Mumbaiikars turned out in large numbers for a viewing of the pricey possessions of reviled fugitive Nirav Modi that will be up for auction on http://www.saffronart.com in the first week of March. Possibly, it was out of curious fascination to get a glimpse of a wildly duplicitous lifestyle, but there were also some serious shoppers scouting for a future bargain.
Up for grabs will be a limited edition Jaeger LeCoultre watch, artworks by MF Hussain and Amrita Sher-Gil, a Rolls Royce and an assortment of jewellery and bags. The combined value of all the items is between Rs 40-50 crore, a paltry amount considering Nirav Modi allegedly defrauded Punjab National Bank of over Rs 10,000 crore.
Asset forfeiture is relatively rare in India. This is the first time a professional auction house has been appointed by the Enforcement Directorate to sell the seized assets of an absconder. Perhaps the idea behind it is the message it sends to would-be fraudsters — Nirav Modi’s humiliation is now complete (though he has way bigger problems than his reputation right now). It’ll be interesting to see what sells and at what price because Indians, at least, tend to have strange money superstitions. I’m guessing the fifteen top-rated artworks will not lose value by having passed through drawing rooms inhabited by the tainted Nirav, their rarity being of huge importance to art connoisseurs. Jewellery is an entirely different matter. For anyone with an overactive imagination, wearing trinkets chosen by an accused scamster is a surefire way to attract the wrong spiritual vibrations. People tend to be less inclined to see the colourful story of an object as a great talking point, and more concerned that the misfortune of the previous owner may magically get transferred to them.
History is replete with examples of cursed gems and folklore that present the paradox, that a particular stone’s lustre may be another owner’s downfall. Look no further than the infamous diamond, the Koh-i-Noor, that passed between several rulers in the 17th century, wreaking bloody havoc on all of them. Over the years, documented origins of this legendary stone found their way into popular myth, starting with the richly atmospheric book by Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone. The narrative revolves around a young English lady who suffers immense tragedy after the theft of the stone that she inherits on her 18th birthday (It turns out diamonds are not always a girl’s best friend).
The truth is that luxury goods can be so absurdly priced, a true collector will be wholly undeterred by Nirav’s scandalous past and focussed on the fact that an Hermes bag that retails for Rs 28 lakh will be going for a minimum of 30 per cent cheaper. However, I did a quick poll with five girlfriends on whether they would buy Nirav Modi’s stuff. Besides one, they all said no, because, it’s a turn off. I’m pretty sure it’s not righteous rage about what he did to India’s banking sector that’s made them squeamish, it seems they didn’t want to be reminded of his unscrupulousness on a daily basis.
Perhaps there is good reason that people fall for the popular delusions of luck and nazar, especially in a poor country like India where we know it’s impossible to wipe out the inequities spawned by fate. Sometimes human behaviour veers towards respecting the divine mystery of our own circumstances; and suddenly, chasing after the fantastic treasures of a life fallen apart, seems so pointless.
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