Monday, September 23, 2013

The people of Karachi: Everyone has a story

People enjoying the day at a beach in Karachi. 

When in Pakistan, do as the Pakistanis do. Decoding our culture is difficult due to the diversity Pakistanis are blessed with. You’ll always meet people here with a story; they all have a story to tell. And so do I.

After having breakfast and reading the Smoker’s Corner on Sunday, I went to a butcher shop.
Traditional butcher shops are not a place to visit for the fainthearted in Karachi. They have an acquired smell, resulting from carcasses of goats hanging right above the butcher’s counter and an even row of chickens lined across, with feathers plucked and skin removed. The sections are divided into three: mutton, beef and chicken. The butchers wear bloodstained shirts while they work methodically.

A butcher cuts meat in his shop while posing for the camera. 

I’m offered a cup of tea by a gentleman whose hands are covered with dried blood. I don’t drink tea so I politely decline the offer. While waiting for our meat to get portioned, I speak to the shop owner’s son. He’s a few years older than I am. I ask him about the meat purchasing process and he gladly responds.

Breeders from all over Sindh bring their cattle to the mandi (wholesale market). This mandi gives breeders the opportunity to showcase their product. The buyers visit this market and make the purchase. He said that the meat provided at his shop was of superior quality; I didn’t doubt him as we were one of his regulars.

A large number of animals seen at cattle market near super highway. 

He spoke to me about his passion for meat. The prerequisite of being a Pakistani is an unhealthy obsession with meat. He fulfilled the criteria and now he’s in the business. He told me that people in Karachi love their food which is why they still come to a traditional butcher shop and carefully select the cuts of meat they want. He told me that this is part of our culture. I expressed my concern as I told him that many people nowadays want a streamlined process. They don’t want to know where their meat came from or what the quality is like. However, that did not stop him from delivering the best quality of meat possible. He said that there are people out there who will never settle for frozen chicken in a packet.

After the butcher’s, I went to the sabzi wala (vegetable shop). My sabzi wala has an active sense of humour which never fails to entertain but he had many concerns with how things were in recent times. We spoke about the types of garlic in the market. Usually they keep desi garlic and one other variety that comes from China. I told him about the crisis India’s facing due to the shortage of onions. I asked him if we should be afraid too.

He laughed and informed me that most of the onions in Pakistan come from Balochistan and the quantity is high this season. He was upset with tomatoes that Pakistan imported from India though. He proudly said the Pakistani tomato is far more superior in taste. He said he hated giving away a product that he wasn’t happy with.

Shopkeepers selling vegetables in Empress Market Karachi.

I went to the barber next. I had to wait as, on a Sunday, barber shops are usually packed. I spoke to my barber about the meaning of life and he responded accordingly. He told me that Quaid-e-Azam rules Pakistan. I asked him to further explain and he said, “The only remains of him are on our currency. Money rules Pakistan.” Before we branched out to politics and conspiracy theories, a seat was free. On Sunday, the barber to seat ratio is high.

A barber is like a best friend, once you find a good one, you stick to them. 

I explained the type of haircut I wanted and he understood.

Consider yourself blessed if your barber understands and delivers. A barber is like a best friend, once you find a good one, you stick to them. My barber was passionate. He made sure that I was pleased with the outcome and he didn’t disappoint. You find people loving what they do everywhere; usually in places where we never look.

Chaotic as it may seem, Karachi is home. Karachi is a place to learn. Karachi is passionate. Falling in love with this city and its people is unavoidable. And like most love stories, your heart will be broken but that doesn’t stop you from loving.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Chinese painting sells for $241,000 at Vancouver auction

Winston Churchill's autograph is seen in a 19th-century autograph book on display in Vancouver, Wednesday, Sept., 11, 2013. The autograph book containing the signatures of 300 famous and powerful visitors to the White House has sold at auction for nearly double its asking price.

A traditional Chinese “ink scroll painting” sold for $241,000 at a Maynards auction in Vancouver Wednesday, doubling its pre-auction estimate.

The painting by Guan Shanyue was the high point of Maynards’ fall sale of Antiques and International and Asian Art, which brought $926,242 from 568 lots.

A 19th century autograph book that once belonged to Major Charles D.A. Loeffler, the head doorkeeper to the U.S. President’s office from 1869 to 1909, sold for $25,300. It contained over 300 autographs from luminaries like Presidents Ulysses S. Grant and Theodore Roosevelt to former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

A trio of beautiful ivory, bronze and onyx art deco sculptures by German artist Johann Philipp Ferdinand Preiss also did very well, selling for $ 21,850 (for Con Brio), $23,000 (for Torch Dancer) and $9,775 (for Clock with Arab Servants). All date to about 1920.

A 70 million year old triceratops dinosaur skull from the late Cretaceous Period brought $63,250. It was consigned by a museum in Japan.

Bhupen Khakhar painting fetches Rs 2 cr in New York sale

Bhupen Kakkar's seminal oil-on- -canvas painting titled 'American Survey Officer' has been sold for Rs 2.54 crore (USD 401,000), almost double of what it was estimated to fetch after a prolonged battle, by six bidders at Sotheby's recent auction here.

The Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art sale held on September 18 fetched the auctioneers a total of USD 3.2 million (USD 3,261,375), well below the pre-sale estimate of USD 3.6 million to USD 5 million.

"We saw strong prices for high calibre works by senior modern artists including Bhupen Khakhar, Maqbool Fida Husain and Francis Newton Souza, reinforcing the quest for quality in the field," Priyanka Mathew, vice president, head of sales, Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art said in a statement.

"Six bidders fought for the cover lot, Bhupen Khakhar's American Survey Officer, which after a prolonged battle, sold for USD 4,001,000, almost double the pre-sale high estimate," she said.

This is the first Indian art sale in New York after the Amaya Collection sale earlier this year, the first global evening sale of Indian art which fetched almost USD 6.7 million.

According to the auctioneers, Khakkar's painting which had been estimated to fetch between USD 1,80,000- USD 2,20,000, is representative of a critical moment in the artist's career as he developed a local and idiosyncratic language for Pop Art in India.

An Untitled landscape by Francis Newton Souza, painted during his travel through Italy fetched USD 2,21,000.

However, Souza's historically significant Sabartes after Picasso; After Pablo Picasso, (estimate USD 100,000- USD 150,000) which once belonged to Harold Kovner, an American collector who was Souza's leading patron between 1956 and 1960, remained unsold.

Souza's contemporaries like M F Husain also fetched sales. Two paintings by Husain untitled "Mother Theresa" sold for USD 2,45,000 and USD 34,375 respectively.

An iconic representation by Manjit Bawa of Apu, the mascot for the 1982 Asian Games 1982 is estimated to go under the hammer for USD 200,000 to USD 280,000 fetched USD 149,000 and two works from Ram Kumar's Varanasi series fetched over USD 100,000.

A Ramachandran's 1981 dynamic six by twelve foot canvas painting "Kalinga War" sourced from a European private collection and estimated at USD 180,000- USD 200,000 did not find any buyers.