Old Delhi is a treasure trove of Indian history. Red Fort, Jama Masjid, Chandni Chowk–some of Delhi’s most famous sites are located within this walled city built by 17th century Mughal Emperor Shahjahan. What I never expected to find here, however, was a tiny, old-fashioned record (yes, vinyl/LP record!) shop buried within the sprawling maze of Meena Bazaar.
As embarrassingly nerdy as it is, I might as well reveal my guilty pleasure: classic Bollywood and Hindi music. There is one famous playback singer in particular—Lata Mangeshkar—whose music I am always searching for. Combine this with my penchant for vinyl records, and one of my first thoughts upon coming to Delhi was, “are there any record shops close by?”
The answer, I was happy to find out, is a yes. Not that many though, and most of them are just music shops that sell a few records on the side. Just like in the US, old records and gramophones fell by the wayside many years ago and now are nothing more than a curious oddity. When my “googling” led me to a shop called “Shah Music Centre”—selling only records—I was immediately intrigued.
My first stop in heading towards Shah Music Centre was Jama Masjid, one of the most well-known sites in Delhi. Built with beautiful red sandstone and marble, this mosque towers majestically over the nearby Chawri Bazar and is packed with tourists most of the day. Despite its popularity, the mosque has a large open coutyard that gives it a peaceful feeling. Many people were taking naps under the covered terraces, escaping from the 105-degree blinding heat of the Delhi sun.
Just outside Jama Masjid is a Meena Bazar, a claustrophobic and rambling collection of shops. Urdu script appears on most store signs, direction boards, prayer books, everything—this is a mostly Muslim area. After asking about 5 different people for directions (each shop in theory has a number, but I didn’t see them written anywhere), I finally came across shop 256–Shah Music Centre.
3 men sat inside, lounging under a rattling fan. All around me were an uncountable number of old Bollywood film records, a few of the most famous proudly displayed on the dusty shelves. When I got out the list of records I was looking for, the owner immediately smiled. “Bahut kam log hamari dukaan me aate hain, lekin jo aate hain na vo hamesha taiyaari karke aate hain” (Not many people come to our shop, but those who come always come prepared).
I had quite a few specific, obscure things in mind—some Marathi bhajans and film music—but when the owner came to the two Bollywood films I was looking for, he said “ye dono zaroor milenge” (I have definitely have these two). He took me back out into the winding corridors and led me to his storage room, where he retrieved the two albums for me. The prices were not that much cheaper than the US (rare for India, where most things appear quite cheap if you are thinking in dollars), but this was one place I was not about to bargain in. They said they were lucky to have one customer a day at this shop—gramophones and vinyl records are hardly a high-demand item.
I couldn’t help but smile as I fumbled and tripped my way out of Meena Bazaar. Shah Music Centre unfortunately may not be the most profitable business, but I can easily see why the owners are loath to give it up. The sense of connection, the bonds we made in just a few minutes talking about old Bollywood singers, was a special experience that these men probably have with every customer. Here’s to more adventures in Delhi!
(Sorry, no pictures of Meena Bazaar or Jama Masjid. I am the world’s most forgetful person when it comes to taking pictures)
Bangla Sahib Gurudwara, Delhi