The East fascinates this numismatist

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By Passing through / Nicholas Rhodes in Assam
  • Published 3.03.04

His affable nature has won him many admirers in the field of numismatics. Nicholas Rhodes was in Guwahati recently to deliver a lecture on the coins of Assam. On his third visit to the state, the tall English gentleman with a keen sense of humour again managed to captivate the audience with his knowledge of coins.

Born and brought up in London, Rhodes did his schooling in that city before moving to Cambridge University to complete his masters in mathematics. “London is a great place to study in. The libraries and museums are among the best and I enjoyed wonderful facilities as a student,” he said.

Even though Cambridge library helped him a lot in his research, it did nothing to foster his love for coins. “Having a degree in mathematics doesn’t mean that I have to be constantly involved with that subject,” he joked in his usual style.

He, however, agreed that coins and maths are contrasting subjects. But then he maintained that people should have a broader canvass of interests. Rhodes is a linguist, too. Apart from the classical languages like Latin and Greek, he is good in French, German and Spanish.

His other areas of interests are history, anthropology and archaeology. He, however, rued that the education system in many countries, including India, was exam-oriented. This limits the horizons of students, he said.

Rhodes’ interest in coins began at a tender age. “I remember being interested in coins when I was five and I got my first Indian coin when I was 10.”

Apart from the Northeast, he has done an intensive study on the coins of Nepal and China, which have a lot in common. Though no one could be sure if there was any direct connection between the Nepalese and the Ahom kingdom, the possibility should not be ruled out, he said.

Like any other typical globetrotter, he has travelled from England to India over land as a college student. He has done research on Egypt and the West, too. However, his first love has always the East. “I don’t know why, but I have always been fascinated by the East,” he said, “Maybe it has something to do with my previous birth,” he joked.

Coins are an integral part of a historian’s kitty, said Rhodes. Stressing their importance, he said coins shed a lot of light on the history of any given era or period.

“We come to know so much about the political, economic as well as the social history of a period from coins.

“More so because you don’t get very many documents from the early ages,” he said, adding that there were hardly any documents related to 16th century Northeast.

Rhodes’ collection of coins is priceless. His house is virtually a museum with over 1,000 coins of the Ahom period itself and another 400 from Cooch Behar. Other coins that have found place in Rhodes’ collection are from Egypt, Nepal and China.

He has recently authored a groundbreaking work, Coinage of Assam: Volume 1, with S.K. Bose, another stalwart in the field of numismatics. The authors have begun work on the next edition, which will hit the shelves soon.

Rhodes first visited the city in 1995 when it was almost a banned tourist destination and he had to move around with an armed guard. He, however, regretted that he did not have the time to go for sightseeing. “Apart from Guwahati, I have only been to Shillong and Hajo. I would, however, love to travel more, especially to Upper Assam,” he said.

Rhodes was accompanied by his wife, a Sikkimese Buddhist. “Assam is a mystery. It has a lot left to be explored, to show the world its beauty,” he said.

Shaheen Salma Ahmed