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An audio haven at Chandni Chowk

March 08, 2008 12:26 IST

You can definitely smell the nostalgia when you enter New Gramophone House. Climbing up the narrow staircase into the store is the proverbial trip down memory lane.

There is no long line of customers, just a couple of buyers who know what they are looking for. One of them wants to buy a player with an inbuilt speaker.

The attendants pull out a bright red Philips player wrapped in protective plastic. Soon the single mono speaker is streaming "Kishore Kumar Sings for Amitabh Bachchan", complete with the reassuring "clicks and pops".

The store is an audiophile's manna from heaven. It traces its roots to the pre-partition era when Bhagwan Das Rajpal set it up at Lahore's Anarkali Bazaar.

The upheaval of 1947 saw the store shift to its location opposite Moti Cinema at Chandni Chowk and it is now taken care of by his grandson Anuj Rajpal.

The roof of the building is shored up by stout steel beams and one has to tread carefully to avoid stepping on stacks of vinyl that do not even spare floor space.

Peeling stickers on the shelves list the prices of the records on sale -- ranging from Rs 30 and sometimes even Rs 10,000. Rajpal is quite an unassuming character and in contrast to the ambience, busies himself with databasing his customers on his laptop.

A Beatles record catches my eye as it lies unattended on the floor. As I ponder its value to a collector, there is Nat King Cole, Abba and the timeless cover of BoneyM's "Nightflight to Venus".

Rajpal, however, takes pride in collecting Bollywood records. He claims he has over 200,000 records in storage with about 25,000 on display in the tiny store. The numbers are dominated by Bollywood and Hindustani classical, followed by Bengali, English, Punjabi, Bhojpuri, Haryanvi, Tamil and Telegu records.

"We still get all kinds of buyers -- young and old. It is the sound quality that brings them. I buy the records from old collectors, shops and recording houses. Every piece is checked twice -- on buying and when storing. A defective piece is immediately removed," says Rajpal.

There are a range of players you can choose from. Many are reconditioned and if you are lucky you might land a piece that has been lying unused in storage. Prices start from Rs 2,500.

There is also a small collection of the early Dolby audio cassette players on sale. Servicing of players is done by an in-house technician and the store ensures a supply of spares.

The biggest worry for Rajpal is the dwindling number of rare records that he can find today.

He says the ones people look out for to add to their collection is fast running out. He expects the business to stagnate in about five years. "I used to have a three-storey store earlier. Now its just one floor," he points out.

Anand Sankar in New Delhi
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