Farewell Rhythm House
Founded by Mr. Sulaiman Nensy in the 1940’s, SoBo music hub Rhythm House’s ownership changed and was passed down to Mr. Mehmood Curmally from his father, who owned it in partnership with his brothers after Mr. Nensy. Mr. Curmally spent his spare time during his years at Sydenham College to visit the store. He spent this time learning the business, eventually taking hold of its reins. Along with his uncle, Aamir— who is the company’s chairman— he has been at the helm of the business for over 30 years now.
The news that iconic SoBo music store, Rhythm House will be closing its doors permanently has been going around for some time now. Its nostalgic past is filled with stories of proud musicians, listeners and collectors who regularly walked between its rugged iron beams in search for a new set of songs to play over and over again, or a collection to be inspired by.
Rhythm House’s steel lattice gate came down onto Kala Ghoda’s footpath one last time on the 29th of February 2016. It seems emblematic that the same date is one that won’t be seen on calendars for another four years. That however, isn’t enough to forget what the store meant to so many music lovers. At a time when digital music sales and distribution has driven such an inevitability, one wonders how the pride in possessing an album or a concert in any medium can be revived or reborn.
On its closing day I made my way down town to honour the foundation on which my love for music was built. I was rather disappointed to be one among a crowd of three waiting for the gates to open. I strike up a conversation with one of them —a finance professional— who’s first purchase at the store was a copy of Pink Floyd’s 1975 album, ‘Wish You Were Here’. The cassette no longer lies in his possession, yet he is here one last time to seek out another album to possess for the years to come. He lamented the loss of his childhood landmarks saying, “All music stores are now ITunes and all old coffee shops are now Starbucks. With the liberty and extent the Internet provides us to discover music and promote musical talent, the number of stores like this are dwindling. That’s just the way the world is evolving these days.”
As I walk around the store’s isles, I browse through some albums —possibly the last of its stock— of my favourite genre: Song Book-Chris Cornell; Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch-Frank Zappa; Full Moon Dirty Hearts-INXS and a few double album packs by Nirvana and the Queens of the Stone Age were among those what caught my eye.
With my hand in my right pocket and my bag single strapped around my left shoulder, I trudge about the white tiled floor. One of the store’s employees, Ms. Neeta Daru walks up to me and asks me to hand my bag to the security guard so that my visit was a comfortable one. She spared some time to speak to me, and in the time we spoke I realised the dedication and passion she had for her work and the store: For the last 35 years she has exclusively handled the sale of tickets to live performances all over the city. At a time when concert admissions are available through the rapid service of online aggregators she holds up her faithful customers —her friends— with pride. She has kindled this bond among patrons who prefer to travel to Kala Ghoda even though their houses are closer to the venue. Among the events for which Ms. Daru has sold passes for are performances by Tabla Maestro Zakir Hussain, Santoor player Rahul Sharma as well as events like Jazz India and Farhad Wadia’s Independence Rock (at the formerly active Rang Bhavan). She mentioned a performance by Boney M. in 1984 that was cancelled, for which she managed to return every Rupee to every last customer. She recalls times when the line of concert goers extended all the way to Lion Gate, beyond Kala Ghoda’s calm street. Currently selling passes for one last show —a performance by Dhanashree Pandit Rai— she will keep the sales going beyond the store’s closure. For a lady who has taken just 16 days of leave in her 35 year career, work doesn’t stop when the gates shut, because it’s truly about what the work represents.
Another team member, Raees Baig who at the age of 46 is worried about finding a job to support his family. He plans to begin his search for a new job the following day, if possible he will start his own business. His expertise lay in the sale of Hindi film song collections, Gazals, Karaoke, and music books. He along with his team mates now face a hazy uncertain future. With a reputation of vast sales knowledge and years of loyalty to a struggling franchise, we hope that eager employers will soon seek them out.
Mr. Riyaz having worked at Rhythm House for the last 13 years, holds testimony to the harmonic balance struck between his work and his passion. With a modestly swollen chest he proudly says. “I am a music lover. I love my work because I was passionate about music.” Now as a part of the online sales team he does see some potential in the sale of music online, yet in relation to the charm of the store he says, “You won’t get another place like rhythm house anywhere else. I am emotionally connected to this place where I have been able to grow as a person and a professional.” With much reverence to he says, “Mr. Curmally is a gem of a man, a true music lover. He knows music very well, it’s in his genes.”
Mr. Curmally who has been credited for his grit when it came to holding up against the digital wave, shared a few of his thoughts on the circumstances of this closure:
“It’s a very sad day for all of us, the entire city, and more than the city as well, but that’s the way it has to be. The business is heading the digital way and it is hard to sell physical CD’s and DVD’s and as the years go on it’s going to get even worse. That’s the reason why we had to take this decision more than anything else. Although diminishing, there still is a market for CD’s. Unfortunately, I don’t think there are too many places left to carry on the depth of stock of music and movies that were carried at one point of time. I don’t see any one venturing into that direction today and the only option to buy physical copies, is to do so online.”
I realise after a while that all throughout my conversations with the various people in the store, I was clutching on to more than just my hand held recorder. Earlier, while browsing through the collection of rock/pop albums I picked up a copy of one of Chris Cornell’s acoustic performances titled, ‘Song Book’. I walk to the cashier’s counter to be received by the cheer of Mr. Satish Barve who asked me which news agency I represented. On paying the CD’s discounted price, he religiously places it into a translucent bag, seals the opening with red tape and hands it to me with the most pleasant of smiles. This album will be mine and the reason goes beyond my respect for the mighty vocal talent of one of the world’s best rock singers; my little piece of history. While working into the night I shall play it on the CD player my sister handed down to me when I graduated. I’ll lend it to my best friend and hope to receive it back some day along with the beautiful books that wait to fill in the gaps on my shelf.
As I leave the store I recall the mood of one of the songs on the album—also on Audioslave’s 2005 album ‘Out of Exile’— ‘Doesn’t Remind Me’. It sports a characteristic Cornell pitched chorus that goes,
“The things that I’ve loved the things that I’ve lost,
The things I’ve held sacred that I’ve dropped,
I won’t lie no more you can bet,
I don’t want to learn what I’ll need to forget.”
Farewell Rhythm House. I hope to hold on to what’s left of the goodness I have found.
Photo credits: Jason Rasquinha