There is not much that can differentiate the two-bedroom flat of Narender Kumar Sondhi (62) with the many other flats in Rohini’s Sector 9. This house, however, is a veritable treasure trove for history buffs.
Over the last 40 years, Sondhi has collected old books, manuscripts, miniature paintings, currency notes, coins and sculptures. Many of his collectibles are connected with the history of the Capital including century-old books, paintings and sketches of Delhi’s monuments.Both the bedrooms of his house have four-feet wide cupboards where he keeps his collection safely.
Sondhi’s most prized collection is a book published in 1911 by the Lahore-based Khosla Publications on the Delhi Durbar of 1911.
It was during this Coronation Durbar that British Emperor George V proclaimed Delhi as India’s new capital. This rare book can now be found only in a few government and private collections.
Enthused by the New Delhi 100 series carried by Hindustan Times, Sondhi decided to share the pictures and the content of the book with us. “The book contains some rare and interesting pictures and has details about all the participants of the Durbar,” he said.
Sondhi himself is a man of many talents. This retired manager of a public sector bank started his career as tourist guide, taking around foreign tourists on trips of Delhi monuments like Qutub Minar and Red Fort. This is where he got interested in Delhi’s history."I used to frequent the book market near Jama Masjid every week and hunt for such rare books," he said. He bought the official Delhi Durbar book from a junk dealer at the market in 1968 for a princely sum of Rs 20.
“During my three-year-long stint as a tourist guide, I saw that foreigners are more interested in our history and culture than us,” he said. “I would keep a part of my salary each month to buy anything old and rare that I could lay my hands on.”
Sondhi, who has done his Master’s in both English and Hindi, also worked as a translator for the Government of India for 10 years. He can also speak a smattering of French, German, Spanish, Gujarati, Bengali, Urdu, Punjabi and Tamil.
He now wants to pass on his collection to someone who will buy them and keep them in good care.
“I have been supported a lot by my wife and two daughters in my passion to collect antiques. But my wife and I are old now and my daughters are married. I want to sell these to someone who will cherish and care for this collection just as I have,” he said.