Feast for eyes: India Arts Palace at Connaught Place. 

Feast for eyes: India Arts Palace at Connaught Place. 

In the hustle and bustle of Connaught Place stands tall an antique shop where every corner and item on display come alive with captivating stories of the past.

Surajlalji Backliwal founded The Indian Arts Palace (IAP) in the mid-1800s at Chandni Chowk, Delhi. Later, during the British regime, it was shifted to Kashmere Gate, where it remained till the 1950s. In the early 1940s, the IAP expanded by opening a second showroom at Oberoi Maidens in Civil Lines. However, within a few months, it was shifted to Connaught Place.

Tracing the history of the outlet, Arun Backliwal, the third-generation owner, says that in the early 1900s, the IAP entered into a collaboration with Hungarian art dealer Imre Schwaiger. The partnership thrived as Imre had strong connections with aristocrats and overseas buyers, which helped IAP build an extensive sourcing network. Together, they engaged with renowned jewellers, museums, royalty and wealthy buyers from around the world.

Stepping inside the IAP showroom is like a date with the past. Portraits of the Maharaja of Nepal and the Maharaja of Khetri can be seen as one enters.

Arun Backliwal’s son Gaurav, an engineer from IIT Delhi, left his career in technology to follow his calling for art and as a mark of respect for the family’s legacy. “I have never looked back with any regret. Each day starts with delight and a sense of great responsibility,” he says.

“Attending an exhibition at the Indian Habitat Centre, we chanced upon a picture of our antique shop, from the 1920s, clicked by Homai Vyarawalla, India’s first woman photojournalist,” says his brother Vaibhav Backliwal. “It was a humbling moment.” James Ivory and Ismail Merchant of Merchant Ivory Productions had acknowledged the wonderful collection of Indian Arts Palace in a London newspaper article.

The showroom also has a large collection of antique paintings, including pichwais, Bengal School paintings and centuries-old miniatures, including works by latter-day Indian artists such as Sarada Ukil, Ramgopal Vijayvargi, Nandalal Bose, Jamini Roy, Ganendranath Tagore and many others.

A vintage Jadau gold enamel necklace set with Burmese rubies and diamonds sits pretty inside a glass showcase Several other collectibles such as spice boxes, itra daans, paan daans, gulab paashes, and Bhuj silver ware occupy prime space.

“We enjoy preserving the beautiful works of art of another bygone era and, sometimes, sell these works with a heavy heart,” says Vaibhav. “We are the keepers of Indian traditional art.”

Amna Mannan

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