Among the many seeming treasures I left behind in India when I migrated to the US in 1987 was my father’s vinyl record collection. It contained the music I grew up with, played on a turntable, piped through a Phillips amplifier, and then, finally, emitted through a pair of custom-made speakers. The collection was eclectic and diverse, ranging from Amir Khusrow ghazals and qawwalis to Bill Haley and the Comets to Benny Goodman to Ella Fitzgerald to Louis Armstrong to K. L. Saigal to Noor Jehan to Polish jazz to Cuban salsa to Bollywood soundtracks to Manu Dibango to Tchaikovsky to Bach to…I should stop. You get the picture. There was lots of music. (Later, when my brother and I started our additions to this collection, we contributed Thin Lizzy, Uriah Heep, AC/DC, and other cacophonous upstarts. I do not know if my father would have approved but given his taste for rock-n-roll in its formative years, I’m going to wax optimistic and conjecture that he would have at least given these folks a sympathetic listen.)
There were 45RPM EPs and 33RPM LPs; each one of them was carefully stored in its original paper sleeve and then carefully tucked inside a plastic cover. Two giant stacks of the LPs sat on top of the speakers; the EPs were stored in a book-case. The records, despite some of them having been owed for almost twenty years, did not bear a single scratch or blemish. Indeed, they managed to gleam, black and pristine, almost as if they had just been transported back from the record store. My father was diligent and careful in his handling of his precious vinyl; the record was carefully removed from the sleeve; the middle-finger was placed on the central aperture, the thumb on the rim, the disc was carefully placed on the turntable, which was then started up; the needled stylus was gently–oh, so delicately–placed on the record; and the music began.
My brother and I received extensive instruction in handling the records. There were warnings and demonstrations aplenty. Looking back now, I’m amazed that my father ever trusted us enough to let us use the music system as autonomously as we did. We were clearly well indoctrinated; I realized quite soon I could not bear to watch my friends (or their parents) handle their records, so careless did they seem, so oblivious to the obvious damage being done to those precious grooves.
My father’s record collection provided soundtracks for parties (whether there was dancing or not), quiet evenings at home (my father played classical music or jazz while he organized, sorted and cleaned his old photo slides collection, or did other housekeeping tasks), winter weekend afternoons, and a host of other occasions. Its contents provided me with a musical education, an early dose of cosmopolitanism, and taught me tolerance for a diversity of musical styles.
It remains one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of our often displaced home that my brother and I do not know where this collection is now. If those records are in someone else’s hands, I hope they are being taken care of, but I’m not optimistic.