The Melody Keeper

Syed Akbar Shah

Shah Music Centre is a ten by ten feet shop in the core of Meena Bazar, Delhi. It is an eighty year old gramophone record shop which was started in the British India in 1930 by Syed Ahmed Shah, son of a Kashmiri born, British government servant, Syed Hassan Shah.

The shop was first started in the market which used to be around the Jamia Masjid wall. During emergency period in India under Indira Gandhi’s rule, the market was shifted to Meena Bazar on August 7, 1976. Shah’s got the shop number 256.

After the death of Ahmed Shah in 1994, his older son Syed Mohammad Shah took over the shop only till he passed away in 1996. It was his younger brother, Syed Akbar Shah, who has been running the shop since then.

“I am here since 1965 when I was eight-year-old.  I used to accompany my father. Now it is our third generation who is running the shop. It is my 33-year-old son, Syed Zaffar Shah now,” Akbar Shah says, sitting in the shop, his back against the monochrome portraits of Indian legendary singer, Mohammad Rafi.

“Now it has been thirty six years here in Meena Bazar. My father used to collect records. Whenever there was a new record he used to get it. We have Long Play records (33 RPM) which started to come from 1962. We have records from the year 1904 till date. In 1904 collection we have some English records too, they are called “Pathy Records”,” Akbar explains.

The movies with audio started in India from 1931. First movie was Aalam Ara but no one could have its records because the picture burned in Poona. Still Shah’s had all the other records and records made before 1931 too, which include English albums, political speeches, and religious teachings.

They have been collecting records by travelling around the world. The record collections they have are collected from India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Singapore, United Kingdom, Holland, and a few Western countries. Though Akbar never counts his collection but he says they might be around one lakh (100,000).

"A young boy, Munna who denied telling his age is dusting records and packing them"

Akbar says they also redevelop gramophones. “The price of records varies from 100 rupees to 1000 rupees for Long Play records. It depends on the age of the record. Gramophones cost around 1600 to 2500 rupees. We have both electric and manual gramophones,” Akbar points to a Gramophone placed outside the shop.

Despite being in one of the busy markets of old Delhi, which takes hours to locate a shop people do visit this shop as it has the largest collection of records in India. As Akbar says, “We have largest collection of records in India. We have three warehouses apart from this shop. All are filled. People always come to buy records. They have this love of records. People are taking more interest in records now. Mostly collectors.”

The ceiling of the shop has posters of records like Yeh Hai Amitabh, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Elvis Presley and the shelves are packed up with records leaving no space for anything.  Mohammad Rafi posters, old radios, gramophones and a working phone fill rest of the space of the shop.

The warehouse which Akbar mentioned is at Patuadi House, Darya Ganj. It is a garage converted into a record library. A young boy, Munna who denied telling his age is dusting records and packing them. He is from Bihar. Famous movies and speeches like The Beatles, John F. Kennedy- A memorial album, Sholay, Mughal-e-Azam are some of the records on display to attract visitors. There are many old gramophones lying on the floor. A corner has a wooden cupboard which is for records, for it has certain special sections.

Photo: Mayank Austen Soofi (T), Fahad Shah (B)

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