There is nothing extraordinaire about the room until the elegant antique piece in the middle and the numerous chests to its side open to his touch and reveal a treasure. Hundreds and more hundreds of vinyl records, still sound and choate with covers unruffled, some as rare as an original painting, light up the face of the man in whose retreat we were on a Sunday, searching for a magic close to music.
Sajen Peter IAS, Principal Secretary for Department of Forests and Wildlife and Cultural Affairs, stood standing at the middle of this vinyl magic recollecting the days the love began. “I began buying vinyl records when I became my own, securing a job, almost 32 years back,’’ he begins. A little after ten minutes, we knew it was not a collection but a passion we were witnessing, flowing even and placid for many years now. Specially, when he moved around his turn-tables, some eight of them, belonging to different ages, sizes and possessing different qualities. He has one with wooden top, one Swiss and the rest from the world’s best. All connected to a speaker and amplifier pair that bring out music from its womb, clear...refined.
“After listening to digital music in CDs or whatever formats, listening to the original sounds right out of a vinyl record is like pure bliss. There is nothing to replace the quality and originality of a vinyl record,’’ Sajen Peter is sure. And as one of Jim Reeves’s country songs fills the room, giving a feeling of being nearer to the singer himself, he fills us with more on the musician. How the man died at a young age in a plane crash and how only his dozen or more albums have made its way to India. But the best part was the confession that all of Reeves’s 85 albums, ever to be released in the world, were there in that brightly lit room.
Sajen Peter is an advanced man when it comes to using the latest technology to buy the age-old records. He uses e-bay, an online shopping mall, to find out when vinyl records are put up for auction across the globe and assigns his friends there to bid for him. And transacts the cash later. He has bid an album for $60 once and even dug out one from South Africa.
Another collector’s piece the Rafi-ian (he would go for Rafi than Kishore Kumar) has in his potpourri is the vinyl record of ‘Lahrein’, the Hindi dubbed version of ‘Chemmeen’. He ransacks the wooden box to come up with the record which is known to very few and which exists in even few numbers. The song “manasa maine varoo...” sung by Manna Dey in Malayalam has been rendered by Hariharan in Hindi.
In the neatly arranged racks, one could spot almost 80 percent of Salil da’s compositions. A rarest of rare one, a choral album, which he recorded in US in the first month of 1982 with some cub singers, included. The highlight of the album is the brilliant English introduction that the composer has given to his songs in his own voice. One of them, “hey desh...hey desh...” which the musician says he did for the 25th year of Indian independence for AIR, would bring to mind the Malayalam song “thumbi thumbi thullan vayo...”. “That is because majority of Salil Chowdury’s songs have its Bengali or Malayalam versions too,’’ Sajen Peter says.
The IAS officer could go on and on for hours on any musician, singer or lyricist in Malayalam, Tamil or Hindi. Though he loves Salil Chowdury, S D Burman and Raghavan Master a bit more. Browsing through the closet, we found dozens of neatly wrapped record keepers, listed in the name of the composers from G Devarajan to Johnson. Tamil, Bengali, English country music, drama songs and a couple of ghazals all fill up the stacks here in alphabetical order.
What is incredible is the way the man tends to his records, almost like a doting father. A mechanic travels all the way from Coimbatore to do the refreshing work of the albums once in a year. Sajen Peter never allows anybody else to operate them. And always used to carry them around to his posting places earlier.
His wife, Latha, a bank-employee, would tell you how her husband would skip to the Singapore Sunday market during vacations and search for rare records. His daughter-in-law Soumya, a doctor (and wife of his doctor-son Prashanth) tells us how her pa-in-law suddenly pops up questions on a song and keeps them guessing. “He is a great music quizzer,’’ she smiles. Sajen Peter has one daughter also, Priya who also is a doctor, married and settled.
“My children know they have a treasure here. I have passed on the vinyl magic to them,’’ he says, assured his love would go down generations.