A passage to the past

A passage to the past

Unique Hobbies

History has a way of leaving its footprints on the sands of time.

HISTORICAL : Letters written by various governor-generals and their spouses. (Bottomleft) A picture ofWarren Hastings and a cheque drawn by him. DH PHOTO JANARDHAN B K

Through letters, photographs, documents and paraphernalia, which truly are instruments to interpret the past. However, preserving the past for the present is not in everybody’s hands, save a few. Sunil Baboo, a collector of colonial documents, papers and other artefacts from history, has not looked back ever since he picked up this interest way back in 1982.

“I was doing a project in Hyderabad and at the ‘Purana Haveli’, I noticed shops selling artefacts. Some Hyderabad state coins caught my fancy and I picked up four of those,” he recollects. Soon, paper currency and stamps too became a part of his collection.

“But this interest took a backseat because many people had similar collections. And there was nothing unusual about it,” says Sunil Baboo, who is a merchandise consultant.  On one of his trips to the UK, he noticed a letter on sale in the classified section of a newspaper. The letter was written by Lord Ellenborough, who was one of the governor-generals of India. “This whetted my curiosity, I wanted to get several more letters like this one.”

He picked up more such collectibles by participating in live auction and through direct purchase. The focus of his collection was predominantly India. “There were around 45 governor-generals in India and I have Autograph Letter Signed (ALS) of 13 of them including letters of Lady and Lord Dalhousie, Lord Willingdon and Lord Napier. I also have a separate collection on Lady and Lord Mountbatten,” he informs. His collection is particularly strong in ephemera. “Ephemera comprises documents relating to a certain time of history like receipts,” he explains, pointing out to those relating to the French Revolution.

Meanwhile, he also discovered his fascination for maps and has 14 of them, which are of Asia and India. “I have a map of Pondicherry of 1704, which is the earliest map of Pondicherry,” he adds.

As the desire to make a relation with the past increased, he was able to get hold of bills-of-exchange, shipping documents and two steel engravings of Tipu Sultan, one of which is the agreement between Lord Cornwallis and Tipu Sultan. One of his prized possessions is the 1792 newspaper published in America, mentioning details of surrender and ceasefire of Tipu Sultan, the handing over of Rs three crore and 25 lakh as ceasefire money and two sons as hostages to the British.

The oldest cheque of 1794, drawn on Gosling Bank, by Warren Hastings holds a place of pride in his collection. Recounting important chapters in history is the picture autographed by the pilot of ‘Enola Gay’, the aircraft that dropped world’s first atom bomb; Salar Jung’s letter to Colonel Saunders mentioning his inability to attend the evening reception of Lord Napier and a letter signed by the King of Italy and Mussolini.

The joy of leafing through the papers of enduring value is immense. Like the deeds, which explain the land bought by British factories in the Kolkata region. “The oldest of these deeds is from 1530 and the Britishers had purchased around 500 villages,” he informs. And there is something that quite catches the eye — the licence for a male servant in England. The past is not without its evil side either. The application form for Ku Klux Klan, a racist movement to achieve white supremacy, only reinstates that.

Be it acts of courage or deeds of shame, Sunil Baboo’s collectibles open a  window to the bygone days.

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