In the ripe age of digital music, cassette tapes still have a retro appeal to audiophiles in Bangladesh
Sixty-year-old Habibur Rahman Khokon is a keen music lover. He listens to local pop bands and also enjoys internationally-acclaimed musicians.
The owner of "Music Garden" in Patuatuli in older Dhaka, he opened the shop back in 1987. It is one of the best kept secrets of the area.
During the 90s, his shop was always crowded with music lovers of all age, browsing through cassettes and buying tapes from him.
Once a hub for retail cassette sale in Dhaka, currently the Nurul Haque market in Patuatuli hosts the last few cassette-tape stores in the capital, including Music Garden.
Khokon is one among those, who is still struggling to revive the once very popular business of cassette tapes, vinyls and CDs.
He said that as digital music replaced the old school formats, it has also caused sales to decline.
"I hardly get customers these days," he said, adding that he still comes to the shop regularly.
As we peeked inside his store, a whiff of nostalgia unfurled.
Hundreds of cassettes fill out the shelves of the store, and the collection is diverse.
Khokan browsed through his collection and picked out a cassette titled "Ananya", the debut album of Bangladeshi rockstar James, and moments later a cassette of few Bengali songs recorded by Alka Yagnik long ago.
During its heydays between the late 1980s and 1990s, thousands of units of cassette tapes were sold every day.
Some iconic albums sold millions of copies across the country. But the medium became obsolete as digital format took over, also spawning the practice of piracy.
"Ever heard of the band Different Touch? Khokon asked as he sipped tea from a cup.
"We produced and distributed the album "Drishti Pradeep Jele" Khokan recalled, adding that the album sold 18 lakh copies.
Many other top tier artists had sold monumental numbers of cassette tapes in those days.
Unlike the impalpable digital format, cassettes have an inbred sense of nostalgia. Anyone who has ever stuck a pencil through the sprockets of a cassette can relate.
Until early 2000s, music stores used to sell a sizable number of cassettes.
"When did cassettes start to fade away?" this correspondent asked Khokon.
Reminiscing about the old days, Khokan said "I feel as if my business was swept away within a week," Khokon said.
"Tiny things like memory cards drove up piracy, which eventually killed the physical media business," he also said.
The memory cards, popularly known as micro SD cards in mobile phones, helped spread free music from one device to another.
Thus, nobody needed to spend money on cassettes. In addition, the market was invaded by compact disc or 'CD'. Once CDs rose to fame, cassettes exited the front row.
Khokon also reminisced about his customers. People from all over the country used to come to Patuatuli for cassettes.
"A young man from Cox's Bazaar frequently came to my shop," Khokon said, adding that back in those days Patuatuli was known for cassettes.
'Pause-stop-rewind' is a ritual all cassette lovers have been through to listen to their favourite tapes.
Cassettes players did not allow the luxury of skipping a track in seconds. Besides, cassettes had a limited lifespan.
Unlike vinyls or CDs, cassettes do not last long. The decaying nature of this format, oddly, makes it attractive.
Then why do some people still collect cassette tapes when music can be accessed for free in Bangladesh now? We reached out to musicians and collectors for an answer. Is it just object fetishism, or relics of childhood?
Wahid Zaman, an enthusiastic cassette collector has over a thousand units in his collection. The former cassette shop owner shared his sentiments.
"In my store, I used to sell hundreds of cassettes every day. I never really thought it would be extinct someday," Wahid said.
"I did not preserve many rare cassettes albums, although I have sold thousands of copies to others in my store back in those days," he said.
"Now that cassettes are gone, my mission is to find all the prominent cassettes lost in time," he added.
Wahid's cassette collection speaks for itself. From "Oniket Prantor" by Artcell to the debut album of Subir Nandy- he has an enviable ensemble of albums.
"As cassettes are rare to find, it takes money and patience to get your hands on a long cherished tape," Wahid said, adding that he has scouted as far as Kolkata to collect these music tapes.
"It's not just a fad for me. Holding a cassette cover while listening to the tape in my deck set is all I want after a tiring workday," the music lover said.
Kazi Faisal Ahmed, lead guitarist of Artcell, still treasures all the cassettes he owns. He shared his memory of collecting cassettes with The Business Standard.
"When I was a kid, cassette was the only way to listen to music," Faisal said.
"The sleeve or cover of a cassette was the most attractive thing about a tape," he recalled.
Earlier, there were no long sleeve cassettes in Bangladesh, he said, adding that Warfaze was one of the first artistes to release albums with long cassette sleeves.
"The smell of tapes is something only people of my generation can relate to," he added.
During his childhood Faisal listened to as much music any arduous fan would.
One day when he was on his way to school he noticed a poster of the album "LRB 1" and "LRB 2". He bought the album instantly and bunked school to listen to the tapes.
Those who grew up in the 90s' and loved rock or metal music visited the famous cassette shop "Rainbow" in Elephant Road in Dhaka.
People used to swarm the shop to record their favorite international cassettes, Faisal recalled, adding that he had to wait as long as three months to get a mixtape recorded.
"Chrome cassettes were the high end type. It had the best sound quality; I recorded my favorite collections in chrome tapes," Faisal recollected.
Asked about his favorite cassette cover, Faisal had a hard time picking one.
"I really liked the cover of 'Amader Bishmoy,' a double album by LRB," Faisal said.
"Warfaze also had some of the most beautiful covers. It's hard for me to pick a specific cover when it comes to Warfaze," he added.
Faisal often refers to Dave Mustaine as his "boro bhai" or elder brother. It is no wonder that Mustaine-fronted band Megadeth's album "Rust in Peace" ranks high in his list of favourite cassette covers.
The heydays of cassettes are a thing of the past. Cassettes have a short lifespan, just like a human on Earth. Maybe that is why cassettes pulsate with a sense of nostalgia.