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'The bidding was like a small Cuban missile crisis'
Arthur J Pais in New York | March 06, 2009 13:20 IST
Last Updated: March 06, 2009 18:48 IST
James Otis stood outside a building on New York's Madison Avenue on Thursday afternoon at 1400 hrs announcing, with his pro-bono lawyer Ravi Batra, that he had asked the Antiquorum auction house not to go ahead with the sale of the seven items belonging to Mahatma Gandhi [Images].
Otis, who had the items including a pair of glasses in his possession for over a decade, was tired of various controversies that had accompanied the news of the impending auction. He wanted to give back the items to India and he was also going to fast for 23 days, Otis said. The auction house would not listen to him or his lawyer's requests.
"My client has been very unhappy in the past few days because of the controversy over the auction. It was not his intention to make a commercial profit from the auction, and he was particularly distressed over the strong reaction against the sale, given his peace loving nature," Batra added.
His client was not so much worried about the legal impediments the Delhi [Images] High Court had put on his way and conveyed its decision to the State Department, Batra said.
"He was worried that because of online and phone bidding, a third world dictator or any improper person may get hold of these items," Batra continued. "To my client, such an act would be travesty of historical proportion." It would be an ultimate insult to Gandhi.
"We felt it was like we were going through a small Cuban missile crisis." He was referring to the confrontation between America and Cuba in the 1960s over nuclear armaments.
Otis did not want the auction to be delayed. "He was very firm about the auction being stopped," Batra said, adding that his client had either e-mailed or faxed a letter to the auction house by another lawyer representing him the day before the auction was scheduled..
When Otis realized he was not getting a favorable reply from the auction house, he sent Batra to meet with Robert Maron, the head of the auction house.
There were many legal issues involved, Batra said. Apart from the Delhi High Court judgment against the auction, there was a possibility of civil litigation by Otis against the auction house.
Batra said he had 'candid conversation' with Maron, the chairman of Antiquorum, around 3 pm on Thursday, a few minutes before the auction started. .
Batra considers the auction to be illegal but adds that his client has no intention of suing the firm.
"My client was satisfied that the property was going to be donated to the trust Gandhi had established," Batra said."He was relieved it is going to be public and not a private property. He was also glad that an Indian national had bought it."
"We did not want it in a private trophy case," he continued, adding that Otis was not speaking to the media because he is overwhelmed by the events.
When asked if Otis would give away most of the money he would collect from the auction house to pacifist groups, "I have no doubt about his intentions," Batra said. "I find him a very admirable character."
The items including a watch and a pair of sandals were sold for $1.8 million but the buyer will have to pay around $2.2 million including the commission to the auction house.
Otis had said earlier he had no idea how much the items would be fetching.
Tony Bedi, an employee of Mallya, did the bidding on the latter's behalf.
He was also asked if the possessions of Gandhi, as ascetic who owned hardly any property, were worth $1.8 million. He chuckled and said: "I think they're worth six" million dollars.
Batra does not know when or where Otis would be fasting.
"He was very serious when he made the announcement," he said. Otis says the fasting will help him cleanse his inner life and refocus on his work as an advocate of nonviolent transformation of the society.