Meet Delhi’s History Hunter, who pieces together the world that was
The words ‘History Hunter’ conjure up the image of someone like Indiana Jones or Lara Croft (the badass treasure-hunting and tomb-raiding heroes from Hollywood). Take away their outlandish stunts and near-death experiences, and you’d get Anshul Kaushik, a Delhi-based history enthusiast. The 34-year-old would have been an engineer in some big company, but chose to opt for consultancy in the field, so that he could collect and preserve bits of history. Today, he has a collection of over 1,500 items, which include pre-Independence newspapers, ancient artefacts, dinosaur fossils, a piece of the moon, and more.
According to Kaushik, he has been a history buff for as long as he can remember. He credits his grandfather and his history teacher for understanding that this was not just a fad for him. “My grandfather himself was into collecting things, and he introduced me to the world of stamp collection when I was small. Stamps were the first things I collected, and I’m glad that I was able to complete his collection spanning 120 years (1860 to 1980). He also owned some ancient artefacts that he passed down to me when he saw that I had keen interest in them,” says Kaushik, who often volunteers as a Human Book, one that has many takers, thanks to his interesting tales.
“In school, history was always a favourite subject for me, and my history teacher, Vakil ma’am, used to tell us about her childhood experiences during the Indo-Pakistan war — the sound of the aeroplanes, the power outages at night — something that always held my interest. I was fascinated by these stories. Even on TV, I really enjoyed watching shows such as The Sword of Tipu Sultan and Chanakya. One could say I was always a historian at heart,” he shares.
Ask him about his collection and Kaushik proudly says, “I have things from two extreme ends of the world — the ocean (coal pieces recovered from the Titanic) and space (a stone from the moon) — and then everything in between. Out of the 1,500 items I have collected, most are from the pre-Independence era as I prominently collect from that time. I first began ‘hunting’ for historical stuff seriously while I was preparing for the civil services examinations, and haven’t stopped since. It took me 14 years of extensive hunting to amass it all, and the quest still continues.”
His collection focuses on items which aren’t widely available and cover landmark moments in history. “My collection includes important newspapers, war medals, photographs, postcards, fossils, books, historical documents, letters, coat of arms, emblems, engraved maps, autographs of national leaders, British era banking documents, idols, Mughal era games, princely state stamp papers, primitive stereoviews, and more. From important war accounts and the coronation of Delhi to landmark moments from the British Raj and the formation of independent India, I have it all,” he says. Kaushik also explains how procuring these pieces isn’t all he does; he also has to spend to get them certified, and then conserve and maintain them.
Recalling his first hunt, Kaushik says, “A friend from Jharkhand who was with me during the IAS coaching informed me about someone who wanted to sell an edition of The Statesman, dated August 15, 1947. I did not hesitate even once and immediately booked a tatkal ticket to Jharkhand. The next thing I know, I was at the seller’s doorstep, holding the copy in my hand. It was a moment to remember! Collecting these pieces of history is not just an interest for me — it is more like an addiction, something that gives me a high; a kind of time travel. I often go through my collection and admire it, reliving the stories once again. Acquiring rare and valuable things really challenges me and keeps the flame in me alive.”
He hopes that one day he will be able to open a museum of his own, a place where he would be able to share his love for history with the world. As for his dream hunt, he says that he always wanted a copy of the newspaper from January 26, 1950, something that he has been searching for years.
Read all about his collection here:
Kaushik’s collection of newspapers is among his most prized items. Spanning between 1758 and 1991, the collection covers major landmark moments such as Tipu Sultan’s war account, the first flight to India, Delhi’s coronations, accounts of the revolt of 1857, India’s independence, the partition of India, the end of World War 2, Bhagat Singh bombing the Delhi assembly, Inauguration of Delhi, President Rajendra Prasad’s swearing-in ceremony, deaths of Indira Gandhi and Jawahar Lal Nehru, and more.
The moon rock, also known as NWA 5000, was knocked off the lunar highlands around the time of Alexander the Great’s death (323 BC). It was later found on Earth in southern Morocco (2007) and provided to Adam Hupe in October that year. Only a limited number of people own a piece of this rare and coveted moon meteorite, and Kaushik is one of them.
THE TITANIC COAL
Thanks to James Cameron’s epic romance-disaster film, Titanic (1997), we all know that the Titanic sank in the North Atlantic Ocean on April 15, 1912, after colliding with an iceberg during its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City. However, Kaushik remembers the disaster by a piece of coal recovered from the boiler room of Titanic’s wreckage, something that is the star of his collection.
A SLICE OF DELHI’S HISTORY
From old pictures of Jama Masjid, illustrations of houses in Chandni Chowk, and Monochrome prints of Qutub Minar to an old gun from the mutiny of 1857, pictures of India Gate being constructed, coronation medal and plate, and a rare engraved map of Old Delhi, Kaushik has a lot in his collection that tells us about the Capital’s history.
STEREOSCOPE AND STEREOVIEWS
Another star in Kaushik’s collection is an Underwood & Underwood stereoscope from 1901 — a device by which two photographs of the same object taken at slightly different angles are viewed together, creating an impression of depth and solidity. The stereoviews in Kaushik’s collection give the viewer a virtual 3D tour of India from Bombay to Kashmir.
Kaushik also owns fossils of a rare bird, a tree, and a fish from the Jurassic era, along with two dinosaur eggs, a preserved jaw bone of a dinosaur with the teeth intact, and ammonite fossils which once belonged to the Tethys sea (a sea from the Mesozoic Era which existed millions of years before the Himalayas were formed).
The collection includes war medals from various important points in history. While some are from World War 2, such as the Defence Medal, Burma Star, and the Africa Star, others are service medals from World War 1 and from Indian Independence.
LETTERS, FIRST COVERS, AND POSTCARDS
Kaushik also owns a few handwritten letter communications between King Wajid Ali Shah – the king of Oudh, his wife Khas Mahal, and son Fardoon, with their seals and signatures dated 1881. Apart from this, he has a vast collection of postcards which include Meghdoot postcards. One postcard that stands out was sent by English mountaineer and filmmaker John Baptist Lucius Noel to himself from the Everest base camp during his 1924 Mount Everest expedition. Kaushik also has an impressive collection of first day covers which includes the first flight to India (1948), Indian Everest expedition cover (1965), the first Indian man on the moon (1969), and an Independence day cover (1949). His collection of rare letters also includes letters sent to India from Rangoon (then capital of British Burma) in 1907.
Though not an active autograph collector, Kaushik does have a few, such as those of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawahar Lal Nehru.
Also part of Kaushik’s collection are ancient artefacts such as a Gandhara Bodhisattva, a Harappan idol of the Mother Goddess, an Amazonite bead necklace from the Harappan period, bells of the Gandhara Kingdom, Harrapan bull, spindle beads from Gandhara, and a Takshilla Lamp.
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