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Trivial Pursuit

Still collecting stamps? The objects of affection for a new generation of collectors are whimsical, even downright weird.

brunch Updated: Apr 21, 2012 16:40 IST
Shreya Sethuraman
Shreya Sethuraman
Hindustan Times

They’ve moved beyond the usual stamp, coin and currency collection phase. Nor are they obsessed with creating a trove of clothes, shoes and bags, either. Nowadays, people love to collect, well, what seems almost like junk. Whether it is match-boxes, unopened cans, old fridge magnets or enamel advertisements from the Raj, what may look like useless junk to everybody else is more precious than gold or silver for this group of intrepid collectors. Here’s a peek into the homes and worlds of the modern-day kabadis.

AwiniThe Vintage Ad Collector

Businessman Awini Ambuj Shanker, 39, began with collecting classic cars. Then, about 10 years ago, when Shanker saw some enamel advertising signs at a friend’s place, he realised he’d discovered a new passion. "All these signs are made of baked enamel, and that’s what makes them special," says Shanker. For the uninitiated, baked enamel advertising became popular in 1880 and the last of these signs faded out in the late 1970s.

At Shanker’s residence in South Delhi’s upmarket Golf Links, more than 200 enamel signs hang on the walls at the entrance and even in the garage. "I’ve been banned from hanging them inside," he jokes. That hasn’t deterred him from going the extra yard when a particular sign captures his fancy. For instance, the time when Shanker came across an ad for Westend watches of 1920s vintage, which had a sari-clad Indian woman adorning the signage. "I paid R2,500 for it as it was a rare advertisement, launched for the Indian market."

Shanker usually sources these signs from shops in Kamla Nagar near Delhi University. Even as friends wonder why he collects ‘such junk’, some bar owners approached him to sell his collection of colourful cigar signs. "It’s taken me 10 years to build such a diverse collection, why would I sell it?" he asks.Here’s Looking At You, Beer

AshokAs soon as you enter Ashok Singhal’s Vasant Kunj flat in southwest Delhi, you realise how widely travelled he is and how enormous is the booty that he has brought back home with him. Assorted masks hang on the walls and the lobby has at least a dozen ashtrays on display.

The sitting area has a minibar where you can find about two dozen shot glasses, souvenirs from different countries, as well as matchboxes. But the most fascinating part of Singhal’s collection is his stash of more than 150 unopened beer cans, which he displays proudly in the dining area. They have been painstakingly collected by him over 10 years, during his various trips abroad (Japan was the most recent pitstop).

In July 2011, when a magazine wrote about his collection, a Namibian embassy official contacted him to enquire if he also had the iconic Namibian Windhoek lager. "When I said no, they invited me over and the first secretary presented me with a pack of six," recalls Singhal with a smile.

What began as a stamp collection in the 1960s has today extended to shirt lapels, bottle openers, currency notes and brochures of the countries Singhal has travelled to. The CEO of a travel firm, Singhal collects just about anything and everything, yet his home doesn’t look cluttered.

When he takes you on a tour of his house, you can see how well-organised he is. There are files full of airline, bus and train tickets, all arranged chronologically. Heck, even his branded T-shirt collection is arranged in alphabetical order!

So addictive is Singhal’s obsession with collecting things that his wife Kavita has also got bitten by the collection bug. "Without her ability to tolerate my indulgences, I doubt I would’ve reached so far," says Singhal.

Earlier this year, at a wine and food show, Singhal came across the Polish Van Pur Super Mocne, a beer that has 10 per cent alcohol, more than the content permitted in India. When the organisers heard of Singhal’s passion for the brew, they quickly gifted a set to him. BharatLight My Fire

You could call him a bright spark. Secunderabad-based industrial design student Bharat Perla, 21, has been collecting matchboxes for a little more than a year now. While studying at the DJ Academy of Design, Coimbatore, he learnt to view things graphically. "A matchbox was the easiest thing to lay one’s hands on. Living in a hostel, I found a lot of them strewn across with different graphic

elements and catchy names, which got me thinking about starting a collection," says Perla.

Today, Perla’s eclectic collection has 130 matchbox brands including Rooster, Joker, 505, Garud and of course, the ubiquitous Ship.

Initially, Perla’s friends looked at his collection with cynicism. "But I only allow people to tell me what they think of the collection, not take it away from me," he says.

Perla says he can go to any extent to get the matchbox he hankers for. Once he found a Chhatri brand matchbox in the garbage bin at Kerala’s Shoranur Railway Station. "I put in a lot of effort to take it out and clean it carefully, even as those around me thought I was mad," he says.

Perla says every person should cultivate a hobby to collect something. "It helps one destress. Plus, the feeling of adding something to your collection is worth the effort."

We’ll just have to take his word for it – that collecting matchboxes can be so fulfilling!MeenaMad About Magnets

Social entrepreneur and inveterate traveller Meena Vaidyanathan, 39, has been collecting fridge magnets since 1995. Her work and wanderlust have taken her to cities across the world. At every new destination, she picks up magnets as a way of bringing back memories. But Vaidyanathan picks up only those magnets that narrate a story, she says.

Ask her to elaborate, and she recalls a trip to the United Kingdom, which perhaps, kickstarted her collection. "My husband and I couldn’t decide on whether to go to Glasgow or Edinburgh in the north, from London. Finally, the scenic beauty of Edinburgh won," she recalls. "While strolling on a railway platform, I spotted a magnet that had a piper and a furry dog, which said Highland and Loch Ness. I felt it represented our state of mind: we couldn’t decide where to go between the two cities," she explains. This kicked off her passion for tasteful fridge magnets.

Vaidyanathan says she’s not a hoarder and each of the magnets in her 60-strong collection is special. That it is the ‘quality’ which matters to her more. "I need to feel a connect with the magnet when I see it. It could have a connect with an experience that I’ve had in the places I’ve visited," she says.

So possessive is Vaidyanathan about her collection that she doesn't even allow her 10-year-old son to go anywhere near them. "To be honest, I could do with losing jewellery, but not with losing my magnets," she laughs. Her favourites include a magnet picked up in Paris that depicts the different kinds of breads made in Washington, Istanbul and Paris. "One gets to learn about the different cultures of these cities just from a simple magnet," she says excitedly.

One day Vaidyanathan plans to launch a business of aesthetic fridge magnets. "India has so much to offer, but unfortunately, in terms of representing our diverse culture through magnets, we’ve been rather unsuccessful," she says.

Junk Addicts, Analysed
Skimming through vaastu columns in magazines, one notices most experts recommend keeping the home uncluttered. Can hoarders defy the logic of feng shui and vaastu? Says vaastu consultant Suresh Siddhanti: “If the northwest-north of the house is defective, there’s a possibility of collecting junk, which leads to loss of time and money.” Siddhanti, however, says collecting stamps and coins is good since it can help you make profits.

The flip side of an obsession with accumulating things? Dr Pulkit Sharma, clinical psychologist, VIMHANS, says indulgences act like a distraction, to deal with anxiety. But why do people collect things like matchboxes and bottle openers? Senior consultant psychiatrist Sanjay Chugh says it perhaps,has to do with breaking away from the monotony of collecting coins or stamps. “Some people have a ‘sensation seeking’ personality trait. The adrenaline rush that they seek comes from amassing such collections,” he says.

Deep down, add both Sharma and Chugh, these people might have self-esteem issues, which makes them seek attention.

Jean-Guy Laquerre of Canada has 25,104 different items of Santa Claus memorabilia
Jean-François Vernetti of Switzerland has collected 11,111 different ‘Do Not Disturb’ signs from hotels in 189 countries
Bernd Sikora of Germany has 1,482 crisp packets from 43 countries
Manfred S. Rothstein of USA has 675 back scratchers sourced from as many as 71 countries
Brent Dixon of Valdosta, Georgia, USA, has hoarded up on 41,418 non-duplicated key chains
Ladislav Sejnoha of the Czech Republic has 200,000 tickets from 36 countries
Marinus Van Doorn of the Netherlands has a collection of 33,492 bottle openers
Markus Drexler of Germany has an eclectic collection of 18,179 different coffee pots
Niek Vermeulen of the Netherlands has 6,016 sickness bags from 1,142 airlines from more than 160 countries

Courtesy: Guinness World Records

From HT Brunch, April 22

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First Published: Apr 20, 2012 20:09 IST