US collector declines India’s offer for Gandhi items

March 4th, 2009 - 10:36 am ICT by IANS  

Washington, March 4 (IANS) A California collector who plans to sell possessions once owned by Mahatma Gandhi says he has rejected a “generous but small” offer from India and barring a last minute agreement Thursday’s planned auction would go ahead.

“Indian officials approached me this morning with a generous but small offer that I respectfully declined,” James Otis told IANS over the phone Tuesday from Los Angeles.

Otis,45, a peace activist, refused to spell out the offer saying “it was financially so small that I would not like to repeat it.”

But he has agreed to meet Indian officials at 10 a.m. Wednesday in the company of Lester Kurtz, Professor at George Mason University, in Fairfax, Virginia.

Otis an avid collector of Gandhi memorabilia has for the past decade been working with Kurtz, a leading scholar on Gandhi on three projects, including a four-hour television documentary titled “Peaceful Warriors-A History of Non-violence.”

But as of now the auction of Mahatma Gandhi’s Zenith pocket watch, steel-rimmed spectacles, a pair of sandals and an eating bowl and plate would go ahead as scheduled in New York March 5. The collection has a reserve price of between $20,000 and $30,000.

The New York auction house, Antiquorum Auctioneers, with whom Otis has signed a contract to sell the items, too said the “auction is going ahead tomorrow (Wednesday) despite an interim stay by Delhi High Court.

A representative of the auction house told IANS, “We have been contacted by the Indian consulate and we’ll be meeting them.” But the person declined to comment on when the meeting would take place or what they would talk about.

The Indian embassy here too declined to comment on what the mission was doing to stop Mahatma Gandhi’s personal belongings from going under the hammer, which has triggered a public outcry in India.

Earlier, before he was contacted by Indian officials, Otis had indicated he would be happy to negotiate some kind of solution that might satisfy both parties.

“I have a contract with the auction house to sell these items, but as you know you can make a deal prior the auction. I would be very happy to welcome any serious offers from the Indian government and it might not even have to be financial,” he said.

“There are things they could offer in terms of helping the people of India that I would more than welcome, for example improving health care for the poorest Indians in exchange for the items.”

Besides Gandhi memorabilia, the March 4 and 5 auction will feature a collection of over 400 important timepieces from across the globe. These include a watch that belonged to President John F. Kennedy and later Aristotle Onassis and a unique Patek Philippe wristwatch made for Henry Graves.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians.in)

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