We all know about the 5 senses (sight, sound, smell, touch and taste), but there is a mysterious and unknown sense that we all possess, known as the 6th sense, or Extrasensory Perception (ESP). My theory suggests that this 6th sense is usually triggered by one or more of the other 5 senses. Familiar tastes, smells, touches, etc all lead to a heightened sense of awareness and triggers memories, emotions, reactions and more often than not, gives rise to a feeling of deja vu. This post is about my tryst with this 6th sense and the role physical establishments and more specifically, music/electronics/record stores, have on my bowels — yup...that’s right.
Ever since I was a child, music has been at the center of my life courtesy my Father. My love affair with music started at a very young and tender age of 2 or 3. I remember being all of 2 feet tall and looking at 7-8 feet of wall-to-wall shelves stacked up with records, cassettes, which were soon followed by CDs, DVDs and books on music and film. Particularly, the smells of the paper sleeves, cassette covers, and touching them evoked a great sense of pleasure and the feeling of being all “grown up” if I was able to handle such delicate objects, nay even get the chance to put a record on and carefully lower the needle on the groove to begin a track on a Man Machine record. These thoughts, familiar smells, sounds, have stayed with me since that tender age. I still remember listening to cassettes on repeat until the tape wore off, memorizing the album covers and the inlay cards so much so that one could wake me up from my sleep, play the first 5-7 seconds of a song, and I could rattle of details of the song/album/artists/composers, and even hum along giving you details of the instruments used in the interlude and the counter-melody in the background while the song played.
Independence for me particularly meant the ability to walk into a music store and touch/feel physical music media as well as listen to the strains of the music that was playing in the store and try and identify the track or the composers/writers/artists who had taken the pains to produce some wonderful melodies. So intense was this love affair with music stores, that I even ended up working at music store right around the time most people end up chasing the proverbial dream of getting an MBA, finding a stable job, earning 6 figure salaries and being the most eligible bachelor in town. Not in my case. I left a plum job at ICICI Prudential Life Insurance Co. and walked into a store called Music World on Park Street, Kolkata to beg the store manager to allow me to join the Operations team for the flagship store on Park Street. I even recall being interviewed by a Senior Director in Chennai (where Music World was headquartered) right outside a restaurant in Kolkata called “Stun The Sun” and mumbling out revolutionary answers (or so I thought) in the hope of finding my dream job.
He asked me, “What would you do if a shoddy employee was constantly late, lackadaisical in his approach, careless about the work he was doing, but was a fantastic salesman? How would you handle such a person reporting to you?”
My answer: “Make him a supervisor in the store”
Crickets. Chirping. Loudly.
“Explain” came the immediate response followed by, “so you’re saying, you would promote a seemingly uninterested employee. Why?”
I then recall using the words “reverse psychology” and mentioning that if an individual were really good at his job and was excelling in what was expected of him, but at the same time was being careless about his/her approach to work, maybe putting him in a position of responsibility, where he’s responsible for not just his performance but that of a team would make him more attentive, efficient, and maybe put the onus on him to act right since he would now be responsible for a team of people and as a result, sales of the department/store which would hopefully force him to mend his ways.
This gentleman hung up the phone, and immediately called the store manager to tell her that she would be cuckoo to hire someone like me and put me in charge of Operations and that if she did, she’d be risking her job too. Well, she took that risk. I unceremoniously assumed the role of Operations Head for Music World, Park Street and soon after, for 11 other stores in the Eastern Region and for 2 consecutive years after that, we shattered the record for the highest music sales of any music retail store in the country with my team of seemingly careless/inefficient/lackadaisical group of what I would call the most passionate set of people I have ever had the pleasure of working with. Yes, even more passionate and committed than the group of people I worked with at Google in its early years. The Director (now retired) remembers me (not fondly) and acknowledges the achievement, but still thinks I’m cuckoo to have a seemingly radical approach to an operations-intensive business such as retail.
That is why a significant part of me died when Music World shuttered their stores in India on July 1, 2013
I’ve clearly digressed, but the seeds of being in a store surrounded by music have always given rise to a sea of memories and feelings that not only make me nostalgic but keep my digestive system in order, so much so that I can’t spend too much time inside a music store unless there’s a clean/well-stocked loo available in the vicinity.
No matter which city/country I visit, a trip to one/as many music stores as possible is always something that I eke time out for, whether it’s in the dingiest and remotest by-lane or inside a fancy mall on the city’s Main Street. It’s like a drug. One whiff and you can’t stop. There are just way too many emotions tied up with music in my life to be able to jot them down coherently, but some things that I immediately think of when I’m inside a music store include - my Father, our music collection, maintaining a database of all the albums we have, the record players/stereo systems and speakers/headphones in every home I’ve lived in (or still live in), happiness, heartbreak, courage, falling in love, heartbreak again, tears, discovery, exploration, inquisitiveness, wonder, hope, dreams...the list is endless.
Even in the Bay Area, where I’m currently situated, a walk/drive down Lower Haight, Berkeley, Campbell or Market Street makes me yearn to go into Amoeba or Rasputin (though Rasputin has shut their Market Street store for a while). The excitement and inclination is similar whether it’s Mumbai’s Rhythm House (which also shut down), Chor Bazaar; Kolkata’s Planet M, Melody House; London’s Phonica Records, HMV, Virgin Records stores (also closed); Jackpot Records in Portland; or Sydney’s aptly named record store, The Record Store. Just the knowledge that those stores exist/existed is enough to invoke a childlike eagerness to walk in, buy suitcases full of music (talk about “a kid in a candy shop”) or walk out empty handed, but irrespective of what I purchase (or don’t), I leave with a heartful of happiness as I make my way to find the next place of solace and relive the experience in my mind on the throne at the nearest establishment that is conducive for reminiscing in peace by obeying the orders and following the commands of my 6th sense.