Toys are serious business. Ram Chander & Sons have been running a toy shop next to Odeon in the Connaught Place since 1935.
The store was started by Raj Sunder, father of the current owner Satish Sundra, who grew up in Ambala Cantonment where his grandfather Seth Chunnilal set up a toy shop in 1890. The family opened a branch at Kasauli and later another in Delhi, when it became the new capital of imperial India. Patrons of the shop include Indira Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi and many maharajas and viceroys of the yore.
“We have laid down a tradition and built goodwill. When people talk about my father, grandfather, it seems like a feather in my cap,” Sundra says.
“We had no money when we came here and we took the place on rent from a contractor named Tirath Ram,” 76-year-old Sundra recalls. “For three-four years, we, a family of five, lived in the shop and the shop was divided into two parts, separated by purdah. After that, we lived in a rented house on Hanuman Road,” he says. After his father’s death in 1954, Sundra, a victim of circumstances, joined the family business. A history honours graduate from St Stephen’s College, he had wanted to get into bureaucracy.
Even after so many years, the shop has the same 1935 vintage wooden shelves and Sundra does not wish to change them. For him, it’s not about money; toys hold a special place in his life. The shop wears a messy look, much like a child’s room. Children can run around and touch whatever they want to. “Even if a child breaks something, they are not asked to pay for it,” he says.
With changing times, the choice of toys has changed. Earlier, children used to buy train sets. Now, they want to buy what they see on the Internet.
“It is easy to buy a thing, but it is difficult to use it,” Sundra says. Ram Chander & Sons used to manufacture educational toys till late ‘90s. Schools were their customers, where Sundra even went to teach. Now, 80 per cent of the goods are imported from US, Europe, China, Germany, etc.