” It was the beginning of a day in June; the deep blue sky unsullied by a cloud, and teeming with brilliant light. The streets were, as yet, nearly free from passengers, the houses and shops were closed, and the healthy air of morning fell like breath from angels, on the sleeping town. ” – Charles Dickens, The Old Curiosity Shop. I cannot help but wonder if Mr. Dickens is standing here right next to me, describing Langford Town. On this early Sunday morning, the houses and shops are indeed closed, as are the doors to Mahaveerchandji’s wonderful shop of unmitigated delights. I decide to come back later during the week. When I next drop by, the doors are wide open and Mahaveerchandji’s hearty smile welcomes me in. I have been here often in the past.
My first acquisiton was a fat little teakwood stool with curved legs. Some other pieces of furniture I had set my heart on came later, and then I found a little 18″ x 20″ mini rolltop desk, perfect down to the last pigeon hole and rolling shutter. Usually, the furniture sits out on the pavement watching the traffic go by, while those driving past get a good view in return. Out on the pavement today are some large Tanjore paintings with ornate frames within which sit motherly Yashodhas and playful Krishnas heavily decorated in gold foil, a delicate clothes rack and another little roll top desk, though I confess its not as sweet as mine. As a proud owner, I have every right to be biased.
There is a lot to see but you must be prepared to sift through all the kitsch inside. There are big rewards for those with a patient temperament. Mahaveerchandji has had this shop at the corner of Berlie Street and Langford Road, ever since I can remember. He says he was born in this house and that his father, Roopchand Sethyaji, came here from Rajasthan in 1947 to set up business in Bangalore. I realise he is as much a Bangalorean as you or me. At one time, this city was all encompassing. It still is, if we allow it to be.
Though the family business was the traditional money lending, over a period of time, people began to arrive with personal possessions they either wanted to pawn or sell and his fascination with vintage was born. ” I developed a love for these things from an early age “, he says looking around his shop with fond eyes ” and when my father passed away, it was upto me to take it further. I worked hard to increase the business and built it up slowly.”
Thus began a journey of watching out for sales, listening to the grapevine, hunting down people who wanted to sell and move on, travelling to contact other dealers and visit old houses that were up for auction or being knocked down. ” Where all do you travel ? ” I ask. ” Mangalore, Goa, so many places ” he says. In the beginning people came slowly, but now, his list of loyal clientle extends as far as the US. ” They always come whenever they are in town ” he says with a smile. It is mostly word of mouth.” I pack it well, so they can take what they find here back home with them “.
He shows me around enthusiastically, but states that this is nothing compared to what he has stashed away in his house. ” A lot of the furniture is there “. I admire the brass utensils from Karaikudi, the grandfather clocks on the wall and his collection of vinyl records. ” I have over 1500 over there ” he says proudly. And then he brings out a little red velvet tray, on which are his collection of vintage pocket watches and what he calls ” Gandhi glasses ‘. I am instantly transported to another era. He puts them on to show me how authentic they really are and beams. A long time ago, some distinguished gentleman of fine means must have owned that pocket watch, just as a South Indian housewife in her nine yard sari must have packed lunch for her family in that big brass tiffin box sitting on the table outside. He is wistful when he tells me about his personal stamp collection that he has no time for these days and then opens a packet of bread to feed the stray dog hovering nearby.
“I also have some original Lucas carbon cycle lamps ” he says conspiratorially. I gasp. In 1860, Joseph Lucas started Joseph Lucas & Son ( Harry joining him in 1872) which initially made lamps for ships and then moved into oil and acetylene lamps for bicycles from 1879. In 1914, the company was contracted to supply the Morris Motor Company with electrical equipment and during WWI, Lucas also made shells, fuses and electrical components for military vehicles.
Preethi, Mahaveerchandji’s charmingly dimpled daughter tells me that they sell furniture, clocks, glassware, vintage cameras and `so many other things’. Her love is glassware. `Cutglass’ she says with a smile. She supervises the shop full time with her father and shares his love for everything in it. Then she shows me the Agfa, unfurling its accordion folds with a click. ( I have one just like it at home – my grandfather’s). I am tempted to buy the moonfaced alarm clock but the memory of that sharp trill at 4 am, waking me up to study during my exams makes me put it back instantly. Some memories definitely do not need revisiting !
Mahaveerchandji’s shop is a curious, little place stocked with stories and nostalgia. Did the roll top hide a few love letters while the Tanjore’s were being taken down from the walls of a mansion that had evidently seen better days ? I don’t know. What I do know, is that these posessions now sit in a space where they are well cared for. And one day, just like in the movies, it will be love at first sight. Someone will then take them away to a place where they will be cherished just as much.
” Do you think this new Bangalore has affected your business ? ” I ask. ” No, ” he says ” with a smile so like his daughter’s. ” It has actually increased now because everyone wants to go back to the past “.
Mahaveerchandji’s shop is open from 10 am – 8pm, Monday – Saturday. It is closed on Sundays and from 2-4 pm for lunch. Find it at # 26, Berlie Street, Langford Town. Ph : 90082 50550