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South Asian Memories
the-south-asian.com 7 August 2000
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3 Shop No. 256, Meena Bazaar, Old Delhi By Sharad K. Soni
Shop No. 256, Meena Bazaar, Old Delhi
By Sharad K. Soni
It was Zafar Shah's grandfather, Syed Ahmed Shah, who
It was Zafar Shah's grandfather, Syed Ahmed Shah, who startedthis extraordinary collection way back in 1928. He had a shop at the time on the periphery wall of Jama Masjid which specialised in repairing gramophones. Fifty years later his son, Akbar Shah shifted to Meena Bazaar and is today fondly called Recordwale Shahenshah.
Now Akbar Shah too has retired and handed over the business to his son, Syed Zafar Shah. And the love for music has spilled over to the third generation. Zafar Shah now looks after the family business which has thrived for seven decades because of the mind- boggling variety of music available here. Says he, " My grandfather was a great lover of music. His interest in collecting records was sparked when qawwalis of Bibi Dholki and Kallan Khan were transferred on vinyl in 1930. Since he had plenty of gramophones which the Indians and Britishers brought to him for repairs he would listen to these qawwalis all day long." Over the years Ahmed Shah's interest turned to film music and he began buying records sung by stars like Noorjehan, Shamshad Begum, Malika Pukhraj, K.L.Sehgal and other singers of the era.
In the thirties and forties some of the leading Indian companies producing vinyl included HMV, Young India, New Theatres, Lahore Music Company and Hindustan Records. The 78 Rpm cost 12 annas, a princely sum at that time which could buy you six kilos of meat or a good gabardine shirt, as Zafar puts it. " My grandfather would buy two copies of each new release. One for his collection and one for his listening pleasure." By the early forties Syed Ahmed Shah had earned such fame that even leading music companies began consulting him on the kind of records they should release. Amazingly, he could almost accurately predict the number of copies a record would sell by listening to it for a day or two.
By the time he died in 1977, Ahmed Shah had a formidable collection of records which he passed on to his son Akbar Shah who proved to be a worthy inheritor of the legacy. He not just painstakingly catalogued the records but also embarked on a collecting spree which took him to Teheran, Amsterdam, London, Ankara, Lahore, Karachi, Barbados, Singapore and Hong Kong. He snapped up records from private collectors, old curio shops and even junk markets. In fact it was in the Hyderabad kabadi market (junk market) where he struck gold. A junk dealer was selling a record that Akbar Shah thought no longer existed. It was from the 1954 film Shaan-e-Haatham and contained Mohammad Rafi's soulful rendering of Sabak raza ka de gaye Kerbalawale. Between Akbar and Zafar Shah the two of them they have added to the collection manifold in the last 75 years.
It is not surprising that like his grandfather and father, Zafar Shah too is a veritable encyclopedia of popular music. Though he too is unlettered he can tell you in seconds the origin of a song, who sung it, who wrote its lyrics, who composed the music, which year it was released and, in the case of film songs, who was the hero or heroine who sang the song on the screen. " You name a song and I'll pull out the record," says Zafar proudly.
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