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The memory market

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Product of the bygone era

There's a booming market out there for products that reminds one of a bygone-era - from grandma's rocking chair to a resplendent gramophone. Who needs a time machine?

It's kitschy, eye-catching and makes for quirky art-dêcor. But old artifacts and curios are no longer just collector's items. Instead, they have trickled down to mass markets, creeping into the living rooms of the most fanatical and the most mild-mannered of art connoisseurs.

Oil-lamps that collected thick soot may dot a quiet corner, while a huge antique clock that required regular oiling, one that stands grand as a symbol of opulence and class, may hog enviable space on the other. Antiques have silently tip-toed into middle-class Indian homes not just as an odd 'look-at-me ' item, but as a premium product that bespeak of a certain time, perhaps even a lost era.

"Madamji, gramophone to bahut bikta hai (gramophones sell a lot)," brags a street-seller. Claiming that he has sold hundreds of such objet d'art to foreign tourists who are willing to pay any price, Mukes says he knows what today sells like hotcakes. "Apko sasta laga denge (I'll give you at a cheaper rate)," is his humble offer to an Indian customer unwilling to match his obnoxious quotes but eager to buy some of the eye-catching items. Fetching anywhere between Rs 3,000 and Rs 10,000 a piece, depending on the size, in flea markets such as those of Janpath in New Delhi, these oddities are no longer the monopoly of selected suppliers.

Old vinyl records too have made a great comeback. Fifty-five year old Kalyan Bhuta from Mumbai vouches for that. "I have been in this business for the past 10 years and many youngsters have contacted me through my website to purchase records," he says. From Naushad to Asha Bhosle and Manna Dey's duet to Bade Gulam Ali Khan, Bhuta's selective list of records makes a killing. "I have prices that start from double digits and go up to as high as five digits. The price I quote depends on the rarity of the album and its condition."

Not stopping at that, there are very believable clones of the originals in the market, that too at unpredictable prices. But if it looks good and serves the purpose, most don't mind. "My daughter bought me an old telephone. It is our drawing room's most attractive feature and surprisingly it also works," says Delhi housewife Urmila Arora.

Pranav Sharma, who runs a successful online business venture called Indian Gifting Portal, says the demand for antique replicas will never die. "They make for interesting gifting ideas. We have always had a constant demand for things like old jewellery boxes, antique brassware clocks, Gandhi spectacles and even compasses. Lately, these so-called collector's items have been doing brisk business." From gifts ranging between Rs 1,000 and Rs 2,500, Sharma's site is abuzz with activity.

A former computer engineer and now an art dealer, Hinesh Jethwani, 29, who runs the quirky art store called Indian Hippy, says that old Bollywood vintage posters make for a great style statement. "Ninety per cent of my clients are first-time art owners." After reconnoitering the Dadar, Mahim and Matunga area, also known as the erstwhile Bombay film poster colony for artists, he says he was lucky to chance upon painters who knew the art of painting life-sized film posters. "It was a tedious process to find artists who could paint film posters exactly the way it was done in the '60s and '70s."

Today, though, with a dedicated team of over 20 artists, Mumbai-based Jethwani says his vintage canvas poster collection is of impeccable quality. Hand-painted and exquisitely detailed, no one, he emphasises, can claim that the painting is not an original. "Whoever is in this market is selling digital replicas. We are amongst the very few who do hand-painted replicas that are of top-notch quality. Our orders usually come from the UK, US and Dubai. These paintings make for premium products and tend to fetch a high price." So, while Mrs Arora gushes about her telephone's old-world ring and Mukes throws big numbers when asked about his recent sales, one thing is for certain - holding onto the past indeed makes for great business strategy.

diya.banerjee@timesgroup.com

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