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Cover to cover, signature of celebs

His collection ranges across a variety of professions and covers nearly three decades. From Suchitra Sen and Satyajit Ray to Henry Kissinger and General Manekshaw, from Mother Teresa and Amartya Sen to Rohan Kanhai and Amitabh Bachchan and Richard Attenborough… Nishant Singhal, 47, has got all that and more in his autograph collection that he began while in school and has continued since with a dedication and determination that is “almost obsessive”.

It all began as a childhood hobby, when he went as far as writing a letter to Kissinger requesting the former US secretary of state for an autograph, which he has since lovingly preserved. “It was just a pastime then. I began in earnest when I was in college,” he smiles. And it was his passion with the game of bat and ball that really got him going. In fact, so impressed was a friend’s father with his single-minded occupation, that he gave Singhal his prized possession — autographs of the 1932 Indian team.

Spurred on to greater heights, the employee of an import company has amassed a collection that has, as its centrepiece, a “one-of-its-kind” souvenir linen wall-hanging with a humorous take on cricket, signed, over 17 years, by 98 of the game’s greatest sportsmen. The father of one has made it to “the top 15” among the cricket lovers in the country, according to Sportsline, a programme on Star Sports.

His collection includes signatures of individuals on momentous occasions. Kapil Dev’s after his memorable innings at Eden Gardens in 1980, Viv Richards’ during his debut in 1974, Sunil Gavaskar’s after his 221 at the Oval... But Singhal has never pursued his passion beyond the borders of Bengal. “There are others who helped me augment my collection.” So, he has bats signed by entire teams playing in matches held elsewhere.

Singhal’s eclectic assortment comprises the 1966 Indian hockey team’s autographs, the only one to have won the Olympic gold. And the “war bosses”, as he refers to them, starting with Indira Gandhi, in the 1971 Indo-Pak war.

His film series is equally enthralling, gathered in a book on cinema with celebrity photographs. So, while Rekha took time out to fill in a gap in her hairline on her forehead in the picture, which she thought looked bad, Sunil Dutt scribbled “Adab” on a film grab in which he was dressed as a Muslim.

With the “undying” support of his wife, Priti, and the infectious enthusiasm of his son Sammarveer, 8, he soldiers on. “You can tell a lot about a person from their handwriting. All I can say is that the old timers were more careful, less glamorous, unassuming yet self-assured. Nowadays, they have become far more savvy,” Singhal signs off.

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