KARACHI: Stepping into Ahmed Yousuf’s shop in Saddar you feel like Robinson Crusoe, the sole survivor of a shipwreck. But wait, you are not the only one to have survived. All this stuff around you has also been salvaged to be cleaned, polished and used again.
We are at an antiques shop dealing in old things and instruments taken out from the ships coming in at the ship-breaking yards at Gadani. There are wooden ship wheels, ship windows, old searchlights, deck lights, oil lamps, compasses, chronometers and what not. “I have been dealing in this kind of stuff for over 20 years now,” says Yousuf, who has now also brought his two sons into the business.
The antiques dealer says he realised the value of maritime instruments after having worked on ships for a few years. “I used to do odd jobs such as cleaning, checking oil, etc, on ships. But I learnt a lot about things on ships during that time. For instance, the wood and metal used in the making of ships is not ordinary wood or metal. It has all been treated so that it wouldn’t attract termites or rust. Even the glass in the ship windows is bulletproof,” he says. “Thus everything can be reused,” he adds.
Using a bit of innovation and creativity, Yousuf’s son, Waqar Ahmed, has used the brass ship windows to make pretty centre tables in people’s drawing rooms. The wooden captains’ wheels he has used to fix clocks for hanging on walls. He has also polished the old spotlights and copper oil lamps from a ship to make them as good as new. Now they lay packed in plastic sheets inside cardboard boxes, ready to be shipped somewhere. “There is a big market for these abroad. We have customers in England, Belgium, Australia, etc, who are willing to pay big bucks for these items,” beams the son.
Thus an old round brass ship window can cost between Rs16,000 and Rs20,000. An old wooden steering wheel may cost you Rs5,000 to Rs100,000 depending on its size. Similarly, the copper oil lamps also cost Rs20,000 each. “But these are the local prices, mind you,” says Waqar. “Overseas customers don’t mind paying far more than this. They often reach us through our website,” he adds.
He explains that they also provide the name and history of the ships all these things originally belong to. “In fact, we also take care to include a ship’s nameplate, which also carries a bit of its history including the name of its manufacturer and the year of its commissioning in our purchase of the old maritime stuff,” he says. “It adds value to the things,” he adds.
But the things in the shop seem very old and dull. “What’s the point in polishing everything before finding a customer for them?” Yousuf wonders aloud. “We clean and polish things according to the customers’ wishes. Some take them from us as they are and clean them themselves, some ask us to do it. Don’t forget we deal in junk and scrap, so it looks like that, too,” he smiles.
Published in Dawn, January 22nd, 2017