The mysterious power of old Bollywood LPs

Anu looking at records

There are few things that put me in such a nostalgic mood than a vinyl record of Bollywood songs from my childhood. I recently discovered it is the same for my elderly aunt, for whom records from the 1950s bring back a mixture of precious and painful memories.

My family has few historic mementos.

We have no furniture or jewellery passed down generation after generation. Both my mother’s and father’s families lost what few belongings they had in the terrifying rush to escape the violence of Partition in 1947.

So when I need a reminder of my origins and history, there’s only one experience I can readily turn to for familiarity and comfort. On a shelf in my flat is a collection of roughly 50 LPs, or records, etched with several generations’ favourite Hindi songs from classic Bollywood films.

Some came from my parents, who bought them in New York City’s Indian district after they emigrated in 1974. Others I’ve bought in charity shops around London. I even found an Indian LP in a dusty antique shop in Casablanca.

I love the shape of records – the smooth, round thinness of them.

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There’s the hiss and crackle as the needle meets the disc and navigates what’s known as the “lead-in groove”.

Watching a black vinyl record spin is hypnotic. It takes me back to being four years old, when everyone still had rotary dial telephones and occasionally received telegrams. Listening to an LP still feels like an immersion. It forces me to listen to the exclusion of everything else.

In the heart of old Delhi, where the chaotic lanes packed with spice and jewellery shops have changed little in centuries, there are still some LP treasure troves to be found.

I followed the directions I’d been given, but reaching the spot, all I could see was a grotty hole in the wall. I stood scratching my head before asking for directions: New Gramophone House?

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I was shown a wonky concrete staircase at the back. I climbed up – gingerly minding my head – into an Aladdin’s cave. The tiny shop was packed floor to ceiling with more than 200,000 vintage Bollywood LPs.

Owner Anuj Rajpal’s family has been selling records since the 1930s. Originally based in Lahore, they too fled violence at Partition, but were able to evacuate one lorry-load of records when they came to this spot in 1947.

Today his customers are mostly middle-aged, like me – people who grew up with records and are overcome by nostalgia at the sight of them.

Anuj says his shop is having a major revival after nearly being wiped out by CDs in the 1990s.

“It’s the sound quality,” he says. “People come back to LPs specifically for that.”

I bought two immaculate albums, wrapped carefully in plastic sleeves.

A few days ago, my elderly aunt who hates to travel even short distances, paid us a long-overdue visit. Bundled under a shawl and blanket to ward off Delhi’s winter chill, she sat in bed.

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