LAHORE: Entering Mahboob Aslam’s property in Cantt is like walking into another age. For this antiques hobbyist has replaced the doors, windows floors and ceilings with elaborate fixtures crafted hundreds of years ago. “Except the walls, everything has changed,” he says.
Over the last 25 years, Aslam has collected over a hundred antique doors, ceilings and other fixtures and pieces of furniture from all over the country. Some he has incorporated into his home, but most of his collection doors of various sizes and designs, wooden pillars and arches, cupboards, dressing tables, and wooden boxes and shelves lies covered in plastic sheets in his backyard. Next to it is a workshop where some 15 artisans painters and carvers – restore the pieces.
His collection includes huge doors with elaborate floral pattern borders from Chiniot or Chakwal. Some doors from Sindh are carved with sparrows, parrots or Hindu gods. There are 300-year-old pillars, the oldest items in his collection, from a mosque near the Pak-Afghan border, and three wooden arches carved with cats and elephants from a haveli in Haripur once owned by Ranjit Singh that are almost as old.
Despite having no academic background in history or architecture, Aslam has learned to identify what region a door or ceiling came from by its age, the type of wood used and the patterns and motifs carved or drawn on them. Old doors from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa are decorated with geometric patterns or carved with lotuses or lilies. The doors from Sindh are made from teak while most Punjabi doors are made from deodar, a cedar.
His most expensive purchase was an eight-foot tall door from a haveli in Chiniot that he bought for Rs700,000. “The design is typical of south Punjab,” he says, pointing at the intricate border. “The patterns found on doors from Chakwal, Kallar Kahar or Bhera in the north are not as intricate.”Aslam, a hotel developer, took up the hobby after an antique collector showed up at his house with antique doors in the mid 1980s. “I was fascinated and asked him to take me to havelis that were in the process of demolition so I could find more old doors,” he says.
Apart from travelling to demolition sites, he hired craftsmen to restore the antique fixtures. A ceiling, for example, gets washed, termite-proofed, repaired and repainted. The process can take up to a year.
Aslam is now hoping to turn his hobby into a business. He is setting up a showroom in his house, while his son has started developing a website where foreign buyers can look at the restored doors. “I’ve seen that foreigners are more appreciative of antiques than Pakistanis. Rich people here go for modern designs,” he says.
“I sometimes furnish an old ceiling for an acquaintance, but it’s rare. It takes up too much energy and most people do not appreciate it. Also, considering the time and labour costs, they are expensive,” he says, A skilled carver charges Rs1,000 a day, while a painter charges between Rs1,000 and Rs1,200, depending on the intricacy of the work, he says. “It’s like restoring a vintage car. It’s bought from a junkyard, the defunct parts are replaced with original functional parts. I’m doing a similar thing with doors and ceilings.”
Sometimes he gets stuff that’s irreparable. “We use the undamaged parts to make shelves, cupboards, beds and dressing tables,” he says. Aslam has stopped buying doors for now. “I have collected enough,” he says. “I don’t think I’ll be able to repair all this in my lifetime.”Published in The Express Tribune, April 4th, 2012.