Imagine the nostalgia of jumping into a 4×4, on a rainy Friday morning in Islamabad, driven around by a German academic, only to discover several music cassettes by Indian singers tucked between the two seats. On close inspection, I discover the music of Lata Mangeshkar – the nightingale of Indian music. Sadly, there was no cassette player in the 4×4 but in that moment, I was transported to the 1980s, listening to popular Bollywood music on the small cassette players, an essential gadget in any household. The numerous compilations in the car were all of music belonging to the golden era of Bollywood music, Mukesh, Rafi and Lata.
Pakistan is not a place I immediately associate with music, you don’t often hear music in people’s houses, nor the streets or even the restaurants and cafés. When I do hear music it often registers in my mind, the sound of music to me is universal and without borders. The melodic sounds can reach out to anyone and everyone and so for me, music is like a breath of air. Growing up, we were always surrounded by music, whether this was religious music or popular music on the radio. Early childhood memories are filled with different genres of music but each one them is associated with a time and place, with the power to transport you back to that time and place.
I can’t exactly remember the last time I might have played something on the compact cassette. I know the earliest interviews I did were all recorded on cassettes, usually on the 60 minute tapes. This was as late 2002, only fifteen years ago. The cassette quickly disappeared after the micro discs and then eventually digital recordings which ended the reign of the cassettes. Digital recordings have been far more versatile, especially when traveling around and not knowing how long the interviews might last. But the cassette, despite its flaws and ability to get stuck in the cassette player, still has the power to evoke emotional memories associated with a bygone era.