On shuffleA few years older, and I would be part of the Walkman generation. But the iPod shuffle was the best matchmaker for my rather passive pursuit of the right melody.
The world was a lot more simple when ‘Mp3’ implied a music device and not just a file extension. Had I been a few years older, I would have been part of the Walkman generation. As a matter of fact, I did use my sister’s for a bit, but in the 90s, innovation was hitting full steam, and music had to bid goodbye to the first revolutionaries in quick succession. The Walkman required us to use disks, and VCDs as they were called, and you’d have to buy an album from selected shops found mostly around the Maha Boudha area. Of course, your upper-middle-class relatives who owned computers could devise a playlist of sorts—a process known as burning a disk—but that would be quite a hassle.
By the time my interest in music was kindled, the Walkman was half obsolete. If memory serves right, they were a thing of the past overseas, but because Nepal tends to be a few years behind, the realisation hadn’t yet struck. The times were changing, and the Apple insurrection had beckoned. Had my mother not travelled back and forth from America, and if my sister didn’t pester her for some switch or slide phone she saw on Lizzie McGuire, I, too, wouldn’t have been aware of what was going on on the other side. Teenage was still a few years away, so my imagination could only grasp chocolates, Spiderman costumes and action figures as gifts, but seeing my elder sibling make bigger demands, I too started dreaming about something cooler.
It, however, wasn’t an Apple product I ended up asking for. It was a Game Boy Advance. And mind you, the ‘Advance’ part of the terminology was very important, and I made repeated attempts to ensure my mother understood that. Because without it, it would just be a Game Boy, and I wouldn’t be able to play the latest edition of Pokemon with it. Anyways, once she came back to Nepal, all of what was ordered, minus the switch phone or slide phone, much to my envious delight, managed to enter the borders of the country. And it was perhaps to compensate for the switch or slide phone, she brought with her an iPod shuffle.
The iPod shuffle was a white elongated stick-like device that you could plug directly into computers—laptops weren’t a thing, and Windows Vista had yet to grace us. It wasn’t much different from a pen drive in its appearance, although a bit larger than most. Anyways that was the first music device I got my hands on. After I finished my Pokemon adventure, I found myself using the shuffle more often than my Game Boy Advance. I was at an age where I still didn’t know the process through which humans multiplied, so any habits of mine were mostly those imposed on me and the overwhelming preferences were unapologetically copied from my older siblings. I would listen to the songs they’d listen to, play the games they’d play, watch the sports they’d watch, and support the teams they’d support.
My sister had an eclectic taste in music, of which I was into Green Day more than anyone else. Over time I switched to my cousin’s camp, which was dominated by Linkin Park. Back then, the demarcations were quite clear, and a simultaneous best-of-both-worlds approach wasn’t a trend. For instance, you could either be wearing a ‘Punk Not Dead’ t-shirt with tattered jeans or a G-Unit cap with DC shoes. There was no half and half.
True to its name, the iPod shuffle would randomly play a song from the library, and because there was no screen on the device, one never knew what melody came next. I could keep pressing the button until my preference came up, but the library was quite vast, and I was quite lazy. As a result, I ended up listening to music by Bob Dylan, Bob Schneider, Amy Lee, Nirvana, The Police, and Bruce Springsteen well before I started admiring them. Some of those relationships were like finding love by the way of an arranged marriage.
Because I’d have to take a detour through genres before getting to my camp, I’d also unintentionally save myself from the tempting spiral of repetition by which I mean listening to a favourite song over and over again to the point that it becomes nauseating. Back then, falling in love with a song wasn’t a frequent occurrence, and to be honest, it made them even more romantic. Youtube wasn’t in existence, and there were no rewind buttons on TVs and radios. As such, even if you did hear a melody you liked blaring out of some public loudspeaker, you’d have to turn into Sherlock Holmes to figure out the name of the song, like the name of your crush you were trying to find.
The process was like this. Sometimes, when on a bus or a cafe, you’d hear a chorus that immediately got you hooked, and you’d find yourself making attempts to memorise a few lines that you could Google, courtesy of a dial-up connection your parents warned you never to use for particularly these type of purposes. If you were lucky, you’d find the right one. If not, you’d approach your friends for a guessing game, looking like an idiot until the melody slowly morphed and disappeared from your mind, until the day you’d hear it again at random, leaving you with the prospect of love revived.
But I was always more into a romance of convenience. Running around barging into obstacles merely to meet the right one didn’t make sense to me. I thought such a conquest would confuse the love for the climb with the love of the mountain. Therefore I found the iPod Shuffle to be the best matchmaker to my rather passive pursuit of the right melody. The library might have been big, but I had plenty of time to go through them all. And more than anything else, it was simple, as life is supposed to be. There was only one rule when listening to the iPod shuffle. If the bad ones came first, rest assured the good ones would follow.
Pandey is an Economics graduate from Macquarie University, Australia.