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Life Exclusive
Lance Dane: A Pucca British-born knight in shining armour

The great collector and numismatist Lance Dane died in Mumbai on last Wednesday, leaving behind a legacy valued at tens of crores. Vithal C Nadkarni pays tribute to the scholar-aesthete, whom he knew for nearly four decades…

After he decided to shift to the suburbs from South Mumbai, Lance Dane invited me over his digs to look over his collection. “Choose anything you like,” he said with characteristic candour. He’d found a new home for them in Delhi.
“You won’t get another chance like this again,” he emphasised. Of course I would have loved to buy the bronze Parvati seated on a Sri-Yantra and a Shiva as the naked mendicant with a dog, probably made in Andhra. And I also knew he had deliberately named a ridiculously low price just to match my shoe-string budget without hurting my ego.
Still, I felt I couldn’t take up his offer and I declined. This was perhaps because what I really wanted was too stratospherically valuable to possess or even to bid: it was this solid iron Chatur-Mukha Shiva linga hidden under a settee. It had ostensibly been made in the days of the Lichchavi Republic when the Buddha walked the earth; Nelson Rockerfeller had made a cash down offer of hundred thousand dollars for it and had been politely turned down, Lance said, gingerly poking at the linga that two grown men could not budge.
In the same vein, I once asked Lance whether he had one single piece that he treasured most from all those myriads of artifacts, paintings and coins in his vast collection. Without hesitation, he picked up a polished bronze idol of a Nandi from his desk. Centuries of worship had worn the image down to elemental proportions. It was his very first acquisition as a young lad. “I had to save up quite a bit of pocket money for it,” he told me. “But nothing’s given me as much joy as the Nandi.”
What about the ones that got away? Was there any one antique that Lance had regrets over losing? “There was this stunning multi-armed Chamunda bronze astride Shiva, cast either in the Himachal Hills or Nepal; it’s now become world-famous after being acquired by an American museum. I was offered it first and I let it go because I had serious doubts about its authenticity and provenance…”
My acquaintance with the avuncular photographer-turned-art-enthusiast began during my salad days at The Illustrated Weekly of India, when we were featuring the coffee-table Kama-Sutra (no pun intended) that he had co-produced with that great writer and connoisseur of Indian art, Mulk Raj Anand. I was the youngest sub that had been put in charge of the pages and Lance went out of his way to sweeten the assignment with books and catalogues lent with just a handshake. I too lent him on occasion masks, photographs and small collectibles that he was always documenting with his cameras in the sun-lit balcony of his apartment in Bhandar Galli at Mahim. But I am getting ahead of my story: For there were also rumours about his colourful, Richard Burtonesque (not the actor, the Indologist), life; His passion for collecting erotica, for example, or the treasure trove of Indian coins that he’s supposed to have amassed with the zeal of an Indiana Jones character; There was talk of a handsome tax amnesty that he’d allegedly won from the powers-that-be in exchange for a substantial part of his massive collection. There were also stories galore about acts of kindness of this Pucca British-born (or was it Austrialia-born) knight in shining armour!


Life Exclusive
With higher urban income and prosperity, false beliefs and superstitions are big draws

As the quality of our lives improve along with higher disposable income, we spend more and more money on false beliefs and superstitions

Even as the average income of urban Indians are increasing, we are flocking more and more to the so-called spiritual advisors, gurus, self styled clairvoyants, gemologists and astrologers. A whole lot of newer professions are now flourishing to help mankind overcome stress. Tarot cards, crystal healing, tai-chi, yoga, sahaja meditation, rudrakshas, gems, healing gurus, self-styled siddhas, are proliferating. Yoga also has fawned lot of new techniques like Power Yoga, Mind Matter Yoga, Spiritual Yoga, etc. Then we have other forms of meditation techniques like Kritta Yoga, Brahm Vidya, Extensive Yoga, Intensive healing, self healing, etc. The Art of Living (AOL) volunteers have really succeeded in creating a robust business model by selling such programs and then claiming that all such contributions received as fees are diverted to social causes by the AOL foundation.

Vastu and Feng Shui, like the rudraksha therapy, have successfully milked people’s miseries to empty their wallets by giving all sorts of vague recommendations. It is amusing that these people make money without the need for any accountability and without the need to deliver any results. It is a well-known fact that one astrologer’s opinion never matches with another’s. Similarly, one Vastu expert’s prescription will never match with that of another expert.

The latest to join this bandwagon is the so-called suppliers of Rudrakshas. Exorbitantly priced rudrakshas, whose genuineness is suspect, are sold to gullible people who believe that this is a one-stop solution to their problems. Rudrakshas are also being sold like garments along Linking Road in Bandra, Mumbai. One rudraksha supplier in Wadala, Mumbai, also has “Ek Ka Do” offer; meaning, if you buy one rudraksha, you will get two free gifts. Those who salivate under the name of free gifts will be dejected to know that these gifts comprise candles, mud lamps, incense sticks and all the roadside stuff that are generally available for a song. I am ashamed to admit that I too fell prey to such marketing gimmicks and ended up blowing around Rs25,000 in purchasing such rudrakshas and crystals.

Then we have the so-called crystal shops which wax eloquent about energy healing and sell Chinese items as “lucky charms” that ward off evil. A few years back, a so-called lucky tree was sold in some malls as a lucky charm. As if the myriad forms of healing therapies in India were not enough, soon we had Chinese imports in the form of Feng Shui products like Laughing Buddha, Wish Cow, Dragon, Lizard, Tortoise, etc.

One of my uncles, who went through a terrible patch in his life after taking voluntary retirement from ACC, kept on moving from one astrologer to another. Each one fleeced him. One astrologer in Malad asked him to do a special pooja for Rs8,000 when he was under severe financial duress and also assured him that he would live for 100 years. Sadly, my uncle passed away barely within six months after performing the pooja.

Iodised salt had resulted in the plummeting sales of rock salt. So, the crystal therapists were contacted and soon enough recommendations were made aplenty to use bowls of rock salt as negative energy absorbers. This is nothing new actually but the age-old Indian tradition and nani-ma’s chuska of warding off evil using salt. A bottle of ayurvedic oil (Sandhi Suddha) is sold for Rs3,000 using an assortment of ex-actors and out-of-job character artistes on television.

Not Just Trinkets

The latest businesses to gain from the average Indian’s increasing affluence are the medical profession where (for instance) every delivery is made into a Caesarian section to grow the business. The pharmaceutical industry is too happy to supply drugs for newer forms of illnesses even before anyone contracts it. The unholy nexus between the pharmaceutical industry and medical profession thrives in the modern world as eminent professor BM Hegde reminds us time and again.

The latest to join this bandwagon are play schools. Hefty fees are charged all in the name of “preparing your child” for school. Disturbingly, new-age parents are leaving their two-month old child in play schools (and mind you these are not crèches). If you look at Bangalore, every independent homeowner has successfully transformed his garage into an activity ground for the play school students. All of them deserve a standing ovation for the most innovative names that they come up when it comes to naming their play schools.

I know of one such play school near our area, which uses the AOL brand name to attract students and charges them exorbitant fees. The teachers in this school are paid a pittance in relation to the hours they put in. On top of it, they are also expected to be ayahs and nursemaids to the tiny tots. It looks plausible that in the future, some of the new-age mothers will directly drive down to a play school from the maternity ward in a hospital.

It is worthwhile to think calmly about the reason for the mushrooming of such professions. The truth is that people’s emotions, fears and hopes are being capitalized as a wonderful business opportunity. If we all did what our forefathers did (simple living, modest expectations, balanced diet, safe investments, etc) then we really do not need to spend money on this. One man’s pain becomes another man’s gain.




4 years ago

The play-schools are a total scam. I know a lot of people with IMPECCABLE academic/professional records - they did not go to any play-school to "get prepared". So now why do we need these mother-in-law/bahu nexus masquerading as Pre-school franchises.

The (proper/bigger) schools are also part of the problem about mushrooming of these pre-schools - they wont admit kids without the "pre-school" training [whatever the ^&%^& that means].


Guptan Veemboor

In Reply to burntByReliance 4 years ago

Yes bBR, I too feel all these pre-school business is just business only. Some seventy odd years ago when I went for the first time to school, we were put in First standard or some who were given home tuition in higher classes. Till the child is five years old he or she played. Maximum the father or mother may teach them to count up to 100. When my children's time came I had to put them in some LKG-UKG schools before getting them admitted to First standard as the primary school expected some basic knowledge for the children coming to first standard. Simple arithmetic or ability to write some three or four letter words. Now as a grand father I see my grand children at the age of 2 plus going to these pre-schools and God only knows what. In our childhood it was village with vast areas for us to roam and play with children of our age. Now in the city life it is all apartment blocks to which our life is confined. So children when sent to some play school the get some opportunity to be out of the confines of the flat and see some others of their age and play. And it relieves the working moms and society moms some relief from the botheration of child care. Three hours they get time for doing many other things. So they also welcome this baby sitting affair called pre-school or play school business. And now there are summer camps too. In a city is good as the children have no way to pass time other than watching TV. It is the modern crowded city life style what is behind this play school business.

Guptan Veemboor

4 years ago

Before I forget let me tell this. Here in Bangalore where I am staying also there is a play school which is recognized by AOL. I don't think it has any trained staff. It is run by mother-in-law /daughter-in-law combination.
People go for all these Babas and Ammas and such as there is much more mental tensions than what we had some fifty or seventy years ago. Then there was not this much consumerism and people wanted simple things and their desires were also limited. A job in school in your locality and a house was a very happy life. A cycle itself is considered as luxury. To trek for or five miles is no problem. Now people will hail an auto for going a kilometer. They have money to spend and they want to spend. Without money there is money. But with money also there is worry. That is what the average man or woman experience. Previously in villages the carpenter will select the proper spot for the house and start building. There was no such thing in towns and cities where the size of the plots were not sufficient to go according to the 'vastu'. One cannot say that many calamities have happened due to that. Now even one build a house here on a plot size of 30'x40' or less people try to follow vastu. In fact as per the real vastu of our forefathers there is place in the site where the house is to be build. It is not only a question of positioning the rooms. What these people are doing is just a spurious version like the 'himalayan rudraksha' being sold in Bombay foot paths. All these selfstyled gurus and ammas are bogus. They are simply milking the gullible public. A small percentage of their income will go for some charity as just for advertisement. The main part goes to the organizers. Satya Saibabas private room was like a cave in an Arabian Nights stories. Even after this is exposure people still have great reverence to someone who was a street juggler earlier. Why a real ascetic should live in such a luxurious rooms? Same case with all. I have yet to see someone who is leading a peaceful life after a course of AOL. Whosoever I have seen are having the same worries and problems as before . It is not like the weight reduction pictures of 'before' and 'after'.
Mr.G.Venkitesh has written a very nice article. I hope those who have read this will think twice before attending the discourse of some self styled babas and ammas who show simple but only God will know what sort of life they lead in private.
PS. Practically all the CMs of Karnataka have changed the doors and windows of their office rooms and position of their furniture. But none of them could rule the state with peace of mind. They had to fight friends and foes at the same time.


4 years ago

Very apt article in today's time.

As you rightly suggested we all should live a very simple life and keep your needs to the minimum.

My father lived the life you mentioned-simple, modest, balanced and safe. Today, I too follow my father's footsteps and I advise my children too to do the same since it is necessary that they do not get swayed by the advts., peer pressure, etc. I always educate them to 'spend on need not greed' and 'fulfill your needs not wants'. I frequently try and educate them about the difference between a need and a want. e.g. buying shoes is a need but insisting on a Reebok, Nike, etc. is a want. Or buying a car is a need but falling for an over expensive or a flashy car just because people see you in that car is 'greed'. In my house every member is conscious about switching off of lights when not needed because it is a waste. My children go for a movie but on a holiday in the morning show because the rates are quite low compared to regular shows. You will be surprised to know that inspite of having ACs in all rooms they are used by all of us most judiciously. Even in this hottest summer we (that includes my children and that voluntarily) hardly use it. Eating out is very less in a year since we try and keep it only for occassions such as birthdays and anniversaries. Similarly other areas in life too I try and teach them value of money so together we can break the belief that wealth gets destroyed in three generations.

I would like to quote Warren Buffet here: "If you buy things you do not need, soon you have to sell things you need" and I try and follow this.

Luckily in our family we do not believe in superstitions so nobody can fool us and extract money on that front.

I have written all this with the hope that it spreads and more people live simple lives and are able to preserve whatever wealth created.

Values in life is more valuable than money(in)life.

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