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An Era Before Parkinson’s: When the Radio Blared, The Beatles Sang

There was a time back in the 60s and 70s, long before Anna had Parkinson’s Disease, when The Beatles played to glory

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Music came into our home, as the song goes, “On The Radio”. The radio had pride of place in the kitchen where my mother would listen to Bollywood songs. Songs that brought a slice of magic into her life.

We heard non-Bollywood music only when my elder sister would steal the radio to listen to “American Top 40” every week.

Not to mention the oh-too-brief life of another radio that lasted less than a day, perishing gallantly to scientific experimentation. My younger sister, Mamta, not yet 5 years old, won a radio in a lottery. We were thrilled. Amma’s radio no longer had to be whacked. We were radio independent! On our insistence, Anna put in the batteries, and tuned the radio immediately. A few hours later, the radio was destroyed. Mamta, wanting to know if music can be heard under water, had filled the bathtub with water, and submerged herself and the radio!

There was a time back in the 60s and 70s, long before Anna had Parkinson’s Disease, when The Beatles played to glory
On our insistence, Anna put in the batteries, and tuned the radio immediately. (Photo: iStock)
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I must have been 7 or 8 years old when Anna bought a gramophone player and some LPs. I graduated to listening to Mozart and Beethoven. I learned to use the player by myself and often Anna would come home to find me staring out of the window listening to music, in a world of my own.

Spool player, cassette player, walkman, CD player, discman and iPod have all found places of honour in my life. They are my safe haven, escape route, chill time. My space creators. I can spend hours listening to my iPod, visualising myself dancing to the songs I hear. Not that I can do any of the dance moves that my imagination conjures up, but I don’t care – I am in my personal world of dance excellence.

I learned to dance when I was 11 years old. We were invited to a “dance party” at our friends’ place. Not knowing what a dance party really was, my brother went and got as many details as he could. He came back with what was touted as a surefire way to show that we were great dancers. It went like this:

“Pretend to rub your back with a towel while stubbing a cigarette with your toe. Do this to the beat of the music. Change the direction of back rubbing and the foot cigarette-stubbing at will.”

So we practised in the living room to the music of the Beatles and Paul Simon LPs that my aunt had brought us as gifts. One afternoon – before this famous “dance party” – the three elder siblings were vigorously practising “drying our backs with towels and stubbing cigarettes with our toes” – when Anna came home. We didn’t see him for we were concentrating on “back rubbing and cigarette stubbing”. It was only at dinner that we realised that Anna had seen us practising when he asked us, “Why were you three pretending to have epileptic fits with music playing so loud?”

There was a time back in the 60s and 70s, long before Anna had Parkinson’s Disease, when The Beatles played to glory
An old photo of Amma and Anna. (Photo Courtesy: Sangeeta Murthi Sahgal)
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We explained to him that this was called dancing! And that it was done in sync with music that was called rock ‘n roll or pop. Anna could not fathom how such uncoordinated movements could be termed as a dance and such loud sounds could be called music. We just told him that he was too old to understand. After all, the man was in his 40s!

For years, when we were going out to a “dance party” (of course, only after Amma gave us permission and set our curfew time), he would ask, “Are you going to one of those party’s where everyone pretends to have an epileptic fit?” We’d roll our eyes at this and say yes.

Finally, unable to change his view of dancing to rock ‘n roll and pop, we gave in and just told him, “Anna, this Friday night we are going out for an epileptic fit party”.

He understood perfectly. And we danced at many, many parties.

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(After working in corporate India for over 29 years, Sangeeta has taken time off to look after her father, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2008. Sangeeta hopes that these authentic stories will help patients and caregivers understand and appreciate the impact of Parkinson’s Disease. You can follow Sangeeta’s blog here.)

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