Ayub Sabri (50) was always fascinated by the place where his father Mohammad Yusuf worked. It was an antique shop in Mussoorie, an old British hill station in the Northern Indian state of Uttarakhand. Young Ayub saw it as a world full of wonders. Old pocket watches, grandfather clocks, maps, binoculars, paintings, lithographs, exquisitely painted crockery from London, silverware, old cameras, and much more. Another thing that kindled his imagination as a child was the passion and joy with which his father talked about all these things. All these turned Ayub into an antique lover and trader, in that order, for a lifetime.
The thin frame of Ayub Khan seems lost in the clutter of antique things stuffed all around him. He blends in perfectly well with the antiquities around him.
When asked he speaks about his love for the antiques in his soft voice.
“I am in love with all these antique stuff. I love staying among these things, setting them up, cleaning them, and explaining them to visitors. Even though it long back stopped being economically viable, I simply cannot opt out of it. I love this trade,” says Ayub Sabri. His antique shop by the name Sabri Bought and Sold is located along a climbing road in the Landour area of Mussoorie a little beyond the famous clock tower. This is the quieter part of the town, away from the touristy Mall road. This is the road that leads to where famous and much loved writer Ruskin Bond lives. Every time he walks up to his home in Landour, he would pass by Ayub's Antique shop. "During on of his walks to his home, Ruskin Bond stopped at my shop to look at things. I asked him to give a name for my shop. He wrote 'Sabri bought and sold' on a piece of paper. That is how I got this name for my shop," says Ayub.
He opens his shop at 8.30 am and closes it down by 9 pm. He has been doing this for three decades now after he took over the antique shop his father had started in 1960. Says he, “My father used to knit chairs and make quilts for many Britishers who lived in bungalows. When these Britishers left they would sell their household stuff, which was usually high quality and over the years garnered antique value. They also sold a lot of arty things and old technical things which again assume archival value with time. My father realized that there was a very good market for these things and Mussoorie with its rich colonial past had a rich trove of such things. That is when he started his antique shop.”
The shop flourished and the supply of antique items never dried up as over the years many old British either left the country or left for their heavenly abode, leaving behind a lot of their material possessions which ended up in a few antique shops that operated in Mussoorie. “But with time this supply dried up and now only occasionally some new antiques turn up. Most of the antiques that we have today are for display only. Today we get a lot of material that has been created to look like antiques. There is a market for it but it is not that rewarding.”
Over the years his business has gone down. Says he, “Till a couple of decades ago there were many admirers of antique stuff. But the number of people with that kind of taste has dwindled over the years. People indulge in buying antique stuff only when they have extra money. These are not essential things that a person with good taste or a sense of history would need. Also, people nowadays prefer to spend on mobiles but not on antique things or art.”
COVID times were especially tough for his business. Couple that with the economic slump the country is going through and things only got tougher for him. “This is a line of work that needs patience. Sometimes several days go by and I don't sell anything. Then I pass my time arranging and rearranging things. But no matter what I love staying in my shop, working here. I cannot and will not do anything else,” says he.
There was a time when young Ayub toyed with the idea of getting an office job in a technology institute in Mussoorie. “But my father said that it is better I continue his legacy. My heart was also in this antique business. So I took over the shop.” He adds, “Sometimes it goes through my mind that it would be nice to have a regular salary from a job. But then I think otherwise. I still prefer this antique business of mine.”
Just then his son Haidar Sabri ( 18) walks into the shop carrying lunch for his father. The Sabris live in a house located just below their antique shop on a mountain slope. Haidar seems a well-mannered young man who looks like the younger version of his father. He loves his father but not his profession. He is sure that he is not going to take over his father’s antique shop. Says he, “I want to study Data Science and make a career in it.” He is planning to get into Indian Statistical Institute or Delhi University.
Even Ayub does not want it. Says he, “My antique shop is going to end with me. I know my son will not carry on this trade nor do I want him to continue.”