Ask for the LP wala dukaan, and everyone in Meena Bazar will direct you to Yaseen Music Centre. After negotiating a traffic of cycles, goats and busy shoppers in the narrow alleys of this historic shopping complex, one reaches this tiny music shop which is home to thousands of LP or Long Play 33 rpm vinyl records. Located under the looming shadow of Jama Masjid, amidst scores of hardware shops, the music shop has one of the most sought-after collections in the city. "In the 1950s, Meena Bazaar was located on either side of the Jama Masjid. At that time my father used to manage the shop. But during the Emergency, the market was shut down, re-opening only in 1980," says owner Mohammed Yaseen Khan, who has been managing the shop for 33 years now.
This 52-year-old possesses 10,000 LPs, with 2,000 in the shop and the rest at home. It is surprising that the demand for the vinyl records has surged in the last couple of years, considering that it has been 25 years since HMV stopped making them. "LPs constitute 40 per cent of my business. You will be surprised to know that most of the customers for vinyl records are foreigners. They are huge fans of SD Burman and RD Burman in the UK, Germany and Holland. They will come to my shop and say 'amazing music they made' or that 'Kishore Kumar and Mohammed Rafi have such a beautiful voice'," says Khan, who often couriers records to his regular international clientele. These LPs are priced between Rs 100 and Rs 1,000, with the price going up to Rs 3,000 depending on the antiquity of the record.
One can find LPs for old films like Pyaasa, Barsaat ki Raat, Mughal-e-Azam and Anamika displayed on one of the many shelves crammed with thin plastic-covered records. "The first talkie was Alam Ara, but the production company didn't make any record for it. One of the rare LPs that I have is the original record for the 1932 movie Maya Macchindra," says Khan, who has nearly 300 vintage English LPs. "What would you like to listen to?" he asks and we soon agree on "O Re Maajhi" from Bandini. "This is one of my favourites too," he grins.
The shop has had celebrity patrons, with music director AR Rahman being one of them. "My brother owns a shop in Nizamuddin. Nearly five years ago, Rahman had visited his shop after a darshan at the dargah. He said that 'jo qawwali aap sun rahe hain woh mujhe bhi chahiye' (I also want the qawwali you are listening to). That's when my brother directed him to me," he says pointing to a photograph with the Oscar-award winning musician. Khan's collection of qawwalis and ghazal records is legendary. Besides recordings of legends like Begum Akhtar, he also possesses rare recordings of the qawwali artists of the 1950s such as Pearu Qawal and Kaloo Qawal. "These are really antique," he says. Also popular are records such as Sufiyana Qawwali. "This is the one that we had recorded for Rahman," he says.
People in the bazaar call him a "walking-talking encyclopedia" of music. "Do you know the name of the first movie to feature stereo sound? It was the Sandhya-starrer Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje," says Khan who values his collection above his life. He proudly shows his picture with Rafi and his family. "It was taken in 1978 when I was very small. His son is a good friend of mine," he says. Not an avid fan of the present-day music, his heart hums the tunes of Madan Mohan, Burman and OP Nayyar. "My karobaar is based on the music of films starring Dilip Kumar, Rajendra Kumar and Dev Anand. I don't understand the music and films of the Shah Rukh-Salman era. They do nothing to me."