August 9, 2016
M A Abuthahir has a treasure trove of history locked away in a dedicated iron shed adjoining his rented home in Coimbatore.
The collection of coins dating back to the Mauryan and Sunga dynasties, radios, wall clocks and timepieces of the pre-independence era, and World War whistles will fetch a fortune, but Abuthahir is holding steadfast to the milestones of history, protecting and maintaining them with an obsession that has earned him many names including, a lunatic.
“I wish to sell the collectibles to only a government body because I value and respect them, and fear that selling them to private individuals may result in the country losing souvenirs of history,” said Abuthahir, in whose possession is an assorted collection of property title deeds of the Queen Victoria period – between 1868 and 1951 – belonging to heads of various presidencies.
He said he was approached by private buyers who offered to pay an enormous sum, but he refused to part with them.
His collection also has a 1942 walking stick with a silver head owned by Thanjavur Postal Department and later given away as a gift.
Abuthahir is looking for a place to safekeep his collectibles.
“I hope an NGO or a college will lend some space for me to keep them.”
He said he is not able to move into a bigger house as landlords shun him.
“No one is ready to offer his house for rent as I will have to move in with what they call clutter,” said Abuthahir, who is paying a rent of Rs1,500 for the shed housing the collectibles.
Forty-year-old Abuthahir started collecting coins from the age of 12, and bought his first radio in 1992.
As a school boy, he picked up coins left behind by funeral processions.
“As I grew up, I bought them from numismatics societies.”
Abuthahir who dropped out of school when he was in grade seven, was deeply interested in history and continued his passion for collecting coins, and added vintage radios to the list.
“I have newspaper clippings of Mohenjo Daro, Harappa and Mesopotamia, as history excites me. My collectibles talk history and I think preserving the past is important to build a successful future.”
For instance, a 1970s money saving container with a double-digit lock, had an image of a mother and a daughter embossed on it, which he says refers to the anti-female infanticide drive of the government at that time.
“On opening it after a lot of effort, I found two ten-rupee currency notes issued in the 1950s.”
“I collected the radios from the cycle shop I worked for, and also from scrap metal shops and vintage stores in Chennai, Thiruvananthapuram, Krishnagiri, Hosur, Salem, Hyderabad, Coorg and Bangalore,” said Abuthahir.
The radios in his collection are of the Remington, AirVoice, Mackenzie and Zenith brands, with Phillips made in Britain, Holland, Germany and England.
A life member of the Chennai Numismatics Association, Abuthahir has 70 radios, 40 wall clocks and pocket timepieces.
“A hundred of the radios were damaged in a rain, and had to be thrown away,” he said.
“I can’t recall how much I invested to buy the collectibles, but remember spending Rs10,000, Rs5,000 and sometimes Rs25,000 at different occasions.”
Abuthahir, who has little knowledge of the internet and learns from collectors of antiques and vintage items about assessing the age, quality of the items and the period to which they belong to.
“Now I have the experience to appraise the value of my collection, especially estimate their age and the period to which they belong to.”
Abuthahir said he contributes very little to the running of the family, with his wife supporting by tailoring.
“Once I had just Rs100 in my pocket, and had two ways to spend it – either fill petrol for my bike or buy some snacks for my children. But when my eyes fell on an old trunk at a scrap metal shop, I simply bought it giving the money I had on me and added it to the 14 trunks I already have.”
Abuthahir’s two sons are going to school, and perhaps do not think much about the heirloom in their backyard.