A Golden Gift from a Golden Era !
Columns, Over A Cup of Evening Tea

A Golden Gift from a Golden Era !

March 14, 2021

By Dr. K. Javeed Nayeem, MD

Yesterday, as I was sitting in my clinic doing my routine work of seeing patients, Mukesh Leelaram my close friend from my school-days and his wife Madhu, dropped in most unexpectedly. As the lady struggled to retrieve something from her handbag, I thought that she had brought some lab reports to show me as most visitors to my clinic do. But what she extricated after some effort made my heart miss a beat and leap with joy too! She handed me two vintage gramophone records in mint condition and said that they were a gift for me. 

Knowing that I was very fond of music from the distant yesteryears, they felt that their gift would make me happy and they were so right too. One of the records was of Pankaj Mullick the legendary music composer, singer and actor and one of the leading exponents of Rabindranath Tagore’s songs. The Indian postal service even released a postage stamp to mark his birth centenary on 4th August 2006. 

Five decades earlier it was he and the Bharathanatyam danseuse Vyjayanthimala who were the lead performers at the nationwide launch of Doordarshan on 15th September 1959. According to me, his most enchanting song is ‘Piya milan ko jana’ which put him at the pinnacle of greatness and still tugs at your heart strings when you listen to it, a full eighty years after it was recorded ! To understand what I mean you must listen to it and irrespective of which generation you belong to and irrespective of whether you are young or old, you’ll be stirred and hooked to vintage music! 

The second record that I received was of Krishna Chandra Dey, more popularly known as K.C. Dey who was S.D. Burman’s first music teacher and mentor and the playback singer Manna Dey’s uncle. He went on to record more than six hundred very popular songs but the sad thing is that at the tender age of fourteen, in the year 1906 he began to lose his eyesight and soon became completely blind. All his records therefore bear the notation ‘Blind Singer’ after his name! His most famous song is ‘Baba, man ki ankhen khol’ which is a prayer to the Lord to give us insight and inner vision! Its lyrics penned by Pandit Sudarshan are really soul stirring. And, lo and behold, the K.C. Dey record that I received as my gift yesterday was this one!

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Now you might naturally wonder how the Leelarams were able to procure these two priceless relics from the past for me. They said that they found them at home among their things and may find some more for me if I was lucky! The thing is that Mukesh happens to be the son of late Leelaram, the owner of The Phono and General Agency, a shop that still stands in the now crumbling Devaraj Market building on Sayyaji Rao Road. It was started in the year 1929 by his grandfather Chella Singh, a traveller who fell ill here in Mysore while on a pilgrimage tour of South India. After convalescing from his illness, he fell in love with Mysore and decided to settle down here itself which does not seem one bit surprising to me considering how lovable Namma Mysuru is in every respect! 

After that it did not take him long to shift his entire family here from the distant Sind Province which is now in Pakistan. When Leelaram passed away on 25th May 2007, I wrote an article about my long association with him and his shop which was for many years the only place in the city that used to sell photo films, radios, gramophones, and phonographic records. My father being very fond of music used to frequent his shop and wherever my father went I would naturally go too, holding his finger! 

Leelaram would play all the latest arrivals among his records on his hand-cranked HMV Gramophone enabling my dad to make his choices. And since they were extremely fragile, he would carefully pack the records between two thick sheets of cardboard and a good amount of thick brown paper before tying them with a jute string and handing them over to us. Because it was by listening to the songs of singers like Pankaj Mullick, Jyothika Roy, K.L. Saigal, C.H. Atma, Noor Jahan, Suraiya, Geetha Dutt and Manna Dey in the company of my father that I developed my ear for music, I have remained a full quarter century behind all my friends in my preference for the music I listen to even to this day! 

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Interestingly, I bought my first camera, an Agfa Click III, for thirty-two rupees, then a princely sum, form this shop and I still have it with me in mint working condition, despite the hundreds of rolls of film that I have run through it in my eagerness to become an accomplished photographer! The Phono and General agency was also the shop where I picked up a great deal of my technical knowledge about photographic processing chemistry which later helped me to do my own film and slide processing. This was because Leelaram and his two sons Shamlal and Prakash, who were older to Mukesh and who are no more, used to give me all the technical literature they received from film and camera manufacturers, being their authorised dealers. 

On one day in February 1975, a few months before I joined medical college, I went there and picked up a stack of photography books from Shamlal who was at the shop. He told me that I could take them home and after leisurely selecting the ones I wanted, I could return the rest at my next visit. But having decided to keep the entire lot when I went there just a couple of days later to pay the money for them, I was a little surprised to find the shop closed. The neighbouring shop owners then told me the sad news that Shamlal had passed away the previous day in a tragic drowning accident. 

So, yesterday, when Mukesh and Madhu brought me a very unexpected gift, they also brought back to me many memories of my own childhood, some glad and some sad! All I can say to them now is a big Thank You!

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