Just for the Record

Nishant Mittal’s store in Shahpur Jat has the rarest of rare vinyl records, and schoolboys to grandpas are lining up to buy or simply to connect with a fellow vinyl trooper.
Digging In India, Shahpur Jat
Digging In India, Shahpur Jat

Isn’t it fascinating that music comes out of a piece of plastic when you put a needle on it?” says Nishant Mittal by way of greeting as he puts a record on the turntable, the second we walk into his vinyl store.

When you hear ‘vinyl’, what you immediately think of is nostalgia, a feeling of something old and familiar—even if you’ve never touched vinyl yourself. And you get plenty of that at the 28-year-old’s recently opened store in Shahpur Jat. The bright yellow sign, decorated with truck art inside the store, reads “Digging In India”. “‘Digging’ is what we call finding old records, so I named my store after that very act,” says Mittal.

Getting started

It was Jeff Valla, an American musician, neuroscientist and a friend of Mittal living in India, who introduced him to these records around nine years ago. “Jeff handed me a stack of records. It was a mix of all genres. Before that, I had only seen them in movies. He also taught me the skill of digging for records,” he says. “That moment, when I held them, was like love at first sight.” But even as his fascination with records grew, he soon realised that not much information is available about them online in India. So, Mittal started an Instagram channel, ‘Digging In India’, where he shared interesting information about his collection.

“For the first few years, I was still figuring out how to procure these old records. But once I started posting about them online, I came in touch with many collectors and sellers who shared the same interest,” he says.

But is finding records easy in India? Not really, says Mittal. “For a city with a population of over three crore, there is barely a shop that sells records,” he says. “To find records in India, you must go far, to homes of people who collect, or browse through the Instagram accounts of collectors who share their collections.”

Vinyl gems

While Mittal was always interested in Rock and Roll, and appreciated artistes and bands such as Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Alice In Chains and Radiohead, his journey of archiving records helped him discover a counter-culture in music. “I only knew Bollywood music and Indian classical music, but through my interest and research in vinyl, I realised that a counter-musical culture existed,” he says.

City Life (1983), a fusion album of jazz and classical music by composer Louis Banks, was one of his first introductions to such music.

Speaking of his rare collection, Mittal mentions Disco Jazz (1982) by Rupa Biswas, a Bengali disco album from the ’80s that has recently gone viral and was re-released on vinyl in 2019 by an Illinois-based record company. Another collectible is 10 Ragas to a Disco Beat (1982) by Charanjit Singh, a Mumbai-based music composer, and synthesiser player, who played the ragas but as electronic music on synths and drum machines.

As for Delhi, Mittal boasts of Bismillah (2019) by a Delhi-based Jazz band Peter Cat Recording Co., The Shape Of Things To Come (2021) by drummer, composer and percussionist Tarun Balani and Evolution (2023) by Ravana.

Who are the buyers?

Currently, Mittal has more than 3,500 vinyl records and over 1,500 cassettes. The genres include Bollywood, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Hindustani Classical, Western Rock, Jazz, and regional Indian music. But who is buying?

“Well, everyone. I have had people of all ages, from schoolboys to grandpas, coming in, buying, and enquiring about records. I also get a lot of diasporic Indians, mostly from the US and the UK,” says Mittal. Some also get in touch with Mittal when they have too many records lying in their basement and want someone to take care of them.

“I inspect the records and grade them accordingly. If the quality is good enough, I dust them and keep them with me. If not, then I give them away to people who use records for decor purposes.”

Being a vinyl DJ

In addition to collecting, Mittal is also one of the few vinyl DJs in Delhi. “The act of playing music is the same. Usually, you play music through a pen drive and switch to different tracks; similarly, on vinyl, you must queue for the other music. What matters is that you must know about music and when to play the second track and match it with the prior track. You cannot play heavy metal after a hip-hop song,” he says. Catch him in action at the Daily Objects flagship store in Gurugram on April 26.

Digging In India is open all days from 12pm to 7pm. Address: 141A/2 1st Floor, Shahpur Jat.

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