Every day around 10:00am Anand Prakash Bagai leaves his home and walks to his shop Bagai Radio that’s tucked in a bylane of the very blingy Central Market of Lajpat Nagar. The entire day, the 86-year-old sits here and fixes broken earrings with his soldering iron and wire – tools he would use to build his once-upon-a-time famous Bagai Radios. Just like a Balraj Sahni film, his life story is replete with emotions. “In the 1960s, I was the only manufacturer of electrical radios in South Delhi then. I was famous then. My Bagai Radios were even sold in Bombay,” he says in soft, cheery voice.
Dressed in a loose-fitting T-shirt, pullover, sleeveless woolen jacket and pyjamas, Bagai is a picture of calm and his eyes brim with depth and yearning for company. So, he’s happy to tell you his story when you sit down for a chat. Bagai was all of 14 when he and his family fled Katl-e-aam from Pakistan, a week before the Partition.
“Humari kismat acchi thi ke hum sahi salamat Amritsar pahuch gaye aur vaha se Dilli aa gaye. Par yaha koi kamayi ka zariya nahi tha. Dus aadmi the pariwar ke jinke pass ek gilas tha paani pine ke liye (We were lucky to have reached Amritsar safely, and then Delhi. But there was no source of income. Between the 10 of us, we had just one glass of water to drink),” he adds.
The family was put up at a refugee camp at Humayun’s Tomb, and later allotted land at Lajpat Nagar. They started a flourmill, but had to shut shop due to the scarcity of wheat in India back then. Transitioning to a self-taught radio maker was no cakewalk. Bagai became the sole bread winner when his two brothers moved in with their in-laws. First, the mill he worked in, shut down. Then, for his 16-hour long job of assisting a welder at the Housing Factory near Jangpura, he would get just Rs 300 as salary. In time, he decided to study further, and completed his 10th from Extended College in Kotla.
At the Housing Factory, Bagai was given a radio. “A labourer’s wife grew sick, and I gave him Rs 50 for her treatment. In lieu of that, he gave me a radio, which always had some technical issue. I then bought a similar radio from Jama Masjid.” Every night, he opened the two radios to match their parts. After a umpteen permutations and combinations, he got the hang of it. “In 1960, I opened my own business of radios in the market. I used to buy radio components from Chandni Chowk and make radios. I used to make a radio every night, and I sold each at Rs 50. The last radio I sold was for Rs 300,” he adds.
From there, he went on to get agencies of Murphy, Bush, Telefunken and HMV. “I started doing repair work. But the boys I had hired, started stealing from the shop, and about 15 years ago, I stopped all operations.” In the good ol’ days, people would recognise him from a distance. But with the advent of CD players and mobiles, his customers reduced to a trickle. “Ab iss samaan ki koi value nai hai. Main bhi yahaan aa jata hu kyuki khali baithne ki aadat nai hai (These radio parts are of no value now. But I come to the shop daily, because I can’t sit idle).”
Bagai, however, is not entirely an unknown entity. You are given precise directions by vendors in the market to “earring repair walla ka dukaan”. He now repairs your broken earrings with tools he used to build his now-defunct radios that sit on the shelves surrounding him. In other words, Bagai has spent all his life catering to that one body part, that’s the human ear. All his life, he worked to provide for his parents, siblings, wife and children. His wife died a few years ago, his sons settled abroad, his two daughters live nearby and his two unmarried sisters live with him. He has no expectations from the world, and life goes on. “Zindagi kisi ke bharose nahi, apne dam pe jee jaati hai bete (Life can’t be spent by being dependent on others, you have to be self dependent),” Bagai solemnly notes, sounding like a well-meaning preacher over the radio.