Nakku Babu: Kolkata’s own treasure collector

Photos by Ashok Nath Dey
Text by Avijit Ghosal



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n 18th century calling bell. Buttons made of sea shells that early British settlers wore in 1777. A Swiss stopwatch made by ROCAR in 1930.

Sushil Kumar Chatterjee’s house in North Kolkata is strewn with these items. Popularly known as Nakku Babu, he is a collector.

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Chatterjee, 92, resides in his three-storey house near Hatibagan, Kolkata. The best of his collection gets a place of pride in his ultimate treasure room – now choc-a-bloc with sundry items of yester years.

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Chatterjee walks to Shyambazar, about two kms from his residence, to buy vegetables and groceries.
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A partially working set of headphones from 1926 made by Thomson-Houston, a British company.
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Chatterjee looks into functioning World War I movie camera.

A graduate of science from Kolkata's Scottish Church College, Chatterjee developed a passion for tinkering at 10 years-old.

“I started with collecting stones. I was fascinated by their odd shapes and picked up pebbles from the streets and woods. Then I developed a fancy for old items,” Chatterjee says.

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(Left to right): A 1912 pocket microscope, Swiss made stop watch, British Indigo Planter calling-bell decorated with a cut-glass diamond on the top and a 1901 compass and sundial clock used by the Australian navy during World War I. Due to lack of space, Chatterjee has often dumped collectibles and hasn’t made a record of them.
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An early 35 mm reel projector.
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Headphones rest on an old projector.
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A World War I army receiver placed on top of a working piano accordion, right bottom, amongst other old electronic gadgets. Chatterjee likes to play LP records and has collected over 3,000 such music records made of shellac.

He took up small roles in jatras (village theatre), Bengali cinema and some part-time jobs in mercantile firms. But in all these years, he pursued his hobby of collecting old items with a single-minded zeal.

He feels that his collectibles take him back to another time, an era gone forever. “I just close my eyes and feel transported to a different era. If I speak to them, they speak with me. I can't express the feeling in words,” says Chatterjee.

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“I have instilled a love of old things in my elder son. He repairs old mechanical devices and has promised me that he will look after my collection.” he says, with a sense of relief.
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Chatterjee lives with his wife and three sons.
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Chatterjee believes that his innings have come to an end. He looks at his watch and says, “I’m waiting.”

Will he consider handing over his collection to the government?

No.

Chatterjee refutes the idea, saying, “Please remember that in our country, the authorities can’t even preserve the Nobel Prize of Rabindranath Tagore.”

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