My very first association with Ooty, I recall, was a breathtaking time-worn sepia photograph of the Ootacamund Lake. A copy of this photograph of old Ooty by A.T.W Penn (circa 1889) hung on the walls of an old hotel property in Chennai that I had visited with my family as a kid. I remember being struck by the cool curves of the meandering lake, what a serene picture it was.
A month ago, we made our day trip to Ooty from The Serai, Bandipur. We drove through a bustling hill-top town, overlooking ‘modern’ box-like houses that strung out on the town in a pattern that resembled a terrace cultivation; and I couldn’t help wondering if Penn’s old Ooty has vanished forever! Yes it is lost, I suppose. But wait, it also survives.
That is when I stumbled upon Mohan’s Ooty; a sprawling antique store (since 1947, the signage claims), I imagined the aristocracy furnishing their idyllic hill estates with baroque chairs and elaborate chandeliers and immediately felt the urge to put a retro twist to my city flat. The store is a maze designed to enchant and beguile. So just how do you go about shopping for your own historic treats? Well luckily Mohan’s Ooty is chockablock with antique delights, everything from priceless artifacts to more affordable gems.
Rummaging around dusty boxes and looking through endless display cases sound like much fun? For me, it was the thrill of the hunt and the chance to bag myself a ‘sleeper’ – a valuable object that has remained unrecognised, perhaps much like the beautiful black panther bust that came home with me after.
Ooty has a love affair with antiques. On this particular day, I noticed a little bit of everything. Antique furniture, hand-me-down photographs, paintings, records and gramophones, art deco lamps, war paraphernalia, and even elaborate bird baths. The aged, the odd and sometimes, the downright obscure. All available for a price. Which brings me to the ‘art of the deal’. Haggling over the price in India is a tradition as old as the country itself. I bartered back and forth, up and down and in the end, saved enough to make Donald Trump proud.
When I revisit, I’d like to catch up on more of the mini-stories scattered around the bazaar. Every piece, character was intriguing. Every captivating sight/sound had an enchanting tale to go with it. I may do this with photography, I may do this with videos. Either way, stay tuned!