By Quaid Najmi
Mumbai, Sep 27 (IANS) For Mumbai businessman Kishore Jhunjhunwalla, what started as a curiosity for Mohandas K. Gandhi, five decades ago, soon became a passion and then a haunting obsession which has resulted into what is the worlds largest private collection of memorabilia related to the Father of The Nation.
It was way back in 1969, when the world was celebrating Gandhiji’s birth centenary in varied manner, scores of countries rose to pay tributes to the Apostle of Non-Violence by way of stamps, coins, currency notes, artefacts, books, and other commemorative articles.
“When the 78-year old Gandhiji was assassinated (Jan. 1948), I was barely four years old, but for the world which had witnessed that epochal event just 22 years ago, on his birth centenary (1969) it was a sheer spontaneous outpouring of love and respect for the one of a kind man who once walked on Earth,” Jhunjhunwalla told IANS.
With over 100 countries issuing postal stamps and first-day-covers to honour Gandhiji, he started collecting them, like a dedicated Magpie. Today, at the age of 76, the young Jhunjhunwalla has nearly 1,000 stamps dedicated to Gandhiji from around the world.
That was just the beginning of his hobby, but as he viewed and studied the stamps in different shapes, sizes and colours, it ignited a passion in him and, like Oliver Twist, he said: “I wanted some more… and lot more!”
Soon Jhunjhunwalla’s accumulation not only soared in quantity, but sheer variety and quality – priceless by any measure – literally piling up in his apartment in Walkeshwar Road in the posh south Mumbai.
“Yes, I ‘invested’ a little to acquire some items, but mostly ordinary folks simply walked in and gifted me many Gandhiji-related items as ‘they had no clue’ what to do with it,” chuckles Jhunjhunwalla.
“I have everything from A-to-Z concerning or related, directly or indirectly, to Gandhi, many touched or felt by him, from everywhere on the planet. This collection is extensive enough to set up large and independent, thematic museums in each continent,” he said.
He unhesitatingly displays a few of his “owner’s pride, other’s envy” samples – Gandhiji’s ashes, barely 100 gm stored in an urn, a 1946 palm-print of Gandhiji taken in Kolkata with quote in his own writing on it, original self-corrected copies of his speeches, sermons and writings, over 50 hand-penned letters on the now-ageing paper, including the oldest dated in 1904 from South Africa and the last to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in 1948, barely 12 days before his martyrdom, Gujarat’s oldest newspaper dated July 3, 1892 announcing his return from England as a Barrister, and an issue of ‘Time’ Magazine when it nominated him ‘Man Of The Year’ (1930).
There is a staggering variety of colourful postal stamps, currency notes, flags, gold, silver, platinum and other metallic coins from virtually every country in the world, gramophone records in Gandhiji’s voice and autographed items.
Plus a huge collection of newspaper-magazine clippings, which could be converted into a book, rare black-and-white pictures of Gandhiji with historical figures like Pandit Nehru, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad, Rabindranath Tagore, Dr Rajendra Prasad, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, Indira Gandhi, and other luminaries like King George VI, Lord Louis Mountbatten, then British PM Clement Attlee, Charlie Chaplin, Albert Einstein, other national and global celebrities.
“There are trivia matchboxes with his pictures, paintings, portraits, sketches, wedding cards replacing the family deity with Gandhiji’s image, New Year or festival greeting cards, door locks, a cigarette case, a torch, ceramic pickle jars, bottles, table-crockery items, leather items, statuettes, busts, buttons, playing cards, and what-not…You must understand these items indicate how much Gandhiji penetrated and lived in the hearts of the common masses,” he pointed out.
As the obsession possessed him, Jhunjhunwalla undertook extensive tours all over India, South Africa and England, went on a Dandi Yatra route and scoured other places to further fuel his collections and came back hugely rewarded.
And now, Jhunjhunwalla is eagerly looking forward to further enrich his collection with the upcoming Gandhi sesquicentenary when the world will flood with more accolades.
Not one to sit back on the laurels of his overawing collection, Jhunjhunwalla has launched a one-man marathon effort to find out and catalogue each and every place on the planet named after Gandhiji, and found more than 100 just in Mumbai alone…!
“It will be a cumbersome but extremely rewarding effort and I want to complete it as early as possible,” he assured.
For over two decades now, he is a practical recluse from his supportive family and their traditional business of manufacturing rubber-products.
However, though the spirit is strong, Jhunjhunwalla’s body is now showing signs of reluctance to keep pace with his expanding collectibles and so he wants to ensure it has a safe future.
“So far, it has come to light only in three private exhibitions, from Oct. 2, it will be displayed in a big way at the National Gallery Of Modern Art, and later at the Nehru Science Centre here. I am willing to take it to any country in the world which is ready to host an exhibition,” he said.
Among the options he is toying with are: develop a permanent museum if he can get a grant of around 25,000 sq. feet constructed area, which is practically impossible in urban centres like Mumbai.
Other plans he’s toying with are to “segregate the collection country-wise” and hand it over to the respective governments worldwide, or consider if some world-class museum is willing to take it over.
“Over the decades, I have realized that Indians have little or no value for their rich past and such magnificent collections, and it has remained my one-man effort so far,” Jhunjhunwalla rued.
Apart from Gandhiji, he has a big, exclusive collection of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, but he said: “We shall speak about it at an appropriate time..!”