In the spartan landscape of Kutch, Gujarat, is a village called Mirjapur. Ramanik K. Shahâ€™s workshop is probably its most popular landmark. There is no signage, yet you can walk into Mirjapur without an address in hand, and you will be pointed to â€śRamanik Bhaiâ€ť, who retails and restores antique furniture and artefacts. On any given day, foreign collectors from Australia, Italy, Holland and the UK can be found making their way to his workshop. This is apart from his regular clientele from Mumbai, Vadodara, Pune and Gandhidham.
His warehouse has furniture from different periods and in myriad styles coexisting. There are Gothic-style cupboards, Victorian chairs, antique doors, four-poster beds, brass objects sharing space with antique money boxes, art deco chandeliers, Chinese glass paintings, and more.
Shah, who turned 70 this August, has been in the field of antiques and handicrafts for 40 years. â€śAt one point, I used to work with textiles, particularly with block printing. My shop, Kutch Handicrafts, was one of the oldest in the region, and my clientele hailed from 30 countries,â€ť he says. â€śAt the same time, the craft and process of reproducing and restoring antique furniture also interested me. So, I started this workshop in Mirjapur nearly 26 years ago.â€ť
His speciality lies in the use of natural polish and old wood. â€śMost people these days use lacquer or melamine, which is more of a lamination than a polish. It will surely come out after 12 months,â€ť says Shah. His brand of polish is made with spirit and shellac, made naturally. There are very few manufacturers of the latter and he sources his batch from Bengal.
The technique he uses is akin to French polishing, a process which rose to prominence in the 18th century and involves applying many thin coats of shellac dissolved in spirit. The process was so labour-intensive that craftsmen abandoned the technique for the quicker spray finishing. Shah, however, has stayed with these age-old methods. â€śIt takes four-five days for one piece to be polished, with three-four coats being applied at least. One karigar sits with six-seven pieces, coating one, leaving it to dry, and then starting on the other. This rotation makes the process smooth,â€ť explains Shah.