Rare Finds is an exhibition that is held irregularly. In the last nine years it has been organised only four times-in 1999, 2000, 2002 and 2006. Each time Dilnavaz Mehta thought it would be the last time; each time, popular demand compelled her to set it up again. This year Rare Finds is on from December 10 at the Cymroza Art Gallery. The exhibition has antiquarian and rare books, maps and prints. “After my third exhibition, I thought I would not be able to set up another one again,” she says. “But the response I got was such that I could not stay away.”
Journeys are always that much easier when they are fuelled by passion; her love for travelling and for antiquated objects egged Mehta on to hunt for fresh pieces to set up on display. But the stumbling blocks took her aback. “The prevailing attitude is that old objects are bound to be in a terrible condition,” she says. “Sometimes the damage done to an otherwise priceless find is irreparable. There have also been times when people have eagerly called me up to say that they have old books to offer and when I land up to have a look I find that they are nothing more than their school textbooks.”
So what does count? “The piece should be at least 100 years old,” says Mehta. Banned books, out of print books and rare works of a significant author fall into this category without the necessity of being old. Books written by Englishmen, maps from the 16th and 17th centuries and original prints of old cities and sketches are available.
Ask Mehta where this passion stems from, and she credits her Parsi genes. “Parsis, you will note, are always interested in their history and their history is very closely connected with the history of Bombay,” she says. “While I was finding out more about Parsis, I started finding out about Bombay, and then I felt I must find out more about other cities as well. That is how it happened.”
Meeting families who might have something to offer for her collection was not as difficult as she thought; meeting people who knew what their heirlooms were worth was next to impossible. “Sometimes they asked for too much; other times they asked for too little. A person who knows the real value is a rare find!” she laughs.
Rare Finds is on at Cymroza Art Gallery, Mumbai, from December 10 to December 14. Price: Rs 1,500 upwards.