
© 2020 Umesh Chandra Bhatt