A routine morning on a weekday in the neighbourhood of Daryaganj, one of the busiest places in the Capital, is a complete pandemonium. As horns hoot, people shuffle, and hawkers meander - frenzy persists.
However, inside one of Delhi's oldest musical instruments' shops in Daryaganj, you will witness a contrast. Tranquility prevails as a ray of sunlight makes its way through the door.
The co-owner, Randheer Singh Sachdeva peacefully examines his bills while his brother, Jaspal Singh Sachdeva looks busy attending a phone call. Adorning the walls of this shop are several instruments - Indian instruments on the right and Western on the left.
A middle-aged man enters the shop seeking a harmonium. Display cases are opened, a few harmoniums are placed on the table, and discussions begin. As the customer inspects the many instruments, Jaspal Singh elucidates details about it.
At one point, he even demonstrates it by playing the harmonium himself. About twenty minutes later, once the sale is complete and the customer is set to leave the premises with his newly-bought harmonium, he casually mentions, "Maine aap ki dukaan ke baare mein kaafi suna hai (I have heard a lot about your shop.)."
A symphony of decades
The lineage of Lahore Music House can be traced back to Anarkali Bazaar, a popular market in Lahore, now in Pakistan, where an instrument shop called Pratap Music House was established decades ago. After the partition of British India became a reality, this instrument store shifted to what came to be called India.
Later, during the British colonial rule, there were two other shops built in Dehradun and Mussoorie. A third shop was established in 1948 in the Capital by two brothers; Sardar Harcharan Singh and Gyan Singh. This was called Lahore Music House.
Situated right beside Moti Mahal restaurant, the location was indeed favourable. As they settled in their new lives in India, several possibilities and obstacles unfolded gradually. For Harcharan, the shop was more than just about business.
As a disciple of vocalist Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, this shop was a medium to stay close to music after their lives were uprooted from Lahore. "My father was a singer himself. Back in Lahore, he had learnt singing from Bade Ghulam Ali Khan," says Jaspal Singh, son of Harcharan Singh.
In India, they began manufacturing Indian classical instruments like the Sitar, Harmonium, Tabla, etc. The Lahorian-legacy, and a profound commitment to music was quickly recognised. The visitors were not just commoners but also famous musicians such as Pakistani Ghazal singer Mehdi Hasan Khan, Indian classical Sarod player Amjad Ali, Pakistani vocalist Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan among others.
The shop was also graced by Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and renowned singer Begum Akhtar, who continued to be their patrons. "As a child, I saw Begum Akhatrji many times at the shop. Every time Begum visited Delhi, she would leave her Sitar at the Lahore Music House for it to be tuned. My father would then ask me to deliver the instrument to her," says Jaspal.
Surprise from miles away
The 1960s was an exceptional period for Indian classical music. Even rock music, back then, incorporated various influences from South Asian music as well as instruments. One afternoon, circa 1966, Jaspal rushed home from school only to witness a crowd thronging outside their shop.
Inside were John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr of The Beatles fame. Captivated by Indian classical music, this famous English rock band visited the Lahore Music House while making a detour on their way to London from the Philippines.
"I was a child then, and I could not recognise them at all. I remember my father and uncle attending them. Even though they were really famous, most of us had no clue as to who they were. The Beatles requested my father to teach them Indian classical music. But my father refused and referred them to Pandit Ravi Shankar," says Jaspal.
When The Beatles left, their departure ignited a new trend that multiplied sales. "After they left, many foreigners would come to our shop and ask for the same Sitar and Tabla that the Beatles bought," he adds.
A rhythmic shift
After the 1980s, the trend of Indian classical music plunged and Western music became prominent. This also brought an unexpected surge in the demand for Western instruments. Thus, as trends changed, Lahore Music House also expanded, and they now started selling a range of instruments.
Over the years, this shop has been manufacturing musical instruments and exporting them in various countries alongside running their first and only retail outlet in Daryaganj. "Today, most of our clients are from Fiji, Mauritius, Australia, New Zealand. There is a demand for Indian instruments there and they regularly import from us," says Jaspal.
With the pandemic bringing a dent in businesses, and the global lockdown affecting exports, the Lahore Music House also witnessed a halt in overseas consignments along with diminished sales. The only way forward then was to embrace the digital shift.
Lahore Music House started selling instruments through their website and other online channels. "The pandemic has been very difficult for us all. During the lockdown, most of our exports came to a halt. Currently, we rely a lot on retail sales. However, things are gradually improving and we will soon resume business globally as and when the situation permits," Jaspal says.
"We have been in this business for over seven decades now, but our quality has not dwindled at all. We still abide by our legacy of over a hundred years," concludes Randheer.
TAKING A DIGITAL LEAP
The pandemic has made their business take an online leap. Jaspal says, “We do sell instruments through our website but as someone who has been in this business for decades, I do not recommend online sales of instruments. Every customer has different needs and it is important to physically examine the instrument before you buy it.”
AHEAD OF THE COMPETITION
Following the 1980s, many music shops started opening in Daryaganj. The hub popularly came to be called the Daryaganj Sound Market. "Ours was the first shop in this area that is referred to as the Daryaganj Sound Market. Many similar shops have also opened in Connaught Place and Lajpat Nagar. However, to run a business like ours, it is important to have a bent for music and an understanding of instruments. A lot of new retailers do not really have that," Jaspal adds.
WELL-KNOWN GUESTS WHO HAVE VISITED THE STORE
1. Pakistani Ghazal singer Mehdi Hasan Khan
2. Hindustani classical vocalist Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan
3. Indian singer Begum Akhtar
4. English rock band The Beatles
5. Indian Sitarist and composer Pandit Ravi Shankar
6. Sarod player Ustad Amjad Ali Khan