Sunday, January 28, 2007

Curio Corner

A thick cloud of incense beckons you towards the corner shop, the hare-rama hare-krishna chant rings in your ears as you tap the backs of wooden benches standing in a neat row overlooking a manicured garden in Carlton Hotel Lucknow. The man behind the counter smiles warmly, he expects you to know what you want…but you are awed by the sheer variety. Onyx bangles, jade Buddhas, wooden necklaces with amulets bearing obscure designs and inscriptions… numerous silver earrings, that trace their history back to over forty years, an eighty year old silk blouse for a young girl, the gramophone, large silver rings which sit in blue velvet all stare back at you.

Rajnigandha jewelers are more than just another corner shop, with a 150 year old heritage that traces its origins back to a shop in Chowk, the Kapoor brothers are proud of being collectors and sellers of indigenous arts and crafts amongst many a old bric- a- brac. “We’ve had this shop at Carlton for over 35 years now. Our shop in Chowk, Gaya Prasad Gauri Shankar is 150 years old,” says Manoj Kapoor, one of the four brothers who own the little haunt where you can find anything from a Tibetan meditation bowl to a pair of kundan ear rings.

“My grandfather, Gaya Prasad was very fond of coins, he learnt all about them from magazines and books and even in that era, he realized the worth of antique currency,” remembers Sanjay Kapoor. The brothers relate a story about the case of ‘many coins’, “Years ago, we had over five different people and jewelers come to us to sell coins, all these coins belonged a certain age, eventually we traced the origins of this sudden coin selling spree to a village near Lucknow where a man had found a buried treasure under hit hut, now this man was slowly selling handfuls of his treasure!” says Manoj, who carries in his left pocket a silver box for elaichi and in his right, another for sweet silver supari. “Making the customer family is what matters in our business, with a reputation as old as ours, we have served Rajbaras for years!” adds Manoj.

“We have to visit interiors of villages and meet tribals to purchase our goods, this is where we need to preempt the worth of each item,” says Sanjay. Manoj remembers how a goldsmith “ruthlessly” melted an old Rolex for gold, “I explained the worth of a Rolex and compared it to the small amount of gold he extracted! But this is how we lose precious antiques!”

Ardent collectors of currency, their collection of Indian notes includes a precious two and a half rupee note, a one rupee note from 1917, “Re 1” from 1935. “All these hundred rupee, one rupee and other notes are popular buys, but the Awadh five coin collection is our bestseller! It contains coins from all five Nawabs eras, one from Mohammad Ali, Wajad Ali, Gazad-ul-Haider and others” says Manoj, pulling out a brass bowl full of coins from Arabia, France, England and Awadh. Other bestsellers include paandaans and tambacoo daans.

“School children often visit us for a coin every now and then… it’s a popular hobby since so many years now”, adds Sanjay, pouring out a piping hot cup of “masala chai”. While Manoj points to a shallow and dark looking bowl, “That’s made of three metals, it has Arabic inscriptions on it and was used by people who have nightmares and feel afraid of the paranormal. You fill water in it and keep it overnight, and drink from it the next day”.

The brothers enjoy entertaining their tourist customers, “tourists visiting the shop are often interested in learning more about Lucknow and frankly, Lucknow isn’t really a tourist spot! We aren’t on the tourist map really…but the cultural and historical significance of the city attract people from around the world,” says Manoj.

In walks a Roamanian lady, sporting a kundan pendant and rings she bought from the shop yesterday, she explains through signs what she’d like to see today and Sanjay pulls out Indian paintings while Manoj dusts two old clowns, setting one on his counter, “All you do is put a coin in his mouth and pull his hand down, he swallows it and it stays in that round belly till you need it again!” he laughs, as the many artifacts from village interiors of India sit silently in their shelves, only to travel to the many corners of the world once they’re bought.