When Moloy Ghosh was in school, his parents had a tough time dealing with a “nasty” neighbour who would play loud music to disturb him during exams. His parents’ repeated pleas to the neighbour to lower the volume only ensured that the music from his house would blare louder. Though, the silver lining, Ghosh, 42, recalls, was that his neighbour’s choice of songs was pretty good. So, while the neighbour did manage to disturb his studies, this forced and persistent listening to old Hindi songs got Ghosh deeply interested in music. “I even started singing at school events and went for formal training in Rabindrasangeet when I was 18. Today, I cannot thank my neighbour enough. Music has pulled me back from the brink,” says Ghosh.
Indeed, Ghosh has been to hell and back. An electrical engineer from the Manipal Institute of Technology and an MBA, he lost several corporate jobs because of illnesses between 2000 and 2008. Since his teenage years, he has suffered from a condition called dysgraphia, a form of dyslexia due to which he could not write properly and struggled through school and college. In 2008, when he was a marketer with a multinational, he suffered a debilitating attack of Hepatitis B, which left him bedridden for six months. “After the Hepatitis attack, the doctor said I was too weak to take up any stressful job,” says Ghosh, who lives with his wife in Indirapuram, Ghaziabad.
Ghosh had no savings, no job and stared into a dark tunnel, but his wife reassured him that it was not all over for them yet. She reminded him of his training in Rabindrasangeet, and how it could become a source of employment for him. “She suggested that I could teach music to children in the neighbourhood, and I decided to give it a try,” he says.
He dusted off his father’s huge collection of old 33rpm LPs , 45rpm EPs and 78rpm records, including those of legendary Bengali artistes such as Krishna Chatterjee and KC Dey, but needed someone to convert his father’s 78rpm records into CDs. He trawled the Capital’s electronics market, but couldn't find anyone.
So, he decided to do the conversion and re-mastering of the old records himself. He borrowed money from a friend and bought software from the US to convert LPs into CDs.
But there was still a problem: the software was not attuned to Indian instruments such as tabla and tanpura. That’s when his engineering background came in handy. He worked on the software for four months and incorporated new acoustic effects into it to get the right sounds.
“The digitised sounds were now quite close to master records. I managed to remove up to 80% of the hissing sound in the music that I recreated. I thought that instead of teaching music to children, I could take up music restoration,” says Ghosh. He advertised himself through social media, and soon started getting requests to convert old records and audio cassettes into CDs from across Delhi and elsewhere.
Today, he is perhaps the only person in the city converting and re-mastering 78 rpm records. His clients include retired army officers, police officers, university professors, businessmen and even royals. “Most of my clients are anglicised elderly people, who were into western music. Many of them still love their old LPs and want them to be digitised as some of them are rare and not available on CDs. Curiously, American singer Harry Belafonte is in almost everybody’s collection,” says Ghosh, who is currently converting rare LPs of the Maharaja of Tehri Garhwal.
A majority of his customers, Ghosh says, are from south Delhi. He personally collects the LPs from his customers. Many, however, hand deliver their LPs to his residence. “Most of them are elderly people. They tell me, over cups of tea, interesting tales of their youth and their favourite singers and how they bought these records in the best music shops in London and New York. Recently, I had this 85-year-old lady who came with Swiss actor and singer Victor Torian’s 1940 records. Besides, I was called by a 90-year-old person to his south Delhi residence to digitise his entire collection of LPs,” says Ghosh, who, to add a nostalgic touch, scans LP covers and makes similar ones for the CDs. His house is strewn with bags full of records delivered by elderly clients for conversion. The best part of his work, Ghosh says, is that his collection of rare music is growing fast, thanks to his customers. It includes rare Hindi film classics dating back to the 1940s, Vienna and Chicago symphony orchestras, Kate Smith, Jim Reeves, and more.
But, most interestingly, he says he gets lots of audio cassettes containing private recordings from the late 1970s and ’80s for conversion — they have people singing at family gatherings, grandfathers telling their grandchildren the stories of the Independence struggle, dinner-table family conversations. “Mostly, youngsters bring cassettes containing the recordings of their parents and grandparents for digitisation. They treat them as audio records of their family’s history. They want to preserve their voices,” says Ghosh, adding, “These private recordings have given me an insight into the strong joint family system and family values of the good old days.”
Recently, Ghosh says, a retired deputy inspector-general of Uttar Pradesh police sent him a set of cassettes of the recordings of music soirees organised at his residence. “I was surprised by the retired officer’s interest in music. He would sing so well at these musical evenings,” says Ghosh. As we get ready to leave, Ghosh, who loves singing at Durga Pujas, hums a Hemant Kumar song, Ye Nayan Dare Dare, for us — evidence enough that despite having been shaken by several shocks in life, Ghosh is finally on a song!