The nameplate on the gate tells you that it is the residence of the ‘Zamindar of Chikkavaram’. You enter the rather unkempt compound but you are prepared to meet the further chaos inside because you have been forewarned. “I am not going to clean my house for you,” V A K Ranga Rao thunders over the phone as you make the appointment to meet him, to see his vast collection of gramophone records, “Neither am I going to apply make-up to be photographed!”
As a toddler just nearing his second year, Ranga Rao, then living in Bobbili(he is the nephew of the Raja of Bobbili), would insist that every visitor bring him a gramophone record as a gift. “I would throw a tantrum if a visitor did not,” recollects the now 72-year-old Ranga Rao, “Sometimes my mother would send our own record through the back door for the visitor to bring to me, to appease me. Immediately, I would play it and say we already have it, and start wailing again!”
The gramophone records became a part of his life. “From that day, for many many years, they became my window onto the world,” he relates, “Very much like what the TV is to you today, perhaps.”
The living room of his house is a veritable showhouse for his record collection. A dining table piled high with books and photo negatives is surrounded by filing cabinets filled with sheafs of records. Atop some of the filing cabinets are more records as well as a lovingly well-preserved gramophone player.
Film music straddling different era, ad jingles for Amritanjan, Gripe Mixture, Geoffrey Manners Cough Syrup and more, poetry recitation, sound effects(thunder, rain/animal sounds/railway sounds, etc), mimicry, social plays, speeches of famous personalities like Gandhiji, Panditji and others form a pick of the collection. “But for two or three thousand of these records, that came as gifts,” says Ranga Rao, “I purchased most of them, but I never paid much for the records themselves.” Sometimes, the `expense’ part of adding to his collection came from the stay at hotels in various cities and the insertion of advertisements asking for old records to add to his collection. “Some people would just give me old records they had no use for.”
The rare and sometimes vintage records are part of the 42,000 odd collection in 78rpm, in forty national and international languages. “I’ve got the first recordings of Lata Mangeshkar, of M S Subbulakshmi and M L Vasanthakumari, the first recording of M S’s mother...” The list goes on.“They represent the world on 78rpm.” The records do represent in a sense, in one archive, music, dance music and verbal recordings of a slice of history of the era they belong to. “It is undreamt of wealth in a sense,” exults Rao, who refuses to put a value to what he has lovingly put together over a lifetime, “There is no value for them - you can say you will give me Rs420 for these 42,000 records, or 42 lakhs or 420 crores. All of it is meaningless. This is an `irreproducable’ collection.”