Monday, 17 March 2008

Our Grundig Radio

I was introduced to the radio very early in life, I would say. I was left with my grandparents in Kuantan till I was about six, while my parents worked in various towns in Pahang. I remember the old Grundig, which somehow looked very much like a stingray to me. Not that it was flat. In fact, the radio (which is still standing strong in my parents' house) is like a small cabinet, about three feet tall and the same in width. It is made from some kind of wood and veneer.

The top bit has one knob at either end of the radio; the one on the left for power on/ off, and the right for finding the stations. In between there is clear perspex or glass with numbers printed on it, which are the station frequencies. And there's a needle that can go left or right, in the direction you turn the knob. If the needle reaches the the 'right' number, you'll get to hear your programme. It would be my pastime to turn the knob without turning on the power. With the power on, however, it was bewitching, to me as a child. I could play with the station knob for hours, listening to the many mysterious voices that came on. Some sounded loud, some faint, some were squeaky, some sibilant, some had echoes, while others sounded delightfully good.

I remember the wailing of the Chinese opera: 'small', mournful voices, almost pleading, at the end of which had the clang of cymbals to shut it up. I remember the wayang kulit ( I think that was what it was)too, not really understanding what was said, but the stories sounded so dramatic. The tukang karut kept repeating 'aiiiik, aiiiik' all the time. I also remember 'Nida ul Islam min Makkatul Mukarramah', listened to at night. I remember the announcer's voice -- so authoritative, I thought. But it would fade off every now and then. My grandfather would pull up a chair and sit by the open window, staring into the night. The window was made of wood and he would have both the leaves wide open, letting the night air in. If there was a song he liked, he would beat his palms on the window sill, tapping to the rhythm of the song. I would be standing next to him, feeling very loved. So was I introduced to Arabic music. They are simply rich and wonderful.

The bottom part of the radio is the most amazing little cabinet. It is a cabinet with a door that opens out and downwards and remains open with the help of hinges at both sides. I was often told not to lean on the table-like door or rest my arms on it lest it collapsed.

Inside, on the right, is a turntable. On the left is some space where you can stack your records. I cannot remember my grandfather playing the records, but my aunty had a grand collection. She had Cliff Richard, Lulu, The Beatles; the whole lot. My father contributed the Malay ones: P. Ramlee (of course) etc. It fascinated me no end as to how the machine could summon the singers to the house and sing. I tried to peep into the cabinet a number of times, I remember, in case they were there. What intrigued me further was when my father put the musabaqah record on. There would be a faint echo ahead of the reader/ qari. Then the reader would read exactly what the echo read. Was there someone prompting the reader? I thought. Very mindboggling indeed. It all became sort of clear when my father explained to me to the best of his ability, how these things worked.

The turntable itself was an enigma, with the arm and the needles and the speed button (which was a novelty to my sisters and I). We enjoyed giving the records the 'wrong speed' . It was hilarious to us to listen to distorted songs.

As I reflect on things, I find it very heartwarming how my father very patiently explained to us how to work the turntable: check the record for its correct speed, set the speed button, put the record to, lift the arm gently and set it just as gently, get the needle to th right spot between the edge of the record and its grooved part, and... let the magic begin.

My third sister and I used to play the records in the afternoon after school ( we must have been in standard 4 or 5) while doing our homework. How we made sure the younger ones did not 'touch' the machine I cannot recall. We must have scared them with some kind of punishment. But those were the good old days I treasure.

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