As you enter Ram Chander & Sons, a toy shop in Connaught Place, you see nothing that instantly captures you attention. In fact, the shop seems to be highly disorganised —almost a mess. There are toys everywhere: on the counter, chairs, on the floor, and the shelves are overflowing. But this is no ordinary toy shop; it has a history that goes back to 1890, making it the oldest toy shop in the country.
“This shop was established by my father’s great grandfather in 1890 at Ambala cantonment. This one in CP was opened by my grandfather in 1935,” says Amit Sundra, 36, who now runs the shop. This toy shop has been a favourite with the rich, the famous and the royal from all parts of the country. It’s clientele, says Amit, includes the Gandhis, the Scindias, the Pataudis, and the Goenkas.
“We have never run the shop as a commercial enterprise. This is essentially a family toy shop where we offer highly personalised services and an experience to child. I always make sure that parents choose the right toys for their children. Indira Gandhi bought toys from here for Rajiv and Sanjay Gandhi, and then Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia for Rahul and Priyanka. Our shop is like a child’s bedroom; that’s why it’s always in a mess,” says Satish Sundra, Amit’s 72- year-old father, who is a walking encyclopedia on toys.
He proudly tells you that children who visit his shop fondly calls him dadoo or nanoo. The shop’s shelves are overflowing with all kinds of toys: model aircraft sets, architecture sets, toy airplanes, battery operated cars, dolls… It also has a huge range of toys for children with special needs. “Over the last three decades people’s preference for toys has changed drastically. Now people are going for education-oriented toys,” says Sundra senior.
There are thousands of families in the city, both famous and not- so- famous , who share a special bond with the shop as they have been buying toys from the shop for the last six decades, says Sundra. “This toy shop has grown up with Delhi and shares an emotional relationship with it people”. “When I took over the shop a few months back I was surprised to see that everyday I had customers who told me that three generations of their families had been buying toys from our shop. Even foreign tourists who visit my shop tell me that they know about it. This is when I realise that I have inherited not just a toy shop but a landmark in the city”, says Amit Sundra who, like his father, is a graduate from St Stephen’s, Delhi.
With rentals going skywards in Connaught Place, many old shops in the city’s central business district have given way to MNC brand stores. So, does he not feel the temptation to rent out his shop to an MNC? “The question does not arise.” Though I have some plans to modernise the shop and make it online, I am very clear about the fact that it will always be a toy shop and will always remain with our family”, says Amit. Clearly, the spirited young man is determined to carry forward his forefathers’ legacy.