The Telegraph
Monday , January 20 , 2014
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You name it, his collection has it

The old gramaphone, VCR or walkman, which you consider junk and are eager to get rid of, is priceless to Tapas Kumar Basu.

This north Calcutta resident has been collecting almost everything he has been able to lay his hands on for over 50 years and most of the items are on display this week.

Cameras, telephones, clocks, watches, fountain pens, ball-point pens, lighters, jewellery boxes, wedding cards, utensils, film posters…. So vast is Basu’s collection that the items when placed chronologically trace their evolution since birth.

The collection is on display at Vigyan Mela, at Sarkar Bagan Friends Circle Club, next to RG Kar Medical College and Hospital till January 23.

“When I was a teenager I found some ancient coins in a jewellery box at my (East) Midnapore home. I found them fascinating. In those days students would collect coins, stamps or matchboxes but I soon started collecting them all,” says the 65-year-old, who has retired from central government service.

At the fair, Basu has over 50 cameras, including a pin-hole camera that he got made, bulb cameras in which a one-time-use bulb would throw light on the subject in the absence of the modern-day flash and video cameras used in the silent film era.

“Some are purchased and some are gifted by people who want to get rid of their junk. It’s not an expensive hobby,” says Basu. Among the many Rolleiflexes and Yashicas, he proudly points to a plate camera in a wooden box that stirs up memories.

“In 2012, when Rituparna Ghosh was directing Jiban Smriti, a documentary on Tagore, he needed the right camera for a scene where Tagore and his wife are getting clicked,” says Basu. Rituparno used the plate camera from Basu’s collection in the scene.

The collection has more than 70 lamps: rare diyas, hurricane lanterns and kerosene-fuelled lights for rickshaws, cycles and horse-drawn carriages.

There are fountain pens made of bamboo and over 20 types of phones. The evolution of cars is shown with the help of miniatures.

His tribute to 100 years of cinema includes booklets of film lyrics, such as the one from the Uttam-Suchitra starrer Harano Sur, sold during intervals of shows.

Basu’s items bring smiles to the faces of the elderly, who recall having used them in their childhood. “But children do not recognise Murphy radios and pocket watches. They can understand the bygone times better if they see such household items that their grandparents used,” says Basu’s son Arghya, who is pursing a PhD in heritage buildings.

While some visitors at exhibitions come back to donate their old items, there are others who have pinched a pocket watch or two.

In fact, Basu refuses to divulge his neighbourhood out of fear of being robbed of his valuables.

“I have so many items that they can’t be accommodated in one house. They are kept in trunks and distributed to my friends from Paschim Banga Vigyan Mancha, which helps me put up most of my shows,” says Basu.

While Basu is always on the lookout for uncommon antiques, he graciously accepts any item people offer him, even if it is new. “After all, what is new today will one day be vintage,” he smiles.