It’s been about half a century since Padi pishi’s long-forgotten Burmese box was extracted from a pigeon coop and prised open to reveal rubies the size of pigeon’s eggs, doubloons and other atavistic trumpery. Now, Leela Majumdar’s classic Bengali novel, Padi Pishir Barmi Baksha, may be coming to life. In 2008, three iron chests were found in the bowels of an old south Kolkata house. Weighing 1,000 kg each and believed to be 300-400 years old, the chests could be older than the city itself. After six years of legal wrangling, they will be opened on court order. The city holds its breath. This, quite literally, could be gold.
Treasure troves, the flotsam and jetsam of history, wielded a fatal fascination even before Padi Pishi. Under Roman law, a trove was defined as “an ancient deposit of money, of which no memory exists, so that it has no present owner”. In medieval England, a treasure trove had to be hidden with “animus revocandi”, or the intention of recovering it later. The association with a time beyond memory, the hint of old pledges and feuds, the possibilities of ownership proved to be catnip for both adventurers and writers. Celebrated in legend and literature, the treasure trove has become a thing of romance and cultural artefact.
But the Indian love for a good haul could boil down to something simpler — gold. Shares and bonds are all very well, but nothing says wealth like a chest dripping with gold. Last year, when a sadhu in UP’s Unnao district had visions of buried gold, it was believed that India’s current account woes were over. The ASI excavation yielded a few glass bangles and iron nails. No matter. As the fire department opens the chests on Monday, the crowd will still be hoping for the glow of gold on their faces.