Haji Ebrahim’s Iconic Vinyl Store In Chor Bazaar Is Filled With Beautiful Records And Memories
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When Asif was a young boy, he would often come home to his father listening to the tracks of Mughal-E-Azam on his gramophone that was placed neatly in a corner of his tiny apartment. “Mughal-E-Azam used to be his favourite,” says Asif, carefully holding up the record and placing it on his record player. As Naushad’s Pyar Kiya Toh Darna Kya starts playing, he shuts his eyes momentarily and then smiles warmly. Perhaps the song has evoked memories of childhood in 42-year-old Asif’s mind. But these memories are what Asif has been making a living out of for quite some time now. He continues the legacy of his late father, Haji Ebrahim who had a massive vinyl collection and an eponymous record store in the bustling alleys of Chor Bazaar.
That is where I meet him on a late Tuesday afternoon. An antique gramophone and a few records dangling on the ceiling makes the store stand out amidst the many other shops selling beautiful vintage items. The store is quite spacious and has rows of shelves stacked with thousands of records. From Beatles to Pink Floyd, Amar Akbar Anthony to Toofan, Michael Jackson to Maiden’s Voyage, there are LPs of each and every kind of music genre in English and multiple other Indian languages. Resisting the temptation to buy them, I greet Asif, dressed in a blue denim jacket and jeans, who sits patiently, ready to tell me all about his father and his association with music.
“Mere Papa ko alag alag gane sunne ka shauk tha. Chahe woh Lata Mangeshkar ka geet ho ya Pink Floyd ka rock,” (My father enjoyed listening to a variety of music, be it the songs of Lata Mangeshkar or the rock of Pink Floyd),” he says. This was the time when songs could not be downloaded at the click of a button, neither could they be exchanged through pen drives. “Plus, owning records was a matter of pride. So my father travelled far and wide in search of them,” Asif adds.
Apparently, from a young age, Haji Ebrahim knew he wanted to get into the record business. He started out almost 60 years ago by putting his own collection on sale and then started getting in touch with record companies, collectors and even music producers to purchase records and LPs for them. “His largest network was in Kolkata. There was a gramophone manufacturing company at Dum Dum. He went there the most, followed by Bangalore, Delhi, Chennai and even Lucknow,” Asif tells me.
Slowly Haji Ebrahim built a name for himself in the record industry. He not just created a loyal consumer base but even attracted the who’s who of the music industry. Apparently, music directors like Sajjad Hussain and O.P Nair were regulars at the store. “My father also met Lata Mangeshkar and discussed music with her,” he exclaims holding up an LP of the legendary singer’s all-time favourites.
It is quite evident that Asif takes immense pride in his father’s work, which is why he decided to continue his legacy and not let it die out with him. But I am curious to understand his interest in the same. He tells me that he started out by helping his father after school – arranging records, stacking and cleaning them, understanding various genres and the technicalities of LPs. Though he did not share the same passion for music, it is something that grew on him over time.
“My father could tell you the name of the singer, the album/movie and the music director of any song within seconds. Now, I can do it too. But unlike him, I do not enjoy listening to music after work. Mithiawale ko mithai ghar pe khana nahin pasand (A sweet seller hates to eat sweets at home),” he chuckles. Nevertheless, he continues the business whilst travelling to the same areas his father once travelled to procure records.
At the time of his father, LPs were still very much in use and had regular buyers. Today, however, since music has become digital and no one uses records anymore, a lot of young people visit him to sell off the family LPs. Asif then sells these to collectors and enthusiasts at a higher price which begins from INR 800 and goes above INR 2000, depending on how old the record is.
Apart from various kinds of LPs (78s, 38s, and 45s), he also has a few types of transistors and gramophones on sale. He brings out the gramophone and shows me how to key and operate it. As an upbeat track from Hum Kisi Se Kam Nahin starts to play, Asif says that analogue music like that on the LP can never be replaced by digital. “It is just not the same...you know the quality...the frequency. LP-Vinyl ka mazaa hi kuch aur hai (The LP-Vinyl has an irreplaceable charm).” Perhaps this is why this business till date has a growing clientele that includes locals as well as foreigners fascinated by Bollywood and its vibrancy. Even set designers buy items from him. In fact Asif sold two transistors for Aamir Khan’s film PK.
Haji Ebrahim Record Store has also had great media coverage that leaves Asif ’s phone buzzing with orders. But he refuses to transport and deliver. “These are old records. I have to put in a lot of hard work and time in their maintenance. Some LPs are made of mud and are fragile. What if they break? It’s better they come here and take it themselves,” he states. But Asif’s 18-year-old son Moinuddin, who plans to continue his grandfather’s legacy, agrees that online publicity never hurts anyone – which is why he has already created an Instagram page for his store. “I look forward to him taking over. LPs have started making a comeback for their appeal. New films are releasing records. The future is bright,” Asif adds.
But before Asif talks about the future, he also discusses his turbulent past. Demonetisation caused a major loss in the business. The effect is ongoing. “This is a collector’s item. It is not something people need. Our sales dropped drastically that year,” he remembers. Way earlier than that, when Haji Ebrahim passed away 18 years ago he left the store to two of his sons - Asif and his younger brother, Hussain. Ironically, Hussain too runs a record store which is named ‘Haji Ibrahim’ and is just a few shops away. The reason for the split, Asif says, is the independence of operations and profits that both of them desired. Though there isn’t any rivalry, the relation between the two appears cold.
As I bid adieu to Asif and thank him for a lovely afternoon and an enlightening conversation, I decide to meet Hussain and check out the ‘Haji Ibrahim store’. It is much tinier and is full of not just records but also old, quirky vintage telephones. In his mid-thirties, Hussain too remains diplomatic about the split and says that he was very young when his father passed away. But he does share his love for old classical music. Recounting a thought that his father always quoted, he says, “My father told me once – Yeh naye gaano se shareer thirakne lagta hai. But apne purane gaano se aatma jaag uthti hai (Your body moves to the beats of these new songs. But our old classics are the ones that truly rejuvenate the soul).”
Apparently, unlike his brother, Hussain was closer to his mother and wanted to fulfil her dream of becoming a doctor. But now, as he puts it, he is the doctor of old types of vinyl and telephones – the latter being his main source of income and interest. Military telephones, 1930s dialers, Chinese phones in quirky shapes - he puts them all out for us, narrating tales of how he came to procure them. I am intrigued and sit down to listen. But I guess that’s another fascinating story that I shall narrate later.
Haji Ebrahim Record Store is located at A Block, Jamnadas Building on Mutton Street in Chor Bazaar. You can contact Asif on 022-23466678.
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