It was a rather nondescript shop on Calcutta’s famous Rashbehari Avenue, opening onto the hawker-crammed, bustling Gariahat footpath. Few passersby, except for stray music-loving cognoscenti, turned a glance towards its drab and shadowy interiors, where a handful of craftsmen would be bent over their work, putting finishing touches to sarods and sitars for India’s greatest musicians. Over the years, Hiren Roy & Sons became as much of a legend as the musicians who used the sarods and sitars made here, which were one-of-a-kind masterpieces. They were highly prized by ustads, much as the Stradivarius instruments are by violinists in the West. But last month, this 67-year-old shop finally downed shutters, after struggling for its existence for the last several years.
A few blocks away, another legendary music shop, Hemen & Company, carries on bravely, now single-handedly keeping alive Calcutta’s reputation as the place where the world’s finest sitars and sarods are made. It’s hard to imagine that this hole-in-the wall establishment once had as its regular visitors the likes of Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, Allah Rakha, Pandit Ravi Shankar and Annapurna Devi. They would sit with the craftsmen inside, spending hours ensuring that the instruments were made to their exacting specifications.