Aditya Vij’s passion for collecting old things stems from a need to preserve everything that will soon become history.
The Bali Nagar residence of Aditya Vij contains 3,000 matchboxes, innumerable old books (including some 100-year-old editions of books by Rabindranath Tagore and Rudyard Kipling), more comic books than you’d find at an average bookshop (including Indrajal, Amar Chitra Katha, and American comics), old maps, tin boxes (Parry’s, Morton, Cadbury), old British relics such as the coronation plates issued when Delhi was declared the capital of India in 1911, typewriters, cameras, radios, record players, Bollywood movie posters, priceless vintage cars and scooters, and wildlife specimens from birds’ nests to eggs to insects to parts of plants.
There may be other things, in this house crammed with things, but it’s difficult to make out what they might be after identifying this much. But oh yes – there’s a big collection of HT Brunch too, looked after with just as much care as all the other collections.
Vij, 42, is pretty much like his collections – totally eclectic. He’s an anthropologist, an entrepreneur, and a teacher of marketing and fashion at institutes such as Bhartiya Vidyapeeth University and Pearl Academy. He’s also quite used to being called a hoarder and kabadiwalla – he’s been a collector of everything since he was a child.
“I got into the habit of collecting things when I was just five or six years old and used to go for walks with my father who was an avid reader and collector of comic books and books on wildlife,” says Vij. “Inspired by him, I started keeping these things carefully and always kept an eye out for unusual things.”
Over the years, Vij has had many different collections, including old scooters (Lambrettas) and vintage cars. About five years ago, saddened by the disappearance of hand-painted movie posters, he began collecting those too. “There were plenty of printed posters available, but I wanted the litho prints of the original oil and watercolour posters,” says Vij.
“Today I have around 18 big posters and about the same number of the smaller posters that were put up in the windows of cinema halls. The oldest one I have is of the 1942 film called Roti, starring Sheikh Mukhtar and Sitara Devi and directed by Mehboob Khan.” He also has posters of the iconic 1955 movie Azaad, starring Dilip Kumar and Barish (1956), starring Nutan.
“Vinyl prints take just a few minutes in the making today, but they lack the beauty of these hand-painted prints,” says Vij.
In love with the past
For Vij, old is truly gold. If anything’s about to disappear, he’s sure to begin a collection. “Buying a new thing is easy, but how many of us know about things that were there 40-50 years ago?” he asks. “When I take out my old Fiat today, youngsters ask me about the car. How many of us have actually seen the baats and the sers (vintage weights) or Agfa cameras? At one time, taking a good picture was an art. Today digital cameras have made things so easy.”
Vij says it’s hard to have favourites among his collections. But he does admit to being extra obsessed with a few. There’s a 1928 map of Delhi, for instance, that had to be restored from a tattered state, which showed how 70-80 per cent of India’s capital city was agricultural or forest land. And there’s a Hudson car that took him three months to acquire from the person who was selling it.
“The vintage cars are certainly the most glamorous of my collections, but my matchboxes take prime place,” says Vij. “These matchboxes change with time. There are pictures of kings, historical buildings, automobiles and even a Doraemon matchbox. They tell the story of changing times. At one time, all matchboxes in India came from Sweden as we never had the technology to make them. Today, India is the biggest exporter of matchboxes to Europe.”
Lost and found
Vij travels far and wide to build his collections, but says that Delhi’s Chandni Chowk and Daryaganj are good places to begin, filled as they are with people willing to sell treasures – though at a high price. “At times people have actually given me things because they know I’ll take good care of them,” he says.
Occasionally, Vij has to work a little harder for his passion. For instance, in Jodhpur, he once had to buy two kilos of jeera because he wanted the Salto tin the jeera was stored in, and the shopkeeper had nothing to transfer the jeera to.
Vij’s collections are his alone for the moment but he has big ideas for them. “Ideally, I would want to set up a proper museum where these things can be showcased in a planned way,” he says. “Already, people who laughed and said I was weird are bringing their children to my house for a date with history.”
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From HT Brunch, February 22
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