“Nothing which has historical value should be put into dumps,” says Aditya Vij, an anthropologist and a passionate artefacts collector, who believes that the essence of today is rooted in our history. His Bali Nagar residence in west Delhi is home to a collection of fascinating odds and ends of things you would either have read in books or heard stories from your grandparents. The 44-year-old has dedicated his life to antiquities. His interest in examining the transformation of rapidly changing lifestyles has made him create a lineage of many of his accumulated relics. His first collection as an 8-year-old was colourful match boxes picked up when wandering on the roads with his father. Today, he has more than 4,000.
With time, Vij expanded his collection beyond just matchboxes to other unusual historical objects. His collection spans 18-20 categories — from cameras from the 1880s to typewriters (one that dates back to 1909), British memorabilia such as ink wells and feather pens to 15 vintage cars (oldest being a 1928 Chevrolet, which is not restored). Many have been preserved and restored for the coming generations to appreciate. His two daughters, though, would like him to sell the cars and buy an Audi instead, but they still support his passion.
“I was inspired by my father’s art of preserving every little thing he owned, I started putting all his collection of books and comics from the 1930s together and eventually developed a passion for collection of antiques,” says Vij, who is often teased as a ‘hoarder’ by his mother and friends.
Interestingly, all his collections have a chronology and a connecting story to them. He tries to chart an object’s evolution over the years. One of the most organised things put together is his Re 1 note collection. Remember the indigo colour Re 1 notes we used to spend to buy candies? It was decommissioned two decades ago. Vij has seven types of Re 1 notes starting from 1930 to latest one that was reintroduced in 2015. He has located the first Re 1 note that was released in 1917 but is waiting for the right deal to get his hands on it to complete the set.
Vij is perfect example of one person’s trash is another’s treasure. “Anything disappearing is a collection for me, anything that will be history for the generation 20 years ahead will also be a collection for me. People move on but maintaining the old world charm gives me utmost satisfaction and peace,” he says, with a sense of nostalgia.
He built his collection (which comprises thousands of pieces) through the many expeditions and travels he’s made in search of the old. For instance, on a visit to Kathmandu, Vij met with an old lady who was dumping torn and ramshackled items from her home that had been lying around for ages. He spotted a Thangka painting depicting the life of Buddha that the lady said dated back hundreds of years. He bought the painting from a very surprised owner, saving it from being thrown into the trash. It now hangs proudly on his wall of history.
“Thangka basically serves as a teaching tool elaborating details and small figures of Buddha and other lamas. It also reveals myths associated to deities in form of handmade paintings on silk and cotton with natural colours. Most of the ancient families kept them as precious heirlooms,” explains Vij, who is staunchly averse to disclosing the monetary value of any of his possessions.
His latest acquisitions include a 1965 telephone instrument exclusively made by Siemens for Pakistan Telecom (he doesn’t know how it made its way to India).
According to Vij, the old heavy-weight enamel ceramic advertising boards belonging to the 1940s — some of them are even from pre-independent India — are the ‘hottest’ items in his collection, since only a few of them exist in the world.
“These boards were made of iron shields with enamel painting and then baked to make them ceramic, it has been scratch free and heat proof for decades, but with latest technology and cheap methods of advertising coming in, these are now just blocks of metal pieces for kabadiwalas to melt and get iron out of it,” he added.
Vij laments that the current generation probably doesn’t have the kind of reverence it should for its past, which why his house is open for all those interested, on appointment. “It’s important to spread awareness about our rich heritage and culture, our destiny is scripted by our history,” he says, adding, “It is terrible that the historic monuments and ancient archives today are restored without keeping the originality intact. Polishing and usage of artificial parts to make it fancy is a huge loss of history as we are losing out on ancient inscriptions and values.” The fact that no insurance company has agreed to insure his treasure trove because they don’t see the worth simply proves he’s right.
Going forward, the fashion marketing and manufacturing teacher at Pearl Academy wants to put together a museum with his collectibles, so that future generations can find a footprint of the past, understand the gradual evolution of objects and things, as well as learn to appreciate their heritage.