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Wonders of OLD WORLD

PRATHIBHA PARAMESWARAN checks out the city's great antique bazaar to discover how it retains its grandeur.

A WALK down the culs de sacs of the Big Bazaar Street in Tiruchi is aboundingly fascinating. As one trots on the familiar lanes, too many things seek your attention. And rarely does one miss spotting the fascinating things -- a solitary almirah, a pair of old but sturdy green pillars lying in front of a small shack, or several other curios. Thats Kallar Street, which brings to mind a vivid frame of age old antiques. These age-old treasured items sell not merely because of the value attached by the very nature of their antiquity, but also because of the excellent craftsmanship, much of which still remains unparallaled.

Tiruchi has a vibrant antiques market, though the customers are not usually from within the city itself. Nor does the business take place through the usual marketing gimmicks like catchy advertisements and hoardings. It is the word of mouth that brings business to the antique sellers. Articles are rated depending on the make and their use.

But there are some exquisite items such s the furniture made of rosewood, Burma teak and mahogany that never lose their charm for the customers. The prices are arbitrary, leaving much scope for bargaining as they are fixed by the customers or the dealers themselves.

V.M. Velayudhan of Ponnagar, who has been in the business for over 15 years, caters to an exclusive section of antique collectors in the city. On most occasions, he makes furniture based on designs he sees in articles of modern times. But once in a while, he picks up exquisite antiques from auctions or scrap dealers, for which there are many takers. Cots, swings of all shapes and sizes, furniture including carved doors and windows, cupboards, tables and chairs with art work on them, carved wooden pieces, paintings, old teapoys, especially those with their legs in the shape of elephants, the range of materials available to one is immense, says Mr.Velayudhan.

"However, the trade sustains itself on demand and supply basis. It is not difficult to hook a customer to an article once he gets enamoured by it and then allow the price to go up exorbitantly. I remember once seeing a small Radha-Krishna statue on a swing. It was priced at Rs. 500 at an auction, but was sold by an antique dealer for Rs. 15,000 later," he recounts. According to Ramachandran of Kallar street, an antique with good artwork on it is priceless. A value of an antique has nothing to do with the price decided for it by either the dealer or the customer. "An old piece of chair or table with excellent work on it not only sells for its wood, but also for its craftsmanship and artwork. In fact, the art is more valuable than the wood it is worked on. One can even tell how old an article is from the nature of the work on it," he shares. Mr. Ramachandran and M. Marudai of the street, who have been in business for three decades consciously do not tamper with any antique piece by polishing it, lest it gets spoilt. "There have been occasions when we have failed to sell stuff to people even though they came and asked for it. Not that they were unwilling to pay the cost but simply because they could neither understand nor appreciate the item's worth", they point out. Even minor repair works are done with greatest care and precision. "There are very few who really take care and effort to preserve antiques. Knowledge about art or heritage is very low among the people. Most buy it as a status symbol," feels Mr. Ramachandran.

Serious art collectors

Serious art collectors are very few for largely two reasons -- the patience and investment that antiques require to remain as they are, and, because most look at antiques from a purely commercial angle. G.G. Anantharaja of the A.G. Eye Clinic is an avid art collector and the owner of a Century old wooden fan.

He has an eye for wooden articles, especially those with superior artwork. "I like collecting antiques as they lend a richer look to the interiors. Articles with good craftsmanship are always a marvel," he says. His collections include a writing desk made of rosewood with manifold shelves and a secret chamber.

Kesavan of Mambala Salai, has a range of antiques in his house. His treasure trove contains from a small button to furniture of all kinds. He has a collection of over 200 clocks which date back even to a couple of centuries.

He shares Mr. Ramachandran's view that serious art collectors are few and makes it a point to give his pieces to those whom he feels can appreciate its value. Swords knives, porcelains, all form part of his collections. "I can even start a museum," he says with much pride.

Though there are few native takers for antique stuff in Tiruchi, the city serves as a good market base for tourists, both global and domestic. They are eager to get hold of what remains of the olden era of brilliant architecture, art and sculpture. Owning an antique may be considered a mark of affluence. But it also reveals the buyer's aesthetic sense and appreciation of a region's glorious heritage.

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