Chicken market across from
|The Antique Dealer: Mar. 9th
|This evening brought fulfillment of an old obligation, the
introduction of two friends, Chandrasekhar, an antique dealer, and Satish Kumar, manager
of the best sculpture gallery in town.
|I first met Chandrasekhar when we visited his house/gallery
near to our house. His house contained room after room of century-old teak ornamentation,
pieces of house carvings from the south of India, carved bargeboards similar to Victorian
trim, elephant finials, jackfruit capitals, Narasimha/Yalu frames, ivory tables, and the
occasional priceless Tanjore painting. As we wandered about his house we would discuss
carving, business, and art. His carvings were disappearing, and soon the generation of
people who can produce this art will disappear. Chandrasekhar wanted to continue the
ornamental tradition by mass-producing the work. During the discussions I had with
machinists, engineers, and metalsmiths, I gathered enough human expertise together to
duplicate his pieces in metal molds, ensuring their life into the next century. This is
how we became friends.
|Chandrasekhar has a funny sense of humor - most uncommon.
After a ride in my tiny Maruti Esteem, he remarked that my car was like a virgin.
"How so", I asked? "Seems like its hard to get in and out, but
its very pleasant once youre inside" was his gentle reply. A man whose
mind was as flawed as my own!
|Chandrasekhar is getting ready for his next life. His wife,
who started the antique business, has died. His two daughters have gotten married and
moved to Canada and America. Despite Chandrasekhars obvious energy, the effects of
age, loneliness, and a progressively debilitating muscular dystrophy are visibly effecting
his joyful spirit. In one of our many visits together he asked me if I could find a lady
to help him with the store. Someone who enjoyed the business. And please, he asked,
"Find someone who is Indian". I recommend to Chandrasekhar that he take on a
business partner instead, and suggest that he meet my other friend Satish Kumar, the
sculpture dealer. Satish was made the same proposal and agreed. Finally, after months of
delay, I am happy to have them together tonight.
|Satish Kumar is the first merchant I met in Bangalore. I
steered towards his shop like a divining rod to water. We became instant friends when he
showed me a piece of sculpture, and talked knowledgeably about it. Never, but never, did I
get "All one piece sir" from Satish. Instead I got to hold and examine
twelfth-century ivorys and fourteenth-century bronzes. As I bought more and more
sculpture, and learned more about Indian stpathis, and shilpis we also bonded.
Gentle people both, I was sure that Chandrasekhar and Satish would like each other.
|The discussions that evening naturally centered around the
business. We talked about other dealers, who was reputable, who wasnt. Satish
acquired his trade by working with OmPrakesh Natesan, the grandson of the original
Natesan, who built his company into a five country business with sales of Indian sculpture
in places like London, Paris, etc. We talked about OmPrakeshs sales tactics, his
propensity for lying, and staging. His ability to bring out pieces as if they were rare
jewels. I only bought one piece at Natesans in my entire two years there. My last
conversation with them started out as "All one piece sir, finest quality sir". I
remarked to Satish how OmPrakesh was good at selling poor quality pieces at high quality
prices. Satish didnt approve either, hence his own store. Good for Satish.
|We talked about partnerships and trust. Customers and
customer service. Funny stories ensued about crime. As an example, suppose you sell a
piece to Raj. Later say another customer, Vijay comes back, and says "Gee I really
wanted that piece, its too bad its sold". Your response is to say
"Oh, I know where I can get another just like it, but it will cost almost 50%
more". Vijay, heartsick he no longer has the piece, says "Go ahead, Ill
pay it". Then you go back to Raj, and say, "Raj, I just found out that the piece
is an archeological treasure and is protected against sale - I need to give it back, the
police want it". You pay off Raj, then go to Vijay, give him the piece and collect
50% more. These types of stories are distressingly familiar (as I was sadly discovering on
|Other customer service stories ensued. I learned that
Indians regard everything as customizable. Chandrasekhar said that he had learned an
American concept last year that was very valuable "This piece is sold As
Is". Satish laughed and told about hanging a huge art frame. The owner about a
crack he made in the wall, and made him repaint the wall behind the frame. Since the paint
didnt match, he ended up repainting the entire house.
|The most amusing stories were about bullock carts.
Chandrasekhar took out pictures of old carts made from saalwood (a very hard and heavy
wood) and brass. These were the Mercedes-Benz of bullock carts folks. Satish became very
excited by these pictures, and outlined how he converted the bullock carts into bars in
|It was a successful evening. Satishs wife kept
waiting on Chandrasekhar, and saying "Uncle, can I do..." They will work
together to save some of Indias heritage from the ravages of monsoons and termites,
while building a business in the process.
Off to make dinner...