If you are looking for antique furniture in Mumbai, there is a large market for teakwood and rosewood furniture at Jogeshwari in north suburban Bombay. It is a market where a few shops selling old furniture started business forty years ago. Over the last decade, the antique market here at the Oshiwara bridge on S.V.Road has grown with more number of shops dealing in antique furniture.
Each of these shops is actually a linear space less than 15 feet wide and upto 80 feet long. There is no formal entrance or a shopfront. As you stand on the street, you see an unending passage. You enter and there are teakwood cabinets and rosewood chairs stacked up on one side. You inspect them as you walk along and go deeper into the shop. The linear dark space in the front opens up into an open-to-sky backyard that has natural sunlight streaming in and which is mostly the workshop area. Often, this is where the mending and the polishing of the furniture happens. This area has tools and implements that hang from its walls.
‘Mohd.Idris Khan & Sons’ is one of the older shops here. Idris Khan explains that he has 6-7 artisans at a time, working in his warehouse, where they mend antique pieces and also make new furniture based on old, traditional designs. He pays each of them Rs.350 per day. When you look around at the pieces in the shop that have been newly created, you know that Idris Khan has some very good craftsmen. They are from Nepal and West Bengal mostly.
The shop has an album of photographs of furniture that have been made in the past or from what clients have sent them. One can order from this collection or give them other designs and they can deliver what you need. Idris Khan’s son, Mohamed Ahmed Khan explains that they are very careful in their choice of wood. They use Old Burma teak and Rosewood as much as possible, which is sourced from Mustafa Bazaar in South Bombay. The superior quality rosewood comes from Cochin where old, traditional constructions are continually being demolished.
Ahmed Khan gives us further insights into their sourcing efforts. They have identified that the carrom boards made in India more than 40-50 years ago were made of rosewood that did not have knots. It was important to use a knotless rosewood frame so that the striker would bounce off well. Now, this is the rosewood section (almost 2ft x 2ft) that is used by Mohd.Idris Khan & Sons’ for sculpting out a curved arm for a chair. They had a sample on display and it was a beautifully executed piece of craftsmanship. Presently, they have 12 carrom boards in stock for such use. They presume that it was the same company that manufactured these carrom boards.
Ahmed Khan is the liason between the customer and the artisan. He understands the needs of the customer, adapts from the resources available and generates the design for the artisan. Ahmed Khan has no fear of their innovative ideas of sourcing and designing being replicated elsewhere. He affirms that it is the skill of the artisan that ultimately creates an exquisite piece and that is not easily replicable or easily found.
A planter’s chair, with long armrests, found in many traditional kerala houses is on sale for Rs.8000. An ornately carved four-poster bed is priced at Rs.1,00,000 (a hundred thousand). Ahmed Khan explains sadly that although he will find a buyer for this piece, it is most likely to be someone from outside India. He wishes that more people in India would be interested in the antique furniture. He says that it is only the Parsis and the Christians who still aspire to have antique furniture to decorate their homes. The Parsis are not only the people to sell furniture to, but are also the ones to buy good pieces from. Ahmed Khan believes that no one cares for his antique furniture as much as the Parsis do and that the most delicate pieces have been preserved well only in the Parsi homes in Bombay and elsewhere. In many Indian cities now, people seem to be interested in buying Italian or Malaysian furniture. These are made of particle board or synthetic boards and are neither functionally or aesthetically close to the traditional Indian pieces that are available here. Mohd.Idris Khan & Sons can be contacted at 022-26781339 or emailed at email@example.com
As I chat in Hindi with a taxi driver while travelling in Mumbai, he tells me that he is building a house for his family in Muzaffarpur in Bihar and plans to buy good solid wooden doors from the Jogeshwari antique market. I ask if his town continues to have indigenous architecture or buildings made with local materials. He says most traditional houses have been replaced by modern concrete constructions. Naseer also adds that their prophet has written that “Jab sab ghar pakke hoh jayenge, toh samajh lena ki pralay ah gaya hai”