Shopping for Paintings outside the Forbidden City

It was an intricately sketched piece depicting a scene at a market place in ancient China. The level of detail was just mind blowing. There were merchants trading wares, customers bargaining, children playing in the courtyards of their homes, laborers toiling, commoners commuting to whatever might have been their workplaces in those times, royals being carried around on their palanquins etc.

“This one is a depiction of the era of the Southern Song dynasty. Also have a look at these two as well. We had 10 of these. But they are in great demand. We have only 3 left now.”

The other two were equally good. She mentioned some other dynasty name for one of them that I could not catch clearly. But I am a total sucker for History and all this mention of ancient kingdoms had me salivating.

“This one here is a depiction of the annual dragon boat festival,” she added pointing to one of them.

My wife and I had decided to collect little figurines or painting replicas from wherever we undertook trips and make a collection of trip mementos. This one would serve as that. Only the ones we usually bought were from roadside souvenir shops and much cheaper. But still 3000 ₹ was not all that much. A meal here was costing 1000 ₹ and a coffee 250 ₹. Also if I do not respect an artist, who would?

“These are original works, aren’t they? Is this the only existing copy of this work?”

After all it was something to have an original piece of work. We could not afford works of the masters. But we could patronize these small time artists. I had this inescapable niggling feeling about this extravagance on my part that I was trying hard to rationalize.

“Ok. I will have this one,” I said finally making a choice between the two roadside scenes. The water scene I decided to give a miss due to the lesser number of elements in the scene. You know the Indian mentality – more the better.

“Take both – Yin and Yang. That will be a good balance.”

“I don’t have money,” I repeated like a broken record.

Suddenly her face took on a sad expression. “So you are not taking any of my paintings?”

Yeah, indeed. My first intention of buying had been to humor her. And now I was ditching her painting. How callous of me.

I don’t have money.” I was feeling like an idiot repeating myself over and over again.

“I will tell you what – I will let you have this for 100 ¥. I want my paintings to be seen in foreign countries. So I am willing to forgo some of my money.”

Now this was an offer one could not refuse. 50% discount! And I got to humor her as well. Also there would be some variety. The Southern Song dynasty picture was monochrome while this one was colorful. I looked through and picked one of autumn.

“You mentioned some free calligraphy.”

Having been made to part with so much of my hard earned wealth, I was going to ensure I got every penny’s worth.

“Yeah. Of course. Let us first finish this transaction and then let us see about it. By the way I noticed you had a hard time deciding between the two paintings. I have an offer for you. Take both of them and I will give you my painting free.”

It was a good offer – a further saving of 100 ¥. But I was getting a bad feeling about this. I had agreed to buy the painting for the sake of the girl and she was saying she would throw it in free. How could an artist agree to give her work free with something just like that? Maybe for the greater good of the school, I told myself.

“No. I have already spent a lot. Let me pay the bill and then let us get the calligraphy done.”

I took out my card to pay.

“There will be an extra charge of 20 ¥ on the card payment. I hope it is fine.”

No. I did not want to lose a penny more. So I pulled out my wad of 100 ¥ notes and began to count out four.


“Why? You have so much cash. Why did you say you have none? Take one more painting.”

For whom the bell tolls

A book of faces