Book Extract: A museum in Indore of the Muse’s melodies in a tribute to Lata Mangeshkar

Housed on the first floor of Suman Chaurasiya’s own humble, spartan home, the museum boasts of a rare collection of Hindi film songs and artistes of yore, with focus on Lata ‘Didi’

Book Extract: A museum in Indore of the Muse’s melodies in a tribute to Lata Mangeshkar

Namrata Joshi

I get off the Bhopal bus at the Indore stop...The journey to Pigdambar village in Rau, 14 km from Indore, on the highway to Mhow, is being undertaken to explore a unique museum that lies deep within in its dusty lanes.

Set up and run by Suman Chaurasiya, the owner of a small tea shop, Lata Deenanath Mangeshkar Gramophone Record Sangrahalaya is dedicated, as is evident from its name, to his idol ‘Didi’ – Indore-born ‘Nightingale of India’ Lata Mangeshkar, who had spent some of her growing-up years here...

Housed on the first floor of Chaurasiya’s own humble, spartan home, the museum, spread over 1,600 square feet, is not one of those spotlessly clean, sanitized, air-conditioned spaces we associate with typical exhibition areas. It doesn’t look like it’s built to be an exhibition space and the precious collection on display is as exposed to the elements and the vagaries of weather – heat, dust and moisture – as the residents of the house themselves.

Time, however, does stand still within, as it does in most museums. Peer out of the window and you will see fields all around, stretching into the distance. Inside, posters, photos, old radios and gramophone players lie around in casual display; they are not arranged in any organised manner the way precious artefacts – which these genuinely are – would be. I detect no thematic representation or chronological order in the way the exhibits are set up.

Rare old gramophone records are tightly stacked on the many shelves along the walls. But despite its seeming ordinariness, this is a priceless collection indeed. With the advances in technology, the digitization of music and the march of MP3, the gramophone has become extinct. The exhibits in this Indore-based museum, then, are treasures worth a fortune for anyone in search of rare, old melodies in the analogue format.

Almost 90 per cent of the collection consists of Hindi film songs and artistes of yore, and the focus, as is evident in the name of the museum itself, is on Lata ‘Didi’. Importantly, it’s all about one man’s initiative and commitment. No institute or government has pitched in to help Chaurasiya in his effort to preserve and archive Indian music.

Each and every one of the gramophone records is carefully catalogued in Chaurasiya’s head. He knows exactly which one to pull out from which shelf. That’s no mean feat, considering his collection comprises 28,000 records and more than 1 lakh songs, some of them also from Pakistan, Bangladesh and even the West.

His memory is razor-sharp, perhaps, because he has built up the collection so painstakingly with his own hard-earned savings, sourcing the records from far and wide – from Mumbai’s Chor Bazaar to the streetside shops near Delhi’s Red Fort. Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Kanpur,Varanasi – he has travelled to all these cities to get his fix of rare records and music. He even claims to have ‘rescued’ some records from their owners who were selling them off as scrap, because they could no longer spare the space to store them at home.

The oldest record in Chaurasiya’s collection, a random unidentified one, dates back to 24 November 1902 and was priced at a single US dollar in America at that time. He also has records of rare political speeches; notably, one by Mahatma Gandhi. And as is to be expected of an ardent admirer of the singer, almost every song ever sung by Lata Mangeshkar.

‘Her first ever recorded song is the most precious,’ he says. Lata sang ‘Naachuyaagade, khelu saari manihaus bhaari’, when she was all of 13, for the Marathi film Kiti Hasaal. It was later dropped from the film. Chaurasiya even has the songs she has rendered in Sinhalese, Burmese and Malay – all original compositions.

It was at the time of India’s war with neighbouring Pakistan in 1965 that Suman Chaurasiya became a Lata Mangeshkar bhakt.

‘Those days, the radio played songs, nothing else, with brief, hourly news bulletins, leaving us no choice but to listen to music all day.’

He has met his ‘Didi’ several times and proudly shows off a letter of appreciation, lovingly framed, from her on the opening of the museum.

He still loves the old songs, music directors like Roshan and Anil Biswas, writers like Sahir Ludhianvi, Bharat Vyas, Naqsh Lyallpuri, Yogesh and Shailendra. Speaking of Mangeshkar’s ‘Man dole’, ‘Thandi hawayein’, ‘Mohe panghat pe’, ‘Jyoti kalash chhalke’, he goes into raptures over the quiver in her voice.

‘Melody ruled till the ’70s in Hindi cinema. The ’80s and ’90s marked a shift,’ he says.

A shift for the worse, evidently. He doesn’t much care for the lyrics of today either, describing them as mere rhyme, rather than poetry.

Apart from the upkeep and maintenance of his collection, Chaurasiya has also published five books, including that of R.S. Yadav (better known by his pen name Ajatshatru) – ‘Baba Teri Son Chiraiyya’, a collection of appreciative essays on 80 of Lata Mangeshkar’s songs brought out in 2008 to mark the singer’s 80th birthday. Another volume, called ‘Lata aur Safar ke Saathi’ features every singer she sang with. ‘Sadiyon Mein ek... Asha’ deals with the works of Asha Bhonsle and ‘Beete Kal ke Sitare’ is on music that dates back to the period between 1913 and 1950.

Currently, Chaurasiya is entirely focussed on digitizing his collection so rare film music is preserved for future generations.

(The extract is from ‘Reel India: Cinema off the Beaten Track’ by Namrata Joshi. Publisher: Hachette India, 2019. Reprinted with the publisher’s permission)

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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