In a quiet corner of Delhi is a rare and awesome collection of numerous antiques, built painstakingly over the years by collector Sandeep Katari. Come, join us on this magical journey steeped in history
By Shobha John
Photos by Anil Shakya
Once the bug has bitten me, I can’t let go. It’s like wooing a girl.” With these gripping words, Sandeep Katari, a Delhi-based collector, shows the depth of his passion for eclectic items. Walking into his museum in a three-stor-eyed house in a quiet corner of Jaunapur village in Mehrauli, South Delhi, is like stepping into Aladdin’s Cave. One’s eyes scramble to absorb the treasures displayed there, be it old books, cars, bikes, scooters, horse-drawn carriages, clocks, airplane models, swords, furniture or lamps. History and nostalgia jostle with each other, making one wish that one had an entire day to browse around his firm, Advintage.
COME INTO MY PARLOR
The inside of the Ford has been renovated with teak, brocade and silk. The silver lunch carrier and goblets complete a picture of opulence
It is a labor of love. Sandeep’s entire life has been devoted to collecting old items and restoring them to their pristine glory, though he admits that it can never be as good as the original. It is obvious that he has an eye and a hand for restoration, as the work is neat and though items are cheek-by-jowl in his museum, they are well-looked after
I WANT A MAKEOVER TOO Body of a dilapidated Ford
The most stunning vehicle can be found in his workshop, 10 minutes away. It is a 1928 Ford “Doli” car, which has been under renovation for three years, and recently took part in the Cartier show in Delhi.
VIEW IN A ROOM: The first floor of the museum holds all kinds of knick-knacks
GOLDEN MOMENT Imported number plates and a Belo camera with glass negatives
The law & vintage cars
In a knee-jerk reaction to increasing pollution in the capital, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has banned 15-year-old vehicles, including vintage cars. While NGT’s attempts to clean Delhi’s noxious air are laudable, what many question is the rationale behind this banning. After all, these vehicles are part of our glorious heritage.
“Nowhere in the world are vintage cars banned as they are hardly driven,” says Sandeep Katari, head of Advintage, a firm dealing with vintage vehicles and other memorabilia. “It should be a matter of pride that we have so many vintage cars and people can enjoy the sheer range of them. We too are worried about the wear and tear of these vehicles and spend a huge amount to make them road-worthy,” he said.
An NGT bench headed by Justice Swatanter Kumar had issued an order last November saying 15-year-old vehicles were to be seized as per the Motor Vehicles Act. This order had almost felled various vintage car rallies, such as the 21 Gun Salute International Vintage Car Rally to be held in February and the ITC Grand Bharat Inaugural Vintage Car Rally in March. However, the bench gave a one-time exception to both rallies on the pleas of organizations, such as the 21 Gun Salute one and the Heritage Motoring Club of India and allowed them to take place.
The NGT had pulled up the Delhi government for not fully implementing its directions to curb vehicular pollution. “What steps have you taken in furtherance to our orders dated November 26, 2014? You have a whole team of officers at your disposal, still you have done
nothing,” the bench said.
While the one-time exception comes as a breather for these car enthusiasts, they say it is unfair that each time there is a rally, they require permission. There is a lot of difference between a 15-year-old car and a 100-year-old one, they stress. “These cars are part of our history; how can they be banned and what will happen to the livelihood of those restoring them?” asks Sandeep.
Will old Austins, Fords, Buicks and Cadillac Convertibles become relics never to be seen again except in museums?
When the car was found by Rajeev Joseph, a Delhi-based businessman, it was just a piece of scrap lying on a Delhi pavement for 23 years. It was given to Sandeep for restoration, and today gets its finishing touches. The shiny red and gold car with vintage opera lights has beautiful interiors done up in brocade, silk and teak. “This was actually a bridal car and when the opera lights were switched on, it meant the car had to be given right of way. It was used in the movie ‘Gandhi’ as a jail van,” informs Sandeep.
OPEN SESAME This horse-drawn carriage was bought by a Bangalore businessman and will be part of a museum. Made of teak, it has unusual doors whichcan slide up and down as well as open out
These collections are picked up from all parts of India, especially Kolkata, where Sandeep found many imperial items. “I started collecting car memorabilia after college and branched out into a business of car accessories, upholstery, etc. But 15 years back, I chucked the whole thing, much to the astonishment of my family and started collecting and restoring full-time,” reminisces Sandeep. “Through agents and word-of-mouth, I would scout for collections all over India and verify their authenticity.” He admits that, at first, it was difficult as there was no eBay to fall back on like today. There were times when he got fooled too.
Is This a Cycle? The Sunbeam bike was manufactured in 1926 in the UK and has back lights made of brass, a small leather bag on the side and a horn with a hilarious hooting sound
Watch Out A French bayonet from the Napoleon army
Handy Tool A walking stick from Kanpur with an elephant ivory head and a gold band
News of his workmanship has spread over the years and today, people from all walks of life seek him out to restore items that they found dilapidated in some junkyard. With the help of the net and old pictures, Sandeep then works his magic on them.
His oldest item is a newspaper from the 1780s. His first renovation was a Hindustan 14 in 1992, followed by a BSA motorcycle which he got on a bullock cart from Soami Nagar in Delhi.
Many of the collections are from the UK, for which Sandeep has a special affinity. “In terms of art décor, furniture and period pieces, one can’t beat British stuff,” he attests.
Bed of Roses This elegant bedroom has a 150-year-old engraved bed made of Burma teak,100-year-old green windows from Kolkata and a simple French bookcase
Sandeep’s hunt for antique items led to interesting encounters and people. He remembers going to Chitrakoot in Madhya Pradesh for a Studebaker car, which, he was told, had been impounded by the police in the 1930s for carrying drugs. It was auctioned by the police.
He didn’t manage to buy the car, though.“Many people are unwilling to sell their vintage cars due the sentiment associated with them.”One of his most difficult buys was a book from a dealer in Dehradun, which had newspaper cuttings of the 1911 Delhi Durbar and 1914 World War I.
“He refused to sell it despite both of us meeting for over two years, till, through sheer perseverance and doggedness, I managed to get it for a princely sum.The bug had bitten me.”
Bookworm A book with newspaper cuttings of the 1911 Delhi Durbar held to commemorate the coronation of King George V and Queen Mary as Emperor and Empress of India. It was procured by Sandeep from a dealer after much bargaining
But maintaining all this paraphernalia and restoring old cars to their pristine glory is not easy and takes months and sometimes, years. Sandeep has a team of 8-10 workers—painters, welders, carpenters, denters—working on 4-5 cars at any given point of time.
His love for antiques can be seen in the other assorted stuff in his museum. The second floor of the museum houses a 150-year-old bed which he lugged all the way from Kolkata. Made of Burma teak and beautifully engraved, this “khat” covered by a colorful patchwork quilt, is matched by 100-year-old green windows, again from Kolkata. Along with a simple, elegant French bookcase, the room exudes a picture of quiet elegance.
Does his family share his craze for old stuff? “No”, he says, “they consider this junk. Sustaining this interest is difficult and one can’t make money in this business. There are too many overheads, workers’ salaries, etc.”
Moment in History The front page of these newspapers announce two historic events-
Partition of India and the assassination of US President John F Kennedy
Victorian Times This 1890 French horse-drawn carriage was found in a sorry condition in Rajasthan. Made from teak wood, it has a brass bell near the foot of the driver
Harley on diet This 1926 bike is 350cc and was one of 1000 Harley-Davidsons made then. All were exported. Americans, used as they were to heavy bikes, didn’t like these slim models. Don’t miss the heavy brass light
Though Sandeep has not promoted his museum at all, being a self-effacing man, it does seem a shame that it isn’t savored by more people. One is reluctant to leave this world steeped in history and charm. But then, work and the chaotic world outside beckons. Till another day.
A single horsecart which was driven in competitions
Light of my Life A Fiat 1919 which was bought from Mumbai eight years back. It has only three doors, as the driver’s side is closed with a stepney and the bonnet has latches to open it
AM I LOOKING GRAND? This is a 1937 Packard 110, restored for a client
Time Waits Hand-wound clocks from the early 1900s
(Those wanting to visit the museum can phone Sandeep Katari on 9873033111)