A tryst with antiques

UNUSUAL HOBBY

Walking through the maze of streets in Chandni Chowk's ‘Kinari Bazaar’, one is often enthralled by the beauty of myriad decorations dangling from every possible side.

Conserving : Atam Agarwala with his antiques.

But the most exquisite sight lies at the end of this lane, in the 18th-century ‘Nau Ghara’, literally meaning nine houses, where humble antique collector Atam Agarwala runs his office.

As one climbs the marble stairs to his office, a statue of an Englishwoman placed below an old fashioned round clock welcomes everyone at the entrance, almost giving an impression of a traditional European household.

Anyone who enters is sure to get transported into a world of antiquity, with unusual items carefully placed almost everywhere. Talking about his passion to collect memorabilia of the past, Atam says, “Since my childhood, I was attracted towards antiques. The fine manner in which things were carved in the old days and the skilled craftsmanship that went into them made me want to possess and preserve antiques like precious jewels.”

On being asked about the origin of his passion, the son of freedom fighter Ramcharan Agarwala says, “My father was extremely fond of old pens and once he gifted me a 21-carat gold Parker which kindled the love for antiques in my heart. The pen is still the most valuable item in my collection.”

He uses some of the items in his collection for his daily needs, such as an old hand bell, an antique telephone and a tea set in white with brown carvings, as well as a leaf-shaped plate.

Everything in his office is impeccably placed and the old style is maintained as far as possible. Old clocks, a Turkish vase, hand woven paintings, magnificent chandeliers, idols of gods, conches and other such pieces leave the onlooker spellbound. Atam says, “I even have an old typewriter which is in working condition. My computer and calculator are the only modern machines which I use in my office, because there is no replacement for them.”

The place is full of boxes of different shapes and sizes, which contain other interesting objects. Some have pens with silver carving, while others have miniature, three-dimensional paintings which have to be seen with a magnifying glass. Even things as small as pencil sharpeners are in unusual shapes, such as that of a jeep or trumpet.

Atam points towards an English wrought iron bench with brown tiles and says, “Just recently Emraan Hashmi sat on this bench and kept his cigarette in my tissue holder to shoot a scene for his upcoming movie, Jannat 2.”

When asked about the reaction of foreigners who frequent his haveli, Atam admits, “People call my office a museum and frequently somebody or the other drops in to have a look at my collection.”

His children are happy to see him invite all those who visit the area for a cup of tea at his ‘haveli’, which is full of unusual antiques and is in itself a remarkable structure with a 100 doors. He always keeps looking for antiques and says, “I buy whatever is unusual and antique, but don’t remember the price or place from where it is bought.”
A manufacturer and exporter by profession, the man is a true connoisseur of Indian culture and heritage.

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