Colonial India's treasures live in a Delhi home

Source : IANS
Last Updated: Wed, Dec 14, 2011 08:00 hrs

New Delhi, Dec 14 (IANS) The grandeur of Mughal and colonial India lives in a spacious library-cum-gallery and a boutique shop at a home in a Delhi neighbourhood where antique art collector and dealer Rajiv Jain and his daughter Rashi struggle to add to the family inheritance.

The repository at the Southex Books & Prints Pvt Ltd, in the capital's South Extension Part II, spans nearly 500 years - from 1630 when the first printed books on India appeared in English to 20th century masters like the signed first copies of Rudyard Kipling's 'Jungle Book' and his complete collection of poems.

'It has been a long journey. We exhibited our collection in 1984 at the World Book Fair after moving from Kolkata to the capital. My father, G.C. Jain, began collecting antiquities - inspired by his association with noted artist Subho Tagore (a nephew of Rabindranath Tagore). The association took shape in 1967,' Rajiv Jain told IANS.

The Jain family has now brought a part of their precious collection out to celebrate 100 years of the capital.

The rows of vellum, parchment and regular leather-bound books inscribed in gold - some frayed with years and some restored to look spanking new - are complemented by mounted British East India Company art, mostly rare lithographic prints and aquatints dating between 1750-1930.

The oldest book in the Jain collection is a leather bound 'Discoverie of the Sect of the Banians: Containing their Histofy (read 'f' as 'r'), Law, Liturgie, Cafte (read 'f' as 's'), Cuftomes and Ceremonies' published in London by T&R Cotes. The language is a version of early modern English.

'This comes from a great American collector - from whom we bought the book. We (Indians) were not in the habit of recording histories - the British brought in the system of recording. Our flora, fauna and major events were recorded by the British, they were great lovers of India and they never thought that they had to leave the company heritage.'

The Jains cater to an exclusive clientele, which include high-end private collectors like the Imperial Hotel and government institutions like the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) - whose core collection of rare antiquities has been sourced from the Jain's family archive.

One of the striking volumes in Jain's collection is an illustrated book, 'Six Principal Ragas With a Brief View of Hindoo Music' by 'Sourindro Mohun Tagore' (an ancestor of Rabindranath Tagore) printed by the Calcutta Central Press Company on Council House Street in 1877.

The book was gifted to the Duke of Albany by Tagore in 1878.

'Calcutta (Kolkata) was the hub of all activities for 200 years during British Rule. When the capital shifted to Delhi, the cultural centre gradually shifted to Delhi and later Mumbai. The bulk of the arts and culture patrons now live in Delhi and Mumbai,' Jain said.

The first books on India in languages other than English were printed around 1580 AD.

Jain places a large and hefty leather bound volume on a marble table in his temperature controlled archive. It is one of the few existing copies of '66 Prints of the Hindoo of the East With Their Respective Profession', amongst the earliest illustrated volumes in the country in 1799 by Belgian coach painter Francois Balthasar Solvyns.

'The entire Solvyns series, printed in Kolkata, has 250 engravings - I have only a small part of his work. The book was later replicated in Britain in 1804 and in France in 1808,' Jain said.

Solvyns, who came to India as a coach painter after being denied permission to come as an artist because the British were sceptical of foreigners, created more than 600 coloured etchings of the manners, customs and dresses of the Hindus of Kolkata.

'The books have survived because most of them have been printed on rag paper (made of cloth),' Jain said. A team of three restorers work for Jain to 'preserve his collection'.

'Roughly 5,000 images of India were produced during British rule covering different aspects of life. Each image has nearly 300 printed or engraved copies of which I have close to 4,000 images,' Jain said.

His collection of East India Company Art includes several original prints of Thomas and William Daniell's 'Oriental Scenery', 80 plates of 'A Century of Birds from the Himalaya Mountain' by John Gould, 'Rhododendrons of Sikkim Himalayas' by Edward Dalton Hooker and many more.

'I am struggling to preserve and build on the collection...and making a livelihood of it. Sustaining it is difficult,' Jain said.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at

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