What makes Kishor Merchant a 'One-man archive' - Find out
Kishor Merchant has spent 20 years converting the recordings of Indian classical music on LPs, spools and cassettes into CDs and pen drives. Why? Someone had to do it
Babies born in 2019 will never get to hear Bhimsen Joshi, Mallikarjun Mansur and Kishori Amonkar live; but a baby born in 1954 is ensuring they'll at least get to hear them in MP3. Kishor Merchant, 64, a snowy-haired gentleman, a Santa Claus lookalike, grew up surrounded by Hindustani classical music. "Where the building is today was a bungalow," he says, indicating his current residence, right next to the governor's residence. The bungalow was also a musical salon.
"My grandfather, uncle and father were not only fond of classical music, but they used to host all-night concerts with musicians as great as Kesarbai Kerkar, Siddheshwari Devi, Begum Akhtar. We would call them jalsa, which would go on from 9.30 pm till 6 am. I feel that's how I inherited my love for Indian classical music." Along with a few material things: for instance, he was the first grandchild to get a personal spool player.
"I used to keep borrowing my grandfather's machine left, right and centre. So, he gifted me one. These machines were my playthings." A psychology major from KC College, Merchant's musical obsession began with Joshi. "I started my collection with Bhimsen Joshi's abhangs. The gentleman at Rhythm House suggested, 'Why don't you listen to his classical?' So,
I picked up one LP." One good thing usually leads to another, and Merchant ended up with a collection. Alongside fulfilling his interest in music, he worked in a series of unfulfilling jobs: his last stint was at a firm for industrial sweeteners called Sorbitol, which he quit for good in 1997. "I attended a workshop at the NCPA by sarod player Amjad Ali Khan saab, and I was really hooked. I was introduced to many youngsters and musicians. There I felt, how do I help them?
Because music companies and concert organisers would only hold concerts of big and well-known people. How do I get these youngsters into the limelight? I had already started digitising [my personal collection] on the computer. So, I started to digitise their masters from live concerts, and we would have a CD ready for marketing." He released 128 CDs in one go in October 2004, featuring over 100 young musicians.
Merchant owns three record players, four computers, five spool machines and six cassette disks, and can coach people on software such as Sound Forge, Audacity and WaveLab. He's devoted the last 20 years of his life into digitising music — morning to night, with no afternoon naps — just like a musician doing riyaaz. "Digitising was very important for me because I had a vast collection, and a lot of people would come and give their collection to me as a gift. A lifetime collection [will include] a few hundred CDs. In those days, it was a person bringing in 100-200 cassettes for digitising. That offered me a little bit of money for the upkeep of the equipment. With four computers operating, I have digitised cassettes in thousands. One musician alone, Sharad Sathe, gave me 775 cassettes."
While connoisseurs wanted their music digitised, they didn't want its leftovers: the cassettes and LPs. "So, they would keep them with me. Even though my mother and wife allowed me to keep the house in a mess, I was still finding it difficult." He divided them into two places: Chinmaya Vibhooti in Kolwan, and a private archive called Nad Sagar in Delhi. "I have already deposited 16 boxes [a mix of Dinkar Kaikini, Bhimsen Joshi, Amir Khan, Gangubai Hangal] to Nad Sagar."
In all of this, Merchant has never been tempted to learn music. "I'm able to distinguish between good music and bad music: that's enough. I'm enjoying music, I'm enjoying my life within the music, I'm enjoying sitting here." Thanks to him, 50 years later, so will a bonny child born today.
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