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The joys of second hand shopping

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There is a beautiful cylindrical container made of silver, copper and brass in a shelf in my home. In alternating ovals around its sides, this vessel has images of Shiva as Nataraja, and Devi as his consort Sivakami embossed in silver. I found this little treasure at a shop in my neighbourhood that sprang up overnight under the title ‘Muthu Second Hand Furniture Shop’. While the shop did not last more than a couple of years, it served to awaken in me a trait that I must have in common with many others – the passion for finding objects of value in the midst of seeming junk.Shopping for books, household objects, or artifacts in second-hand markets is an intensely pleasurable, albeit an occasionally frustrating occupation. Anybody who has browsed in the ‘New and Secondhand Bookshop’ off the Metro Cinema square in Mumbai will vouch for the delight they felt at finding Rajni Palme Dutt’s turn-of-the-century treatise on India, or similar such tome. I grew up in Mumbai and went to college in St. Xavier’s, the college nearest to this treasure trove of books. My friends and I were used to finding the best literature, politics, philosophy, all at very reasonable prices. The pavements at Flora Fountain also yielded their delights to me in those days – hardbound books by Gerald Durrell, with loving inscriptions from parents to their son or daughter!

Calcuttans I met swore by the second hand book market on College Street near Presidency College, while Delhiites have their weekly bookfest on the pavements of Daryaganj. What is making book lovers these days shake their heads in some dismay is the gradual decay of these once-flourishing bazaars. Not only are they being eroded by the shiny new culture of conspicuous consumption, but also by the nature of the books being sold. In place of the ‘higher knowledge’ tomes of yore, what is found in abundance today are books on Computers or Management, and innumerable ‘Guides’ for all kinds of courses.

xsrc=”" mce_src=”" WIDTH=”200″ HEIGHT=”140″ BORDER=”0″ ALT=”" align=”left”>Still, the diehard second-hand shopper need not confine himself or herself to mere books. In Mumbai’s Chor Bazaar, you can shop for very interesting throwaways from the past – from crystal whisky decanters and swords in their scabbards to grandfather clocks and brass nutcrackers. In the early eighties, I enjoyed browsing with my friends in the lanes of Ahmedabad’s Ratan Pol area. We looked in several shops selling old brass and copper vessels, and I found some charming vessels, uniquely shaped, with the former owner’s names painstakingly inscribed in Gujarati script on them. I still have those pots that have become even more precious with age.

What makes second-hand shopping interesting is the surprise element. You can be browsing through objects of absolutely worthless appearance, and suddenly chance upon something you feel you cannot do without! But such surprises do not come without their costs in patience. And do not expect the whole world to share your enthusiasm or delight in your shopping. As you exclaim over your find, you might draw strange looks from loved ones, including your husband or wife!

Which is probably why we second-hand shoppers enjoy our particular pastime so much in the first place. It expresses our individuality – our special willingness to look for value where others have stopped trying.

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