The owners of the 221-year-old Shri Ram Hari Ram Jewellers lack a sense of historical awareness.
There’s something decidedly old world about the Shri Ram Hari Ram showroom on Dariba Kalan, the famous silver market in Chandni Chowk. Perhaps it’s the fact that even the glass they serve water in is made of silver, as is the wire glass-holder in which it is served. Even the seat I perched on during this interview was solid silver — “around 30 kgs and about 200 years old” says Mahesh Gupta, 73, the current head of the family that owns the store.
There’re more such artifacts lying around — a large sculpture of a reclining Vishnu with Lakshmi at his feet that is about 150 years old, a few similarly ancient Ganesh idols and so on. Dheeraj Gupta, Mahesh’s son, remembers an exquisite silver car made in England in 1910 that used to be displayed prominently until a few years ago.
The other reason is that Shri Ram Hari Ram Jewellers is really old, in fact, is the oldest shop in the area, tracing its history back 221 years to 1789. “It was around probably earlier too. But this is how far back — went the records — what we call the bahi khatas (books of accounts) which used to be written in a special language that only those who maintained the accounts could understand — that we discovered around 60 years,” says Dheeraj, Mahesh Gupta’s son. “The shop was much smaller then, and dealt only in silver,” says his father, indicating the sprawling two-storeyed store.
Sadly, there’s not much more that the Guptas know about the shop’s genesis, the events in its 221 years, or its clientele. “We are from Delhi originally,” is all Gupta offers, “and one of my forefathers, Vishambhar Dayal, was the khajanchi (treasure) of Bahadur Shah Zafar. After Zafar was deposed, his estate was confiscated by the English.” He is unclear, too, about the records. Where are they now? He isn’t sure — probably somewhere in the shop, or in the original family mansion in Wakilpura Mohalla nearby.
Even until 50 years ago, Shri Ram Hari Ram Jewellers was preeminent among the hundreds of jewellers in Dariba Kala. “We had royalty from all over among our clients,” says Dheeraj Gupta, “and even today we supply to the president, prime minister and business families like the Modis, Birlas and Goenkas.”
In recent years, the store has tried to keep up by hallmarking its wares and diversifying into gold and diamond jewellery. But business has been affected by competition from all the stores that have mushroomed all over the city, and by the fact that the family has grown too large to be sustained by one store. Mahesh Gupta’s two brothers have started separate businesses in the past decade, one in Green Park and the other in Saket. The Green Park store, run by Umesh Gupta, recently opened a branch in tony Khan Market as well, under the Shrihari Diagems brand name.