In 1988, the Summer Olympics were held in Seoul, South Korea. I’ve no idea why I remembered this while rushing past the poster for “Aadimanav aur Sarparani”, whose English tagline proclaimed the movie is “In the line of Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones”, but I did. Twenty-one years ago, sitting in Singapore, it was a big deal that the Olympics was going to happen right here. I had a South Korean friend in school. Her name was Hyo Jong and she used to bring glutinous rice and pickled fish for lunch, which I totally loved. Either she was terribly polite or she really did have an inexplicable love for my puri-sabzi lunch, which she’d devour daily. She was a big, awkward girl with very dry skin and poufy hair. I’m not sure why people didn’t hang out with her. She was very particular about the fact that she wasn’t from North Korea, which left me rather befuddled because I hadn’t the faintest that North Korea was the bad guy.
Anyway, so the Seoul Olympics. My father covered the event. I must ask him how traumatic it was for his Bengali self to have to watch all these hyper-athletic things. He did confirm, however, that Steffi Graf was utterly lovely. Korean food didn’t appeal to him but he was rather taken by the Korean kimonos and he loved the mascot, Hodori (see left). He came back with the Press Kit, which had a box of Hodori brooches, a Hodori stuffed toy and an audio tape. I don’t remember what the tape was called but I think it had a shaded purple colour. It was an album that had songs by South Korea’s top pop acts. At least that’s what I remember. It had Koreana’s “Hand in Hand”, which I didn’t like much even then. The gems in that album were the other songs. I still remember them, right down to the accent that the Korean singers sang with. There is now a very traumatised Mumbai cabbie because, riding on the wave of nostalgia, I started belting out “Cosmos flower, cosmos flower, to and fro they swaaaaaaay. Gaily they dance, and their fragrance, fills me with joy on my waaaay” in a nice, rolling Korean accent. Another song had a chorus that went, “Aah! Aaah! Seoul! You simply walk on, you simply dream on! Hoping one day your dreams will come true, hoping we walk on! We all love you Seoul! Yes we really do!”A woman with a husky voice that sounded like she had been buried in a mountain of talcum powder sang, “I would find you, Little Bird, Fly like the wind (oooh oooh ooh ooooooh!), Fly like the clouds (oooh ooh ooooh!), Free as can be (oohoooooohoohoooooooh!), Just like you little bird! Fly, fly little bird! High high little bird!” They were delightful, unforgettable, so uncool that they became totally cool and I played that album so many times on my little red Sanyo that the tape must have thinned to cellotape.
It was my first tape of “English music” and it sat on my desk, resplendently purple and alone. In a couple of months, it would be joined by a-ha’s “Hunting High and Low”, which was the first album I bought with my father’s hard-earned money. He despaired, wondering why all the years of classical music and Rabindra Sangeet couldn’t build a bulwark against this pop nonsense. By the time I started headbanging to Guns ‘n’ Roses and screeching out Nirvana’s guitar solos, I’m sure my poor father was wishing he’d encouraged me to stick to my worship of Pal Waaktaar. I can’t remember whether the Rolling Stones or the Beatles were my first CD but I do remember staring at the rainbow reflections off the cd and thinking I was never going return to the tape ever again. Music would never unspool in a shiny, mud-coloured mess. It wouldn’t tear. It couldn’t be broken, taken apart, rewound and repaired. No more demagnetising tape decks and poking around the metallic head with an earbud dipped in acetone. No more yelps at the end of a song in a mixtape because someone didn’t press Pause and Record gently and with expert smoothness. All this was a good thing when I was a kid. It’s probably a sign of mid-life crisis that now, in this day and digital age when there’s no little red Sanyo tape player but there is streaming media, I’m lusting after the antiquated tape, with its creaking covers and pocket-sized cuteness. It’s so tragic that the tape of Bitte Orca can’t magically land in my lap the way the Korean pop songs did 21 years ago.