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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!
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.