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Vintage obsessions

As global trends in the antiques industry point to an upswing in demand for Indian heirlooms, a new generation closer home is looking at antiques with renewed interest. Zofeen Maqsood writes. Where to find antiques

fashion and trends Updated: Aug 19, 2012 01:22 IST
Zofeen Maqsood
Zofeen Maqsood
Hindustan Times

The trappings of upward mobility and new acquisitions can be so addictive that it is easy to side-step everything that holds nostalgic importance. However after years of living with robotically functional soulless stuff, a new generation of Indians are looking at all that is vintage with newfound curiosity. "Anything old-fashioned, including collectibles, clothes, cars and craft, is back in demand. In fact, there is a growing obsessive subculture getting drawn to vintage," says Delhi-based curator Manjeet Bhullar.

The love for antiques has stayed strong in the West for long - a report commissioned by European Fine Art Foundation, pegged the global art and antiques market at $60 billion in 2010. According to statistics by Antiques Trade Gazette, within the European Union alone, antique imports rose 133% in 2011, touching a figure of £53.4 million.

In India, however, it has been sluggish. Sculptor Arzan Khambatta says, "Despite the Antiquities Export Control Act, 1974, the Indian market has remained an unregulated zone." On a positive note, antique dealers say that they are witnessing fresh demand domestically. "We noticed an 80% increase in the demand for antique home décor objects - everyone wants to own a piece of history," says Simran Aggarwal of World Bazaar, an interiors store. Psychologist Rachna Kumar says, "The youth is getting drawn to Mad Men and everything that has a historical identity."

So, what is it that draws us to the charm of yore? Sociologist Shiv Visvanathan says, "Upwardly mobile society, after having explored the new world, now wants to understand its roots. Also owning antiques now is a statement of genealogy and class."

Kumar adds, "In today's fast-paced world of uncertainty, these objects reminde you of an age of innocence."

While there are dedicated markets like the Portobello, Camden, Alameda and shows like The Buxton Antiques Fair, Ardingly International and Brimfield in UK and US, in India the market is arbitrary with limited pockets -Sunder Nagar, various cottage emporiums and Chor Bazaar in Delhi and Jogeshwari in Mumbai. Incidences of vintage buyers being cheated are also common.

Despite our apathy towards our own heritage, globally there is an upward swing for Indian vintage. At Islamic and Indian auctions in London earlier this year, a Mughal portrait of Jahangir was sold for £1.42 million. Bonhams too are holding Indian Himalayan sales, twice a year in New York. Tarang Arora, of Amrapali says, "In India not many genuine vintage pieces are in the market. A lack of antique scholars makes it tough to identify real antiques." Khambatta adds, "But it's good that youngsters are no longer looking at vintage as museum pieces." Old is certainly in.

'My big canopy bed transports me to my grandma's childhood'
Natasha Sehgal Dublish
Age: 30
Boutique owner

Ihave a fascination for everything that has a 'period connect'. Even after I have shifted various homes, there are certain things I have carried along because they bring a deep-rooted sense of belonging.

I have a huge canopy bed made of ancient teak wood that is space consuming but I have retained it as it has been a part of my family for about a century. I have silverware and each piece has a history to it. I am told that these were custom-made for my great grandmother by a jeweller in Nishaura Cantt, near Lahore in present day Pakistan. I am not averse to modern gadgets but I cannot forgo the charm these symbols of history hold for me. I also try to collect vintage objects when I travel."

'I spend my holidays polishing centuries-old family silver'
Preeti Aggarwal
Age: 26
Jewellery designer

I am fortunate that my family has always been very big on preserving things that have been passed on to us from our forefathers. I have an old silver hookah that belonged to my great great grandmother.

It has been in the family for more than 60 years now and though we know it was made in Jaipur, we didn't have details about who made it. I have often tried to find out all the fascinating stories behind these historical places.

Since most of the stuff in the house is a part of the family heritage, it all holds special significance.

Most of the stuff is silver and it being a tough metal to maintain, it does take a considerable time and energy polishing and cleaning it but the satisfaction is immense.While I am big on antique, rustic looking things, I try to juxtapose the old with the new in my home.

So, I have put up modern art paintings done by a contemporary artists, and I have tried placing them with family heirlooms to create an interesting contrast. An old family lantern from Meerut - our hometown - is the centerpiece in the house. I do spend a lot of money, not only restoring but also buying vintage from wherever I can... as long as they remind of you of a charmed past, they are worth the effort and money.

'The haveli door is done by artists who made Hawa Mahal'
Neha Singh Bhatia
Age: 30, Wedding card designer

I developed a love for vintage only recently. Till a few years, ago I was this new-age person who didn't care much about antiques. But when I got married, I moved into a house that was like a sanctuary of heritage stuff. As I heard fascinating tales (about each piece) and got hooked to antiques.

Ever since, I have been trying to restore and collect ancient cultural belongings of the family. There is a huge Jodhpuri door from an old haveli complete with a peep hole in it, as it used to be in olden times. It has been with the family for generations and was made by some of the same artisans who built Jaipur's Hawa Mahal. Since it's hinges are heavy, it couldn't be used as a door in our house. So, we have used it as wall décor. Since my family lived in the Middle East for thirty years, there was this strong sentiment for an authentially Indian-looking house. Thus, all this vintage stuff was carried back and forth every where.

Youngsters today are seeking out history, as I get a lot requests for a Mughal or a Tanjore era theme card. Today, wherever I go I am looking for vintage. I have recently restored a four-poster family bed that was lying in our old house and though it is uncomfortable to sleep on, it is kept safely in one corner of the house as a souvenir of times as they once were."

'My grandfather's gramophone is my most treasured posession'
Sanmeet Arora
Age: 29, Enterpreneur
My great grandfather came to Delhi from Lahore during the Partition and he carried a rich legacy in the form of family memorabilia with him. While they've been in the family for a long time, the real realisation of their significance dawned on me during my student days in London. I noticed how the British were so possessive about their heritage and cultural belongings.

Abroad, it is a big honour if you are passed on a family heirloom or a piece of jewellery by your mom, something that we take for granted here. I felt guilty for moving on to the new and letting pieces of family history lie in a store house. When I came back to India, I tried to restore and rediscover all our family vintage stuff. Some of the pieces had to be polished, varnished and repaired but today the pride with which I display them in my living room is unmatched. I have a family jewellery box dating back to the early 1900's.

I also have old carved chairs that I am told were specially crafted by carpenters before Independence. A gramophone which my great grandfather bought is the most treasured piece in my house. And a vintage mirror belonging to my great grandmother is the highlight of the house. When I look at it, I feel the lingering presence of my ancestors."

First Published: Aug 18, 2012 23:17 IST