City Landmark – Nizamuddin’s Curio Corner, Metropole Market
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
A painted portrait of King “George Pancham” at the Delhi durbar. A Romeo y Julieta cigar box from pre-revolution Cuba. A helicopter model from some unspecified country. A metallic telephone with a separate handset. A tiny marble elephant illuminated from within by a faint pink light. A mini gramophone. A box filled with wads of British India postage stamps. A cardboard LP music record. A hand-crafted wooden chariot from Vietnam. A delicate marble inlay tile (sourced from a bathroom!). And many black-and-white photographs, and many out-of-print books.
Alibaba’s cave was a mere tale. This cave is for real. Tucked in the deepest corner of the little-known Metropole Market complex in Old Delhi’s Gali Tehsildar, in Kucha Dakhni Rai, shop no. 7 is crammed with thousands of old objects. “Past is precious,” states curio merchant Nizamuddin, sitting amid piles of relics, his arms folded.
The collection has been a devotional work of several years. Nizamuddin scouts around the dusty crowded capital searching for “antiques”—in places like the Sunday Kabadi Market in Meena Bazar, the Shani Bazar in Karkardooma, the Ghorawala Market in Tilak Nagar, the Mangal Market in Okhla, and the Sunday Book Bazar in Mahila Haat. He also has contacts with veteran junk/scrap dealers in “posh” South Delhi and Gurugram. “But I never acquire old objects obtained from a house following the owner’s death.”
In his archive of antiques, Nizamuddin is most possessive about his collection of coins. He opens a steel trunk, filled with coins from the USA, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Austria, Hungary, Peru, Brazil, Romania, UK, Sudan, Iraq, Iran, France, Yemen, Oman and Tanzania. He lifts the lid of another trunk. It is filled with coins from India’s many eras. The copper coins are priced within the range of 300 rupees and 1000 rupees; the silver coins start from 800 rupees. “I feel like crying when I have to sell a rare coin.”
Nizamuddin started with the antiques in the early 1990s as an assistant to “Ustad Sabir,” at the latter’s pavement stall in the legendary Kabadi Bazar that used to be held every Sunday behind the Red Fort. (It was also the performing site of the famous Salim who would thrill the audience by levitating high in the air.) “Ustad Sabir not only taught me about the value of purani things, but also the wisdom of selling those valuable things at an affordable price so that buyers return for more.”
Posing for a portrait, Nizamuddin remarks that sometimes “when I am alone in the shop, I look at the antiques, remembering that I picked up this thing long ago from this place and that thing long ago from that place, and then I feel nice about my life.”