In the pomp and show of Hauz Khas Village’s ‘Ladies Nights’, it’s easy to forget its quiet back lanes which are still trying to stay true to how the urban village originally started out – as a rare cultural hub. Tucked into one of these back lanes, facing the enormous Deer Park, is a tiny antique store, All Arts, run by 48-year-old Deepak Jain. Situated in a basement, the store is easy to miss but for the windows that give casual passersby a glimpse into its quaint world.
Started in 2001, the store sells old Hindi film posters, black and white postcards, old artefacts and several small trinkets that will make one wonder about their origins. The petite shop is arranged carefully, with an effort to hang the medium-sized posters on one wall, frames of retro pop art and advertisements on another wall, stacks of the larger posters in one corner, and several small artefacts placed over ledges and low tables. A few moorhas (stools) are placed in a small walking passage, the only surface in the store that is unoccupied by obscure pieces of history. With Delhi’s dust and pollution, it’s a wonder how every nook of the shop is spotless.
Jain himself is particular about every item at All Arts. He describes how each piece, sourced from various suppliers in and around Delhi, first arrives at his warehouse in Gurgaon, where it is painstakingly put in a protective plastic sheet and numbered before it makes its way to the store in south Delhi. “The condition is of most importance. Everything in my shop is perfectly taken care of,” says Jain, as he advises his clients to keep the posters and tin boxes away from moisture.
For Jain, the love for old things ignited at an early age. Growing up, his family used to run a shop for lithographs and old books – so setting up All Arts was the natural progression for him, in some ways. Running the store is simply something he’s passionate about and enjoys doing, even if he doesn’t make a sale every day. “Most of my customers are casual buyers, not serious collectors,” Jain says.
The demographics of his customers vary, with most showing up to buy posters of Amitabh Bachchan films from the 1970s. Jain himself, however, has little patience for watching these films. He can barely recall the name of the famous actress who came to his store a few years ago (it was Vidya Balan, she bought a few postcards, Jain recollects unsurely). What he does hold dear at his store are original political propaganda posters, some dating as far back as the 1930s. There’s one honouring the “self-sacrifice of the heroes of Sholapur”, issued in Cawnpore (Kanpur), another announcing Jawaharlal Nehru’s anshan (hunger strike) issued in Lahore – each holds a unique place in time and has a story to tell, from typeface to slogan. The posters, both the film and the political ones, are priced anywhere between Rs 1,000 to Rs 3000.
Another artefact that makes time stand still are black and white photos from abandoned albums, which have curiously made their way to the shop. These are photos of anonymous faces captured during intimate family moments, like a ceremonious dinner or a baby’s first trip to the Taj Mahal. Sometimes even old wedding albums have surfaced. Jain wonders why anyone would abandon their wedding album, but there’s no fool-proof way to tell how the photographs may have landed at the shop. It feels almost voyeuristic to look at the photographs, but there are takers who see their priceless ethnographic value, nevertheless.
In over a decade at Hauz Khas Village, Jain has seen the milieu around him change drastically. Once a quiet art hub with galleries, boutiques and the picturesque Sultanate period monument in the background, the boom of eateries and restaurants has altered the nature of the area. Rents have skyrocketed to the point that many old-timers have had to shut shop and relocate. One of the original shops at Hauz Khas Village, All Arts has persisted through the village’s metamorphosis into a gentrified watering hole for the masses. But Jain seems to espouse no bitterness. He’s happy with the young, college crowd that comes in, even if they only browse and leave. Through HKV’s rise, decline and rise, All Arts keeps its doors open patiently and with love, and the right patron eventually walks in.
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