Are you a collector? I don’t really mean the uber rich, connoisseur kind of collectors who accumulate vintage wines or cut glass or diamonds etc. What I mean is simple things – that people collect either when they travel themselves or their friends get for them as gifts. From tiny miniature cars – which were called dinky toys when we were kids – to little plastic animals that came inside toothpaste boxes, which we referred to as Binaca toys – we were collectors even as kids. Many of my friends complain that their kids – despite belonging to the hi-tech, computer savvy generation – drag them to McDonald’s for Happy Meals just to collect the toys which come with them.
There's something very personal and warm about collecting little things which I dont think is matched by collections of Mercs or jets. As a girl, I collected postal stamps – as did many of my friends. But then those were the days when we wrote letters to friends and relatives, sometimes across thousands of miles. And when the envelopes or aerogrammes arrived from uncles and aunts or pen-friends living overseas – carefully detaching the beautiful multi-coloured stamps and putting them up in albums was something that many of us enjoyed doing. My grandfather – a very creative person – collected feathers that birds had shed and then made beautiful cards for us with them. In a similar manner, my aunt collects leaves and flowers and preserves them between pages of notebooks to make cards for her friends and family members.
My sister is a big collector of headgear – caps and hats – from all over the world. I remember my first trip overseas to Phuket when she had specially asked me to get a straw hat for her. I had risked the x-ray machine and other hazards of international travel to bring back the biggest one I could find for her. She has herself added many chic felt hats to her collection when she traveled to Tibet during an arduous pilgrimage to Mansarovar Lake and Mt Kailash. Her friends have got her berets from France and baseball caps from the US. My uncle Subir Sen, too, had a big collection of traditional Indian caps from various Himalayan states such as Himachal, Nepal, Uttarakhand etc. And he loved sporting them in Kolkata, thus creating an unique style of his own.
Maitreyee Chatterjee – an activist for women’s rights in Kolkata – collects statues of owls and like her I know someone who collects frog statues. My mother, Haimanty, has a collection of miniature animals in metal, stone and terracotta as well as a lovely collection of small bells. My friend Nilanjan in America tells me that he is collecting Minolta cameras from yester-years. Don’t ask me why I do it, he had said. Perhaps, because they’re a throwback to our past when photography was all manual and involved positives and negatives and elaborate printing processes. Maybe collecting things that bring back the past is about nostalgia.
My father Rabindra – who for me symbolized simple living and high thinking – didn’t throw anything away unless it was absolutely of no use. In fact, he believed in recycling stuff all his life – even before it became fashionable to do so. From hairclips to old pens and glass bottles, my father put small things – which we would have thrown into the garbage can – to some use in household repairs or in his unique creations. I remember collecting wine glasses from all the wineries that we visited during a trip to Napa & Sonoma two years ago. But that's a touristy thing to do and a part of the wine-tasting ritual. Squirreling is perhaps an inherent quality in many of us – and that’s probably why we keep adding to the collection!