Tuesday, Aug 09, 2022

Bazaar Korte Hobe!

Treasures, trifles—Calcutta's auction houses burn with curiosities

Bazaar Korte Hobe! Sandipan Chatterjee

Last week, I acquired a new addiction. Rousing myself reluctantly on a Sunday morning to go to an auction house, purely for this assignment, I found myself mesmerised by it. The tantalising invitation of the auctioneer to place a bid, the passion with which bids were placed, the low prices at which covetable goods came under the hammer, and the charged atmosphere at the auction hall—all these converted me from observer to eager participant in a matter of 30 minutes. I returned home that Sunday afternoon the proud owner of a carved wooden screen (Rs 875), a beautiful antique glass bottle (Rs 140), an old sitar (Rs 275) and a vintage set of silver cutlery (Rs 410). And I'm sure I'll forego my lazy brunch next Sunday for the greater pleasure of bidding for, perhaps, an 80-year-old carved wooden picture frame or an exquisite old European porcelain figurine.

Not everything up for auction last Sunday could be described as collectors' items. Workaday odds and ends have their space and clientele too. Aftab Alam bought a VIP suitcase for Rs 320. His friend, K.P. Singh, got a commode seat cover and two bicycle tyres for Rs 55, while Lalit Vaswani was all smiles after acquiring a corner settee for just Rs 600. But Vaswani has no plans of placing the settee in his living room, just as Alam's piece of luggage is not for his personal use. They're part of around 100 people who flock to Calcutta's auction houses to bid for everything from broken telephones to four-poster mahogany beds. They're an eclectic mix of scrap dealers, small-time mechanics, furniture dealers, curio-hunters and antique collectors of diverse classes, ages and backgrounds. Every Sunday morning, they hurry to the city's three remaining auction houses on Russell Street—there were eight till a few years ago—to bid for articles they had already inspected the previous day.