All it took was a pin prick to prompt melody queen P. Susheela to render a song from the 1966 Tamil film Thattungal Thirakkappadum, but within seconds, T.M. Soundararajan's song from Padithal Mattum Pothuma, a popular Sivaji Ganesan film, took over.

On the platform, with the grey stoned walls of the Theosophical Society serving as the background, Mohammed Ali — a self-confessed novice when it comes to old Tamil songs — changed the records on the gramophone in front of him and directed the speakers towards a waiting car. Not convinced, the occupants of the car slowly wound up the window and sped away.

As hits and flops are part of his line of work, he took the rejection in his stride.

For two decades, Mr. Ali, now 48, has travelled to Chennai from his hometown Tirur in Kerala's Malappuram district, three times a year, to sell antique pieces on roadsides — especially in “VIP areas”.

So the choice to set up a makeshift stall on the side of the scenic Besant Avenue was a conscious one. “Only people in cars will be interested in buying antiques, so I don't need a constant footfall,” he says, in heavily accented Tamil. “This is a favourable place for selling my pieces. The business is good and hassle free.”

He came with 12 gramophones and eight telephones on February 23, and has already sold half of them. In the remaining three days he is in town, he hopes to sell the rest. “The sound from the gramophone will be great inside a house and it will also look beautiful as a decorative piece.”

So where do all these gramophones come from? “We purchase these antique pieces from people who collect old vessels and knick knacks. We then get it ready to sell it,” he says. “I'll be back on the fifth of next month with more pieces,” he adds, before he puts in a formal request to have his phone number in print: 09645160803.

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