Igniting a passion

Unique hobbies

Igniting a passion

Kevin Fernandes, a serial hobbyist, has always had an itch to collect and hoard, be it coins, stamps or shells. But after watching ‘Printed Rainbow’ by Gitanjali Rao, he decided to start collecting matchboxes, from the most ordinary ones that are found in our kitchens to vintage boxes from all over the world.

 With a collection of 155 boxes that come in different sizes, shapes, colours and designs, he says, “I took it up seriously last summer although I had started before that. I was at a friend’s party when I saw a poster made from different coloured matchboxes. Then I watched ‘Painted Rainbow’ and I fell in love with them. They are a dying art.”

He has collected matchboxes from different parts of the country and the world. His family and friends are some of his biggest contributors. “One friend of mine brought me some from her travels and that was the largest addition to my collection. My mother and teacher also keep a look out for unique ones when they are out. When people ask my teacher why she’s picking up boxes from the road, she says she’s been employed by a ragpicker!” he says. His international collection includes boxes from UK, US, Denmark and Sweden.

According to Kevin, there is more to matchboxes than just a flimsy cardboard box. “It is an art that is dying as the number of people who use them is starting to reduce. Bit by bit, it is becoming industrialised and there is less diversity now. There are fewer companies who manufacture them, maybe two or three brands.” As the transition from wooden matchsticks to wax ones becomes more pronounced, the creativity and artwork that once flourished is hardly visible now. “Now, matchbox covers sport random photographs like pictures of cats, tigers and lions. They are kitsch and ugly! There used to be ones with Raja Ravi Varma paintings, Mughal and ‘desi’ prints on them. Today, most of them are yellow or blue.”

A true collector, he makes it a point not to buy any matchboxes. “I believe in the phrase ‘want not, waste not’ so I don’t buy matchboxes. Even if they cost just Re 1, they are likely to have 40 sticks in them, and those will go waste. As I don’t smoke (and we don’t use them at home), I pick them off the streets. If they are damaged and I don’t have one like that, I hold on to it until I find an undamaged one.” Having collected all the ones in the City, he now depends on friends who travel a lot.

Along with the generic cat and lion boxes, he has some unique and funny ones. “I have one that says ‘butter flay’ on it! I collect ones with grammatical errors on them.” The ‘butter flay’ matchbox has a story behind it, as do most of the others. “A friend of mine wanted that matchbox because her first romance started with it. So I told her I would pick up one for her if I ever found it. For the next week, I kept finding ‘butter flay’ boxes and she patched up with that person too!” he laughs.

Another special one (his most treasured) is that which his junior in college gave him when he was graduating. “When she had gone to Europe, she found this vintage matchbox and picked it up for whatever reason. A couple of years later, when I was graduating, she gave it to me saying that it means more to me than her. The paper is browning and it has a picture of Elvis Presley on one side and Uncle Sam on the other,” he says.

He has even made note of areas that are more likely to have them. “How many people buy matchboxes these days? In areas like Indiranagar and Koramangala, you’ll hardly find any as people use lighters. But in market areas, one can find a variety. Also, each area has a dominating brand. Ninety per cent of the matches, anywhere in India, are made in Sivakasi, Tamil Nadu.” With the spares he has, he makes bookmarks. Calling it a collaborative effort, he says this is his way of appreciating the smaller things in life.
   “I learnt this after taking on the ‘100 Days of Happiness’ challenge!”

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