Wonders of India: The Warehouse of Mr. Negi

New block-print duvet design

New block-print duvet design

We come to India to work.  No, seriously, we do.  It’s just that one happy part of our business is going to great places and buying beautiful things.  One of our favorite places is the warehouse of Mr. Negi.

antique mask from MahrashtraMr.Negi, a native of Siliguri (the jumping-off point in East India for Sikkim- see the last two blogs) used to have a tribal art and antique business in Nepal, but was forced to leave three years ago when the Maoists made life too difficult for non-Nepalese.  He moved his entire collection to a warehouse near Delhi, which is three delightful levels of dusty treasure of all descriptions.  What drew us to him originally was his Tibetan doors, and he has a substantial assortment of architectural oddities including totemic water buffalo gates and Tantric prayer shrines.   We can’t possibly haul such big pieces around in a moving shop, but we couldn’t resist two amazing masks.  One is recent, and from Sikkim: red-faced Mahakala, who turns the wheel of life and death.  It was used in temple dance festivals there.  The other is an antique from Maharastra. That is all Mr. Negi knew about it and we couldn’t find out wood-bowlanything more from the internet, but it’s an obvious masterpiece.  These are the only two we have.  If you would like to put in an offer on either, the starting price is listed below.

If you came to our sales last year, you might have noticed a large hand-carved bowl on the scarf table that we used for display.  We only had one, and we could’ve sold it many times over.  This year we have lots, in three sizes (which being individual hand-made pieces, vary.  The one pictured here is medium. Large are roughly 30″ to 36″ in diameter , and metal water potssmall are 12″ to 18″).  Prices for these and other things are also listed below.

On the topic of containers, we are also stocking far more of these old metal water jugs.  We sold out before most people had a chance to see them last year.

New in the store are two things (among many others) that caught our fancy: a very elegant display bowl carved from a single piece of wood, (approx. 20 inches high) from Nepal, and a curious figure that could be used as a “grump” receptacle.  Mr. GrumpsHad a bad day?  Is your kid having a bad day?  Well, transfer that negative energy to “Mr. Grumps”, and everyone will feel so much better!  They are from Nepal, and approx. 12 inches tall.

It would be far too exhaustive to post all of our new goods here. I’ll try to get more up on the web site.  Wood and metal objects, however interesting, aren’t our main business, and we have increased our selection of scarves (if you can believe it) and started a new line of duvet covers.  These we are very excited about, since they take hand block-printing to a block print designnew level.  We found Vikram in an exhaustive search of Sanganeer (the block printing capital of the world).  We were actually trying to find a legendary screen-printer, whose name we had and lost, who made designs like no one has seen before.  We never did find him, and decided to give up when we came across Vikram.  Vikram has a small production unit and only displays outside of India at the Maison d’Object juried show in Paris.  Katheryn nearly bit her arm off keeping our selection down to six designs.  The beauty of Vikram’s pieces is that they are all reversable, having a complimentary pattern on each side (as are the pillows).  All the sets are queen size, done on high-quality cambric cotton.

This year’s trip to Delhi was made all the more pleasant by the presence of our friend Boris.  We met Boris in Burma in 2005, and always get together with him in Bangkok where he has a business designing and producing décor goods for Europe.  With the drop in the value of the Euro, and the general economic down-turn on the continent Boris decided to come to India to see what could be sourced here.  He came with us to Mr. Negi’s, and loved the stuff, but since he requires uniform production on a much bigger scale, it wasn’t for him.  Then we accompanied him to Moradabad which is a city about four hours east of Delhi where much of the country’s metal work takes place.  Most of the goods weren’t what we were looking for, but we found tiffinwhere two of the things we love in India are made.  One is a stainless steel serving bowl with an electric-plated copper coating, which is given a hand-hammered finish. We have admired them in good-quality restaurants all over India.  The other is the “tiffin container”.  It is the “Indian lunch box”, a masterpiece of simplicity consisting of stacking stainless steel bowls which hold the curries, rice and rotis separate, and are all held together by a clamp which acts as a standhandle.  Now, what we could do is start producing our own line, and even have the stacking bowls done in different colours.  The question is are the Gulf Islands ready for it?

Price list:

Antique Maharashtra mask $460.

Bhutan Mahakala mask $250.

Wood bowls Large $75; Medium $50; Small $35.Mahakala Mask from Bhutan

Metal water pots $50.

Mr. Grumps Statues $40.

Stand carved from single piece of wood $180

Our shipment from India is just being finalized.  If you want first dibs on any of the above items, drop us an email, and we will hold them when they arrive in Vancouver in April.  Then we will arrange to have them shipped, picked up or delivered.  Shipping from Vancouver is extra.

We wish everybody all the best in the New Year,

Your Foreign Devil Correspondents,

David and Katheryn

This week in Delhi

Delhi gossip
This week in the Delhi: the political arm of the Hindu fundamentalists, the BJP, has just won its third consecutive majority in Gujarat state, and the cadres are feeling frisky. They stage a large rally in the capital, and make sure it will be well attended by busing in loads of villagers from the countryside. We are on one of our usual rabbit-runs through the city, taking the metro from a suburb where our duvets are being made to New Delhi station to change money at the jewellery shop in Pahar Ganj which gives the best rates in the city. When we return to the metro station, even in this land of immense crowds, we are taken aback. There appears to be a line to go through the security check (where I, like everyone else, am always frisked, and my bag always checked), that extends four deep all the way up the stairs. There must be 500 people in line. We do the Indian thing, and see if we can get to the front of the queue. Fortunately, this huge group seem to be all together, and not at the moment trying to get to the metro. Later we learn that they were some of the 100,000 people who tied up the city with their rallies and marches. And the issue that is so important to them? They want the supreme court to rule that the shallow submerged shoals between India and Sri Lanka are the remains of a bridge constructed by the monkey army of the god Rama, and not a natural formation. People have already died over this issue, and the BJP and their right-wing cronies see it as a way to either galvanize the Hindu vote for themselves, or force the secular parties into an increasingly hindu-ized position.

We have been spending a lot of time in Delhi, and not from any particular attraction to the place. Apart from the Tibetan Colony, where we stay, it doesn’t really generate a great deal of affection. At this time of year the winter winds are blowing, and we are in a cold-spell which is seeing night-time lows plunging to 3 degrees. For Delhiites, this is silk shawlbliss, since most of the year they endure +40 and dust, but we whine and pull on our down jackets. What Delhi has become for us is a production center. We make 3/4 of our bedding here now, dealing with Deepak, who has a small but modern factory with good light and new sewing machines, swatch books and numbered dye-lots. In the same neighbourhood is the husband and wife team of Parminder and Amrita. They know everything about scarves, and expose a lot of the myths that we have been fed from other less-reliable sources. Silk cotton viscose rayon and all the varieties of wool… there are some detailvery good imitations and unscrupulous dealers out there. Within the environs of Delhi and the neighbouring Punjab is where much of the post-handloom production for these goods takes place, and Parminder personally oversees the patterns and fiber content of his scarves. One of the most beautiful things we find is a woolen shawl with Kashmiri embroidery. These are still made by hand in Kashmir, and they are amazing, and they cost a fortune. The ones we buy are Punjabi-made, and although the embroidery is done with a machine, it still is the result of the skill of the worker using the machine, and is hardly less impressive. An embroiderer makes 320 rupees/day, compared to the minimum wage of 150 rp, and it takes 2 1/2 days to do the most ornate shawls. A hand-embroidered shawl of the same complexity takes a month. We also find some fun things, like the classic Delhi carry-all, the recycleddelhi carry-all advertising bag. These were originally made to promote everything from toothpaste to Bollywood blockbusters, and are the everyman’s bag in this city.

“Go to the source” is our motto, and it has led us on many wild chases throughout the less-travelled parts of this country. Last year we crammed into one rattle-trap bus after another, traversing all the small pitstops (and flea-pits) of western Rajasthan searching for the source of the tribal embroidery sindhi detailwork for our wall hangings. Then we found Kishor, in Jaipur. Kishor’s family is from Sindh, in southern Pakistan, and was displaced during the disaster of partition in 1947. His grandfather was in the textile business, and they moved to Barmer, across the border in Rajasthan. We also went to Barmer, hearing that it was where much of the embroidery comes from. It turns out that this is like going to Saskatchewan to buy bread because that is where wheat comes from. The embroidery certainly passes through Barmer, some of it local, some from Gujarat, and much, now, from Pakistan. But it baluchistan zarifilters through all the villages, and very little can be found in any one place. Dealers like Kishor and his father buy it from many sources, and then are able to amass a reasonably good selection. Once again, the rapidly changing times in India are evident: much of the best Indian tribal work is getting harder to come by, and is being replaced by characterless modern embroidery. The best stuff now comes from Pakistan, from Sindh and Baluchistan, and we find some wonderful pieces at Kishor’s.

The challenge to doing business in India is still largely a hangover from the days of the “permit raj”. The bureaucracy was inherited from the British, but the status of possessing a government job that had to be jealously guarded was an Indian development. It was therefore far more important for the clerk to make sure that there would always be a need for him than to actually get anything done, and he became the “Raj” of his own little “Permit-aucracy”. The bugbear for us is the IEC number. Every merchant we buy from has to have one, otherwise our goods can’t be sent as a commercial shipment. Even when they have the IEC#, each supplier is treated as a Topkayseparate shipment, and the costs multiply accordingly. If we come across a local artisan producing treasure, we have to carry it out with us in our luggage. Sometimes we just can’t pass it up, as with Topkay, the Tibetan gentleman who sits at the corner of our alley everyday beading bags. Fortunately, Parminder agreed to do us a favour and include Topkay’s bags in his shipment (for a price, but that was reasonable), and we put bead detailin a sizable order with him. Topkay has been at his corner everyday we have been here, but the day after we payed him he wasn’t. I hope that with the little windfall we gave him, Topkay took a holiday.