Music in the house: Can you hear Noor Jehan?

In Old Delhi’s Chandni Chowk, hear the hits of yesterday come alive on the gramophone.

Written by Devyani Onial | Published: December 27, 2015 1:00 am
Anuj Rajpal’s New Gramophone House in Chandni Chowk in Delhi stocks records and gramophones. (Photo: Praveen Khanna) Anuj Rajpal’s New Gramophone House in Chandni Chowk in Delhi stocks records and gramophones. (Photo: Praveen Khanna)

A small hoarding of the iconic shot of a dog with the gramophone gives it away, otherwise there is little to suggest that this is a house of music. A short flight of stairs leads to a shop that sells colourful cheap shoes and the only sound here is of a shrill, high-pitched bargaining, each voice trying to drown the other. It takes another walk up an impossibly narrow flight of stairs to reach an oasis of silence broken intermittently by the scratch and hiss of a record that slowly comes
to life.

There are no customers this afternoon, except a woman who has come to pick up an old record player she had rescued from years of disuse from her balcony and given it for repair. It’s a surprise for her husband who loves music. Her next surprise is choosing a record for him from the over 20,000 that line the shelves but she gives up quickly and decides to call her husband. “He’s asking for Noor Jehan, is there a film called Noor Jehan?” she asks. No, she is a singer, responds the shop attendant.
She smiles sheepishly and begins her search again.

On the crowded shelves of this small room at the New Gramophone House in Chandni Chowk, perhaps the only vinyl record shop in Delhi, fading record sleeves hold gems from the past: a live Mehdi Hassan concert from Pakistan, songs from old Hindi films Bandini, Achhut Kanya and Anarkali, albums of Pink Floyd and Dire Straits. “What you see here is only 20 per cent of my stock. I have about 2 lakh records in all, mostly vinyl (LPs and EPS) as the 78 RPM ones that run only on hand-wound machines were discontinued in the ’70s . The rest are lying in my store rooms,” says Anuj Rajpal, 42, who runs the shop along with his father Ramesh. Rajpal sells records as well as repairs old record players.

The shop’s roots go back far. Established in 1930 by Rajpal’s grandfather Bhagwan Dass in Lahore’s Anarkali Bazaar, it moved to its present address after Partition. In Lahore, Dass had also been the wholesale distributor for records. In Delhi, the family just ran their business from the shop. In its first three decades, record sales were brisk and business was good. But the first signs of slowdown came in the ’80s and by the ’90s, business was all but closed. “We had even diversified our business but we hadn’t disposed our stocks. Production of records had more or less stopped from 1992 to 2005 and we were just selling what we had acquired from collectors and our agents,” says Rajpal.

Then came the turnaround. With records and record players being manufactured in countries such as Germany, UK and the US, there has been a revival of sorts. “We are getting new customers now, younger people are showing a lot of interest. The last three-four years have been good,” says Rajpal.

Over the years, the New Gramophone House has garnered a loyal customer base, some of whom have been coming here for 40 years. Many of them keep returning for Hindi film classics, others tired of the digital sound troop in for strains of the analog.

Though no records are manufactured in India now, in the last few years, 65-odd Hindi films have got records of their soundtracks manufactured abroad — Rockstar, Jab Tak Hai Jaan and Patiala House being some of them.

The records range from brand new to used ones, some in as-good-as-new condition. The price, which varies from Rs 500 to Rs 2,000, of course, depends on the condition of the record.

Ten years ago, Rajpal moved his catalogue online and has a dedicated staff who runs the website. Online orders are growing and orders come from all over India and abroad. Today, there is a brown package bound for Bhawanipatna in Orissa and another for Leicester in the UK.

Rajpal winds up an old machine and the sound of an old Hindi film song fills the room. It follows you softly as you descend the by-now dark steps, plunging straight down to the sea of voices bargaining for shoes. But upstairs, there’s still music in the house.

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