Most people are collectors of sorts, but few understand and practice the fine art and discipline of collecting seriously. My own collection of music is fairly large and varied but horribly lacking in terms of organization and cataloguing. Which is why I reserve the greatest admiration and respect for music collectors, who have not just collected obsessively but also disciplined themselves into cataloguing and organizing their treasured collections methodically. They have been able to bring the much needed method into their madness. What’s more, they haven’t just collected and hoarded, but provide access to their collections, albeit on their own terms.
I’d like to introduce readers to yet another remarkable collector tucked away in a quiet little corner in the town of Nadiad, Gujarat. Rohitbhai Desai, a snowy haired, bespectacled but sharp-eyed gentleman, has been a collector for over four decades now, and could easily be sitting on one of the largest stashes and well-organized collections of music in the country. Last week, I had the privilege of meeting him at his home and enjoy a taste of his enormous music collection.
My husband Aneesh and I reached Rohitbhai’s home in the afternoon, and left reluctantly several hours later, hauling ourselves away from the wonderful music that he played for us in response to our barrage of requests. It seems Rohitbhai started out by being an avid collector of film music, but under the influence of his mentors Sharadbhai Mehta and R.C. Mehta, he turned his attention towards Hindustani classical music instead. Much of the music he has collected is on varied and some outdated formats, including 78 RPM, spool and cassette. This meant that he had to go through the back-breaking, painstaking and sometimes frustrating process of digitization. A lesser mortal could well have baulked at this prospect, or then hastily applied for a grant to acquire funds for the job. Not so Rohitbhai, who applied himself to the task, devising his own methods to get the best possible audio quality during digitization. His meticulous temperament is evident everywhere, in the neat, simple but spotlessly clean room we sit in, the desktop computer protected by a dust cover, the rows of indexed files and notebooks, properly labelled cartons and containers. That’s how he is able to find what you request swiftly and without any wild scrambling around to look for a track you know you have but fail to locate when you want it. Unlike some other collectors who collect and acquire music with manic intensity but end up hardly ever listening to the music, Rohitbhai displays an easily evident familiarity with the music. Mention a bandish in a particular raga and he will reel off the lyrics and even give you an explanation with a gleam in his eyes if the words merit an “explicit content” marking by iTunes.
Spooled: Old formats can be a treasure trove.
Truly, it was a memorable afternoon for us, with great music, the company of a master collector, and Mrs Desai’s batata poha and home-made ice cream as bonus. It would be plain avarice to ask for more!
Write to Shubha at firstname.lastname@example.org