New York auction house going ahead with Gandhi items’ sale

March 6th, 2009 - 12:19 am ICT by IANS  

Washington, March 5 (IANS) Hours before a few of Mahatma Gandhi’s personal items were set to go under the hammer, a New York auction House Thursday said it was going ahead with the sale amid reports that New Delhi had rejected a proposal from the collector.

“The auction is on,” a spokesperson for Antiquorum Auctioneers, a Manhattan auction house, told IANS on telephone four hours before the scheduled auction Thursday afternoon (early Friday morning India time). But the spokesperson declined to say whether negotiations were still on with Indian officials.

However, the New York Times cited Indian officials as saying the auction was illegal, but they also said they were continuing to negotiate with the owner over a possible resolution.

The collector, James Otis, a Los Angeles-based peace activist, Wednesday offered to donate the items to India if the government agreed to sharply increase spending on the poor or create an international travelling exhibition about Gandhi that would include the items scheduled for auction.

The items set to go on sale include Mahatma Gandhi’s iconic Zenith pocket watch, steel-rimmed spectacles, a pair of sandals and an eating bowl and plate. The collection has a reserve price of between $20,000 and $30,000.

“The government can’t participate because this would be contempt of court,” Prabhu Dayal, India’s consul general in New York, told the New York Times Thursday morning. “This is getting more complicated.”

Dayal initially told The New York Times that Otis was scheduled to go to the consul general’s office in New York around 10 a.m. Thursday for negotiations, but Ashok Kumar, a spokesman for the consulate, later said that Otis had not visited the office.

For now, the auction is going forward, the Times said. It began Wednesday and was to concluded with two additional shifts Thursday, at 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. Bids are being taken in person, over the phone, online and in writing.

So far, there are 40 registered bidders, from Australia, Germany, Austria, India, Canada and the US, among other countries.

In comparison, there were only six registered bidders in October for a watch belonging to Albert Einstein, which sold for almost $600,000.

Among the potential bidders was Himadri Roy, 72, who had flown in from Montreal at the last minute to take part in the auction and was walking around in the auction house on Thursday morning, the New York Times said.

Roy told the Times he had met Gandhi when he was only 10 years old, when he had placed a garland of flowers around Gandhi’s head and Gandhi had taken it off and placed it on him. He still has those flowers, he said.

Roy was an engineer who had profited from real estate investments. “I just want to bid and take out stuff back,” said Roy, who grew teary-eyed as he looked at the Gandhi items on display. “Now I have some money. I want to hold on for a while and then maybe donate it.”

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