Acquiring antique artefact and furniture is a new pastime for many residents in Kozhikode

The past is our perfect pastime. We are dedicated to nostalgia – pining for the way of life lost, of food habits bypassed, of old houses pulled down. A growing section of Kozhikode residents, however, does not want to be left with nostalgia alone. They latch on to every scrap of past they can, paying a price for it.

Kozhikode still does not boast a profusion of antique shops. But a clutch of them are scattered in its nooks and lanes. Antiques, per se, still may not make perfect business sense, so these shops blend the old with the new. Used furniture nestles with quaint knick-knacks and new handicraft and the market leaps for this mysterious miscellany. From oracle’s anklets and areca nut kumkum holders to rusty chunnambu chellams (lime holders) and silver-crafted conch to field cameras and record players and two-faced table fans, nothing is out of place here.

In common understanding, an antique should at least be a 100 years old to be worth its salt. At the shops though one may find anything over 20 years because the market they cater to is split into two. One is the compulsive collector, a buyer with a keen sense of antique value; and the other who comes looking for usable wares that will stand the test of time. The second lot usually walks away with old, elegant furniture glistening with a coat of polish.

There is no dearth of demand, say those in the business. In fact, antiques are status-symbols. Things that dwelt in the attic are now firmly living-room material. Old grandmother’s trunk or the ornamented Arabi petti easily replaces the teepoy. The uruli and the para are living room regulars. Those with more than rudimentary knowledge of antiques show off their brass tumblers and iron, rare idols and swords sleeping in their sheath. “If a house is being built or renovated, people make a visit to the antique shop. Some would tell us the stuff they want. We try to source it from old mansions and fine tune them for the client,” says Abdul Nazar, manager at the two-year-old Antiques & Economy on Bank Road. “Interior decorators also advise their clients to pay a visit to the antique shop for pieces that might sit well in their house. The antique touch lasts, while what is contemporary today may not be so in a few years,” says Abdul Razak, proprietor of Royal Antique Palace (RAP) on Silk Street, which is among the newest establishments in business. Antique show pieces are sought after by new resorts and hotels too, adds Razaq. Nazar says clients come from Kozhikode as well as neighbouring districts.

“The awareness about antiques has grown,” admits V. Indira, a staffer at Avanthika – a house for furniture, handicraft and antique at Chalapuram. At 23, Avanthika is among the oldest antique shops in the city and lives on a fixed clientele. “The stuff you see is what people had at their homes years ago. Now they come searching for it,” she says. Razaq too agrees regret is the common sentiment when customers see the stuff they discarded without thought on the shop shelf.

Indira points out that increased awareness has made sourcing tougher. “Since people are now looking at conserving old things, it has got harder to get them now. I remember a time when we would stock fans that ran on kerosene and holders made of a single areca nut. But now a good piece is gone in a flash,” she says.

Collectors though insist on the original look, says Indira. If one sees a layer of stain on the lime holder, she says it is meant to be. “It is not that we cannot clean it, but collectors want it that way.”

But those who request a little shine are promptly obliged. At Razaq’s shop one finds two versions of the old, tiered lunch box – one dark and original and another old one polished to shine; and it depicts his two sets of customers. Every shop has items that collectors go for – cameras, watches and binoculars.

Wooden furniture makes the largest section and the easiest buys at the shops. Four-poster beds and single plank swings are among the most priced items. Old furniture is never mere show, but guarantee use and quality, says Razaq. “The wood used is always teak and rosewood and it lasts. Also making furniture in these kind of wood today is a very expensive proposition. So people prefer old furniture as it assures quality,” he explains. “Some need minor repairs; others do not even need that,” says Indira. Even when touch-ups are done , Razak insists it is never at the peril of its original look. “We may introduce a handle and a lock and give it a polish, that’s all.”

At Avanthika, sourcing is done mostly from Kerala, while at RAP they come from across the country through a network of collectors and brokers. “At times, people go for exchange, they sell their old ware here and take something new from us,” says Indira.

The prices of pieces often run into a few thousands while the most expensive ones cost a little over a lakh. Imitations are equally profuse in the market, say those in the business. But the discerning can easily make out the difference, they vouch. There are also those who go for an antique look-alike as it is easier on the pocket.