Friday, September 21, 2007

Shopping - Collectibles in Delhi

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A quick guide to buying antiques and reproductions in the capital.

[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]

It could be a Maharani's chunri – or her maid's – for it came down from a rajwada family. Hemmed in by dusty chandeliers, camel-bone pendants, faded maps, and 19th century books, I'm being persuaded by an antique dealer to buy the royal relic at a throwaway price of Rs 50. We are in a basement shop at Hauz Khas village where antique lovers are enticed by streets decked with film posters of classics like Sholay, Shree 420 and Mughal-e-Azam.

Most traders obtain originals from collectors. Agents in India and abroad are of vital assistance. Vipin Jain, who deals in books, photographs and lithographs, often purchases online from England. With a first floor stoor in Hauz Khas, his prices are whimsy. The Raj-era photographs, for instance, range between Rs 500 to Rs 4000. "The more difficult the replacement, the higher the price," says Jain.

Reproductions are another option. Yet these fake old-style telephones, cuckoo clocks, and sailor's compasses, often produced in Moradabad factories, remain frightfully expensive. One Hauz Khas showroom has a brass replica of the world's first globe priced at Rs 9,950. An elephant-headed walking stick cost Rs 1000.

Before being seduced by an object, it is wise to confirm its antiquity with the dealer. While few are genuinely old, most artifacts - Nepali facemasks or Oriya statues; hand-played gramophones or leather-covered telescopes - are purposely made to look ancient.

However, the Hauz Khas charm pales against the glamour of Sundar Nagar's collectibles. Its fancy showrooms - displaying Rajasthani teakwood bajots, Tamil Nadu temple sculptures, Aligarh-made Natraj figures, and Pakistani brass tumblers – simply stun the senses. Perhaps prices there fluctuate with the skin color. At one store, a teakwood cabinet etched with surajmukhi flowers was quoted to me for Rs 15, 000; a little later its price rose by Rs 7000 for Spanish-speaking tourists.

If Sundar Nagar frustrates with high-end prices, cheaper Janpath, at Connaught Place, is a limiting option. However, finalise a purchase only after including Paharganj's fantastic Kerala Arts showroom in your shopping itinerary. Such precious junk there. The dazzle of the colorful Tibetan cabinet contrasting with the quiet dignity of a Kerala rice box ends up producing delicious dilemmas – to buy this? That? Both? All?

Hauz Khas Village Romance

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Hauz Khas Alley

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Sundar Nagar's Showroom

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Citizens of Sundar Nagar

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Lamp Shades, Again in Sundar Nagar

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The Splendor of Paharganj

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