March 30, 2020
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A Grocer By Trade, This 69-year-old Is The Preserver Of Old Record Tunes

A Grocer By Trade, This 69-year-old Is The Preserver Of Old Record Tunes
DUST motes dance in the sunlight, old wall clocks mark time lazily and cobwebs flutter in the musty air as the black box comes alive with the timeless rendition of Banikantha Nimai Harichandan's Odissi number Sri Radha batuli, premara satuli. The song more than matches the ambience - it was the first song to be broadcast on Cuttack air when the station was inaugurated on January 28, '48. The owner of this rare 78 rpm gramophone record is Indramani Sahu, a 69-year-old grocer from Ranihat, Cuttack. And this unlikely collector has many other such gems in his possession.

Sahu has built up a treasure house of gramophone records which includes Oriya, Hindi, Bengali, English film and non film music, speeches, plays, even jingles. In all, he has 2,900 records, the oldest being an English 78 rpm record of the Edison Bell Co. Ltd - an 1898 rendition of the Slavonic rhapsody, Part I and II by the New Margate Concert Orchestra, London. Sahu's collection also includes the playback album of the first Hindi talkie Alam Ara, the first Bengali film and the first Oriya film, Sita Vivaha (1934), and Oriya cinema playback records up to '87 when cassettes and CDs took over.

"A record is something that lasts for posterity," says Sahu, who has 1,500 Oriya records alone. Many are the only existing copies of classics recorded by HMV. Other rarities include the album of Krushna Prasad Basu's first-ever rendition of an Oriya play Bamanavatar, collections by old greats like Aparna Panigrahi, Gokulananda Mohanty and Dulai Das, propaganda songs by Nimai Harichandan on the Dhenkanal peasant revolt in 1938 and on the inauguration of the Hirakud dam in 1962 and anti-British satires and jingles by folk poet and singer Banchanidhi Mohapatra. From 1907 to 1987, his dingy room in the heart of Cuttack shelters a century of music history. Many of his albums aren't available in individual or institutional collections. In fact, HMV came to Sahu to record some rare songs and singers for its golden voice series. The collection also has great historical and archival value - Sahu boasts of records of speeches including Mahatma Gandhi's Round Table speech in London in 1932, Nehru's independence speech and recordings of John Kennedy, Tagore and Vinobha Bhave.

Born in a Teli family in 1931, Sahu's obsession with records began early in life when, hearing a favourite song by Aparna Panigrahi, he was struck by the wonder of the gramophone that could reproduce and preserve the beauty of a human voice for posterity. The magic took hold and he bought a 1930 model turntable by HMV. For this man of limited means, building this amazing collection wasn't easy. Money to buy stocks for his shop or essentials for his family was often spent on rare records. Locating them entailed travelling all over Orissa and frequent trips to Calcutta. The search meant haunting second-hand shops, auctions, antique stores and pavement markets. But then, his was a perseverance born of passion.

The records, lovingly tended and regularly cleaned with chemicals are in a good condition. During the recent cyclone, he wasn't one to flee and abandon his treasure - he just shut all doors and windows and sat guarding them. Fortunately, no damage was done. The catalogued collection is accessible to any music lover for a nominal fee. The money collected is used to give a weekly meal to beggars. This did lead to his being reviled by friends and family. "I was like the drunkard who craves for his daily fix. Sometimes, I could not even get two meals a day as I preferred to spend my meagre earnings on records," he says. But today, people have come to appreciate the devotion which fed this hobby.

Ever since the age of 15 when Sahu left school to sit in his shop, he's funded his passion single-handedly. His only desire is to hand over his legacy to another lover of music. "Someone who will give my 'children' more care and attention than I can."

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