Shop number 256 in Meena bazaar has the largest collection of Hindi music records.
It's hard to imagine that this tiny shop in Meena Bazaar has one of the most sought-after collections of Hindi music in the world. Standing atop the stairs which lead towards Meena Bazaar right in front of Jama Masjid, finding Shop No 256 is not an easy task.
Wedged between shops selling tyres, old generators, spare parts, blankets and almost everything under the sun, is Shah Music Centre which houses the biggest collection of Hindi film and non-film music records. The collection is owned by Syed Zafar Shah whose grandfather Ahmed Shah started collecting records in 1920s. "In those days, the shop was in the market just outside Jama Masjid," says Shah.
The 10 X 10 shop has over 5,000 records but it is Shah's warehouse in Daryaganj where the real treasure lies. As my eyes wander around the collection in awe, I spot a record of the recently-released Tees Maar Khan tucked in somewhere. "Nobody will buy this but it's just for our collection," says Shah even before I can ask him about the record.
In 1976, the shop moved to its current address and since then has become a landmark in Meena Bazaar. Almost everyone knows the "gaane wali dukaan".
Shah's list of customers includes film personalities, diplomats and politicians, but he does not reveal names. Some prodding leads him to say that the actor Dilip Kumar was a regular visitor at one time. The collection of records includes Hindi, English, Urdu, ghazals, even Tamil songs. Elvis Presley, The Beatles and Bob Marley
How did the collection begin, I ask. "My grandfather was a music lover and he started it as a hobby," explains Shah. The hobby turned into passion and from a few hundred records, the collection is now so big that Shah can't put a number to it.
Shah's family has collected records from Lahore, Karachi, London and Hong Kong too. Interestingly, he says some of the oldest records he has were picked up from kabadi (junk) markets. Shah has well-wishers in Lucknow, Kanpur, Kolkata, Hyderabad and other cities who inform him from time to time if there is a yard sale or some old bungalow is being vacated, where he could come across a few records.
The pride of his collection is the songs of Mohammed Rafi -- Shah claims to have all of them. With LPs now coming back, Shah insists that people who will buy records will be collectors. He doesn't sell records at a premium and the most expensive record you can get is one for Rs 500. Of course the price depends on how rare the record is. "Sometimes when we see that the buyer is a genuine collector, we part with the rare ones too," he says.
Shah is confident that if his shop does not have a Hindi music record, then it probably doesn't exist. In fact, when HMV wanted a few songs for a collection it was making, it contacted Shah and he gave the company 80 songs missing from its library.
He sells gramophones as well and has other businesses too. "This is a passion which I have kept going," he says. With Shah's son too taking a keen interest in the collection of records, you can be sure that the legacy of the "gaane wali dukaan" will continue to grow.