“Saheb, please come in. We have a fantastic collection that will suit your taste. Deewanji has just called telling us to serve you the best, “the owner of the shop welcomed me as I approached the marvellous fifteenth-century statue of Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge, in sandstone. I knew it was a real one. In fact, it was the subject of my first seminar that I delivered thirty years ago at the museology school in Baroda.
“You have the anchor validation certificate of this statue?” I asked as we moved ahead to zero down the deal. “Yes, hukum,” he leaned with grace, “Please share your membership number?”
“What membership?” I asked in bewilderment.
The owner first looked at me with suspicion. But he must have thought of our discussion on the statue, its uniqueness, authenticity, and history. After a pause, he said in a compassionate voice, “Saheb, it appears that you are buying such a piece for the first time in Udaipur?”
“Yes, but I told that to Deewanji before he sent me to your shop.”, “I mean, gallery,” I have noticed earlier that calling his collection a shop did not go well with the old guy.
“Yes, Saheb, but we cannot discuss a trade without your membership number.” He politely asserted.
“Look, I am a museologist. I am buying this for the Vitthaldas Ramnikdas Museum in Ahmedabad. It is a privately owned gallery but run by a trust of the research centre. You must have heard about the trustee, the famous Shreyasbhai of VR mills?”
I was traveling to Udaipur to attend the enthronement ceremony of the new King. I received the prestigious invitation because I wrote two articles in the Idols and Statues with a detailed account of the history and fantastic conservation efforts of the Yaksha statues in the palace. Meanwhile, Shreyasbhai had asked me to buy a good piece of the Maru-Gurjara style. He had cash, and he knew I will bring the original one.
“Yes Sir, I remember Shreyasbhai Saheb attended the enthronement ceremony of hukum Bade Ranaji fifteen years ago.”
“Then what membership are you talking about?”
“ Saheb, after the smuggling attempt of the idols from the Harihareshvar Mandir two years ago, it was made mandatory to show your membership number for buying any statue of antique value in Udaipur. It is the Oriental Collectors Club membership I am talking about.”
Now it struck me right. Securing membership of the Oriental Collectors Club was a difficult task. And I knew Shreyasbhai desired to obtain possession of a thirteenth-century statue only to receive the entry into this club. The club was meant only for the Royals, and they allowed others only after inspecting their collection.
“See, you know we are authentic collectors, not traders. Not every genuine buyer is a member of the club, you know it.” I realized I sounded helpless. But I needed the directorship of the institute and museum, and only Shreyasbhai could give it to me. Only If I get him the statue, of course!
“I am really sorry, Saheb. But I cannot break this rule.”
Now I was really helpless. I knew how important it was for Shreyasbhai to get this statue. I was here after a lot of search in Jodhpur, Bikaner, and Bundi. I have realized this is the place where I will get the real piece.
“We will pay in cash, for the statue and also for overruling the membership clause.” I started talking like a trader.
“Saheb, I have to live here and do business as well. Please do not compel me to report the bribery attempt.” He still asserted, politely.
“You can still look around the gallery Saheb. We have all the marvels from the Solanki era to the Maratha regime.” He said and left me alone to decide on my own. The collection was awe-inspiring, with the sandstone and marble statues elegantly displayed with their exact origin and physical attributes. I was equally delighted and sorry while looking at this collection. With sheer disillusionment, when I was about to leave the gallery, I heard a polite voice.
“May I seek your attention to an equally valuable and authentic statue, Saheb?”
I knew the guy. He was the one who guided us in the tour of the palace and city, yesterday. I knew he will have something valuable, and he knew what I was looking for. “ I can finalize the deal if you do everything in cash, including my commission.” He told me with beaming face as I stood watching a Kalika statue, marble, 14th century! The deal was sealed in the next fifteen minutes, and by evening the statue was delivered to Ahmedabad. Everything was paid in cash. It costed us twice, but I was happy. I secured three goals with the double price, the statue, membership, and directorship!
“Did you finalize anything?” Deewanji asked me as he welcomed me to the royal enthronement at the palace the next afternoon.
“No, the membership clause! We do not have the membership of the Oriental Collectors Club.”
“Oh, I am sorry. I did not know that you are not a member. But you know, we need regulations to control the smuggling. Fortunately, the new act against illegal trading is stringent. Just today morning, the police caught a trader red-handed. He was a guide in palace services. You see. Nowadays, even such people with royal patronage commit crimes for money. But the new police chief is Ranaji’s cousin. He will not spare them. He will put everyone, the trader and the buyer, behind the bar, soon.”