I can’t believe it. It has been such a landmark for us in South Bombay, within walking distance of the Naval Dockyard. I have spent hours going through and buying music at Rhythm House.
We are a family of music lovers. We have neither been rich nor poor. In our middle-class hand to mouth existence, music has been food for us – food for soul that is.
I can relate dozens of anecdotes about this music shop but the one that best describes our junoon concerns my younger brother Dr JP Singh.
I was a Lieutenant posted on INS Talwar as Signal Communication Officer (SCO), on my first posting after undergoing the Long C course at Signal School, Cochin.
JP, my younger brother, was studying in St Xavier’s College, graduating in Economics.
Salaries, at that time, used to be dispersed in cash. I used to get about 1400 rupees in hand, which was enough for me to pay for mess, wines, movies and other sundry expenses to keep body and soul together. JP used to receive money orders from our dad to pay for his studies, hostel etc.
One day, in the beginning of the month, on a make and mend day (Wednesdays and Saturdays are called make and mend days in the navy, from the days of the sail when sailors used to make and mend their sails in the afternoons on these days. Nowadays, these are just half days), I had retired in the afternoon to my cabin after the three Bs: that is, Bridge, Beer and Biriyani.
Sleep had just settled over me like fog over the hills when there was a knock at the door. I opened the door and there stood JP. He had bluffed his way at Lion Gate security and had reached the ship entirely unescorted; an impossibility these days of heightened security.
He was visibly shaken. He said his Money Order from home hadn’t arrived and since he hadn’t paid the hostel mess bill, they were at the verge of throwing him out. I was aghast at their cruelty about throwing out my younger just because his payment was delayed by a few days. But, it came out that JP, due to “some urgency”, hadn’t paid the bill for the last two months.
I reasoned it out with him that although I had just got my salary, I too hadn’t yet paid my mess and wine bills and that’s all the money I had.
He countered that by saying since I was on “permanent (he stressed on this word) commission” in the navy, they were unlikely to throw me out whereas he would be out on the street.
I relented and after keeping just a hundred rupees with me, gave him the remaining money. I went to sleep after seeing him off.
I had merely dosed off, when after about 30 minutes or so, there was another knock and there stood JP again, holding dozens of Long Playing (LP) records in both hands and arms. He wanted keys to our wardroom turn-table so that he could play them. This was his story:
“Bhaiyya, after getting money from you, I didn’t take a cab or bus back to the hostel. I said to myself that it is my bhaiyya’s hard-earned money and I have no right to waste it on cabs and buses. So, I started walking back to the hostel. On the way, at Rhythm House, what did I see? There was a sale of records. I peeped in just to have a look and found that all my favourite records were being sold at half the price. I said to myself I would indeed save huge amount of money if I were to buy the complete lot. So, that’s exactly what I did.”
In the next few days we listened to all the records over and over again and got our money’s worth of fun. With the hundred rupees that I had kept with me, I went to the Central Telegraph Office, booked a call to dad and got him five hours after booking the call. I managed to convey to him to expedite sending money to JP. Until then, we lived on love and fresh air and music.
And now, they are thinking of closing down Rhythm House. Why couldn’t the idea occur to them when JP was walking back from my ship to his hostel in St Xavier’s on that make and mend day in 1981?
P.S. To be fair to JP, I might as well admit that if our positions were reversed, the chances of my doing anything different were remote. All’s well that ends well. After a week or ten days, dad’s money order arrived (the only order from my dad that I really liked) and the rhythm of our life was restored.
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