Meet 83 Y.O. Bhanumati Parekh, Who Is One Of The Only Female Auctioneers In India
- IWB Post
- April 15, 2019
Eighty-three-year-old Bhanumati Parekh is the owner of one of the oldest auction houses in the country; the Egbert Andrews Auction Mart. Situated in Central Calcutta, the auction house was started in 1888. Back then, her grandfather was associated with it and her father bought it in 1920. Parekh attended her first auction at the age of 17 and took over the business five years later after a stroke left her father paralyzed.
Bhanumati says, “I knew from the outset that if I didn’t know the value of the materials, I would be doing injustice to my business. Those days there was no Internet. The only way to learn was to meet people, talk to them, absorb.”
Most auctions would take place on location such as factory sheds, but that changed around 20 years ago. Most of the time, she used to be the only woman at these auctions. “Those days, women were not allowed to enter. After much convincing, they believed I had come for the auction,” she says about an auction she’d attended at the Ichhapur ordnance factory near Calcutta.
Recounting one incident, she says, “Once I was auctioning in the open yard of a vehicles depot. There were some jeeps that were to be auctioned. I was standing atop the bonnet of one. A four-foot something woman in a sari, shouting at the top of her voice for hours at a stretch. Can you imagine? And then someone shouted ‘snake’, and I leapt from bonnet to the ground,” she finished.
In her 50 years of experience, she’s come across various types of people, from CEOs to goons. “The new generation of buyers is literate but they don’t have much of an idea about the field. Most people I dealt with earlier were not so educated but they knew what the scrap would yield.” Parekh talks about how buyers would sniff a slab of zinc dross — an alloy of zinc and iron — and tell what per cent of zinc it contained. They would take one look at a heap of iron and steel and call out how many tonnes it weighed,” she says about the changes in buyers she’s noticed.
Bhanumati further explains the nuances of the trade and how online auctions don’t have the same feel, “Auctioning is not easy, if 300 people are sitting in a room, one has to be alert and aware of who is bidding, for how much. Not every bidder bids out loud, at times people just signal with their eyes. You have to know whether someone means Rs 100, Rs 1,000 or Rs 10,000. This profession demands experience. Auctions demand material knowledge and understanding of human psychology but online auctions have eliminated this and auctioneers. But the government feels this is more transparent.”