I’ve always been proud to be a ’90s kid. The world was changing, and we were there. Or is that how everyone feels about their childhood?
My first year at Kolkata (1998) was boring. My school friends were limited to school and I spent most of my free time lazing around, reading books. One day few men came by and dropped off three brown boxes. I was instructed not to touch them till dad returned from office. But I was a kid, I had to take a peek.
Imagine my surprise when I saw the white box with a screen and few keys and SAMSUNG written on it.
“IT’S A TV!” I shouted to Mom gleefully. Back then a television was my favorite thing in the entire world and I had been wanting one for ages. When I was told that it’s something called a “computer”, I didn’t speak to my parents for a week.
A few more days passed, a suitable table was bought and the computer was set up in my room. Don’t get the wrong idea though. It wasn’t for me. I was strictly forbidden to touch it without adult supervision. Computers were shit expensive in those days.
I had those small ‘crazy balls’ which I used to toss around in my room. Having a breakable object nearby only added to my miseries. We started off on the wrong foot, the computer and I.
In those days, an uncle used to come by and explain Photoshop and other software to my parents. “So you can change photos with this thing”, I thought. A TV was still better. I kept on about how unfair life is, that dad won’t buy a TV for me, but would buy something much costlier for himself. So eventually I got my TV.
In 1999, a guy was called to upgrade the OS to Windows ’98. Along with that, he installed three games, Manx TT Superbike, Virtua Cop 2, and Quake 2. My world exploded. It was just the nudge I needed to be thrown into a new world. You see, I hadn’t even heard a mention of computers anywhere else, at least not in details. So I was unaware of the abilities of the machine. When I started gaming, my natural curiosity took over and I explored all the basic stuff like MS Word, Powerpoint, Excel, Paint, etc.
I remember being fascinated with typing. The sheer possibility of being able to write something down on a screen and the ability to erase it as if it never existed, amazed me to no end. Soon I was typing random nonsense everyday for hours, putting them in floppies, and asking dad to get them printed. Another thing was the possibility of infinite folders within folders… it felt unreal. The first taste of a virtual world, where things could be stored, and stuff created. It was like imagination, with a touch of reality. I made a huge network of folders and keep my word documents organized. I was in love with the entire idea.
When the computer was switched on, there was a black screen with lots of info, with ‘Priya’ written in red on the top right corner (the company of some unknown part of the computer). One day I brought some friends over from school, and for the next few years they went on about how madly I was in love with Priya (a classmate) since I had written her name down on my start screen. I tried to explain that it wasn’t customizable, but who cares about such details?
Anyway, something went wrong with our PC in the early 2000s, it wouldn’t start. Getting the damaged parts upgraded instead of repaired was more cost-effective, and when the PC returned from the service center, I became aware that computers can have different configurations. Upon investigation, I found our PC had:
Intel Pentium III processor
8GB Hard Disk
Then came the days of the dial-up internet. Dad had a secondary land-line installed in the room, and a wire would come out of the phone and go into the computer. It made a godawful sound every time the connection was dialed (the same sound which was programmed into a famous toy gun available in those days, a mixture of different kinds of sirens), and it loaded one webpage in 2 minutes. It was password protected, and I was allowed a weekly usage of 30 minutes, i.e. 15 pages. By that time, Pokemon had made its mark, and I would spend my 15 pages on an online Pokedex. I saved everything for offline access, so I had 15 new Pokemon pics and info every week. I got all 151, and few of the later ones too.
One night, dad made me sit down and explained the concept of email.
“Now you can send letters to anywhere in the world and it’ll reach within seconds”, he said. He got an ID registered in my name, firstname.lastname@example.org, one that I still use from time to time. We had MS Outlook, where I would type the emails offline, and put them in the outbox, and they would get sent when dad connected the dial-up.
I wrote to my cousins in Miami. I wanted to make full use of the ‘anywhere in the world’ aspect, also, I was fond of them, and they were the only people I knew who had internet. Emails were a big thing, at least to me.
But the dial-up days were short, and in came broadband, though unfortunately not in our house, but at Dad’s office. Dad decided that the internet would be a bad influence on me and I had to live without it. The TV cable connection was cut too, since I had overused it. We shifted residence to Mangalam Park, and all I had was the computer. I collected few games from friends and started my first intense gaming days. The new ones wouldn’t run on my already outdated PC, so I stuck to the old ones, but I was satisfied. The most memorable games were Oni and Age of Empires, both of which I played and replayed for years.
As years rolled by, more and more of my friends started buying modern PCs, and I started feeling discontented with mine. Those were the days when ‘cool’ started being associated with ‘black’ and all new monitors and CPUs came in black. Having a ‘white’ PC was like being an old man. Dad refused to get me a new one or get the current one upgraded.
Dad and I don’t see eye to eye when it comes to electronics. Whenever a new type of product is launched, Dad would buy it, spending a lot of money. He bought a digital camera when hardly anyone had one in India. He bought a computer when most people were thinking of buying a proper TV. The result is always the same. We get stuck with a primitive product which lasts for ages, and which sucks. The camera consumed 2 pencil batteries to produce twenty average 3MP photos. And we used it for almost 10 years! While others went on to buy cheaper, better, and more efficient digicams, with rechargeable batteries.
The same goes for my PC. While others had 1GB RAMs, 256MB graphics cards, 80GB hard disks, I was stuck with my 9-year-old PC. Luckily, around that time, the hard disk crashed, and the computer got upgraded to 128MB RAM and 32GB storage (the motherboard could support no more). Also, we got Windows XP installed, but it was so slow that we kept ’98 too.
Finally, in 2010, we got a broadband connection since it was becoming a necessity. But pages would still take minutes to load and frequently hanged, and I figured out that the RAM wasn’t enough to run the browser smoothly. Exasperated, Dad finally bought a new PC a year later.
The old PC was packed off and given away. I remember feeling sad that day, for the machine which had tested my patience for 12 years! It wasn’t the best, but it was still mine and I was used to it. I knew exactly how long to wait between clicks to keep it from hanging. I knew its limitations. I knew what to do when the monitor started blinking, or when the CPU made weird noises.
I still have parts of it, namely the speakers (Genius brand). Somehow the audio department hasn’t improved so drastically in the last decade, and they serve better quality than the modern cheap ones.
This March, we were at College Street for our annual book-buying session, and in a one really tiny shop I saw two frail old men. One was dictating, and the other was typing, on a typewriter! It was the first time I saw one in real life. We were waiting for a friend, so I had the chance of inspecting it closely. The keys were all eroded and blank, but the old man kept typing, slowly and confidently, khat khat khat… there was a sense of beauty to that.
It reminded me of my PC. I guess time renders a value to everything.