The Adventures of Little Anant
Starting today, a series of posts, now and then, chronicling my quietly exciting childhood.
Somewhere around my 7th standard, I was a major stamp and coin collection buff. My whole class was and maybe the whole school too. Lunch breaks and free periods were spent in furious trading and several pesos, liras, drachmas, centimes, rials, roubles worth of stamps, coins and exchanged hands. I had (I still have) a huge collection of stamps and an ok types collection of coins. I don't know how I began. I think I started with my mom buying my sister and me a stamp book and an envelope each of postal stamps. From there I expanded my empire to include tens of countries and hundreds of stamps - mostly at the expense of my more naive classmates. My coin collection began by collecting Indian coins with different embossments on them - Nehru, Patel, Indira Gandhi, Jantar Mantar, Family planning symbol etc.. My photographer uncle gave me some rare coins, among them a 'one chuckram' from Travancore and a huge, old, 'Uma Rupiah' currency note from Portugese Goa. Once or twice I got lucky and found a foreign coin in a shopkeeper's change.
None of us knew too much about stamps, but I like to think I knew slightly more than the rest. We all went by the size of the stamp, the larger the better. And fancy stamps were in great demand: triangles, parallelograms, diamond stamps, stamps with 3-D on them. Even 'court stamps' were in. Infact anything with 'stamp like' sides was in the market
Prasad, my chief rival in academics from the other section was the favourite of Judy teacher, who taught English, and she gave him all the stamps from the letters her husband sent her from the US.
I was totally crazy about stamps and coins those days. To 'understand' the coins from the middle east I learnt up the Arabic numberals. The Russian Alphabet was described at the back of our Oxford Dictionary. From that I found out that 'CCCP' on Russian stamps was to be read 'SSSR'. I read up that 'Magyar Posta' was a Hungarian stamp and that Indian coins could be traced to mints in foreign countries by the small '.'s and '*'s embossed just below the date.
Once, I put together all my coins and with some 'monetary' support from my neighbour across the street, won a consolation prize in the junior section of some numismatics contest in our town. Our principal - we all called her Prabha Tai- heard of my triumph and called me to her house and gave me a large part of her collection of old first day covers. I remember my extreme nervousness when I went to her bunglow near Bogarways. She was a stern old spinster (no, not the cricketing kind) and lived in a huge bunglow overgrown with vines and stuff. Pretty much a bhoot bangla. In her office I had readily nodded my head and said 'I will come next week', but I kept postponing the going thing, till my guilty conscience pricked and philatelic greed pushed.
Eventually, I found that I liked all the stamps I had and could'nt trade stamps any further. So I decided to make stamps. I tried to paint them and stuff but the thing never worked out. If only I had had half the skill of Leonardo di Abignale...
I had more luck with coins though. In Bombay, if you walk towards Gate Way of India you find these pavement sellers who sell old coins - These are thick heavy, bronze coins, with something scrawled acorss which no one can read. I have made my dad buy me those once or twice. So I thought why not make similar coins, but out of baked clay.
I was a major fire buff too, I liked making fires. I used to make small earthern pots and bake them in hot fires and make them strong.
So I made flat round clay coins with something in Arabic carved or embossed on them. There used to be a serial about an Old Muslim Woman on TV then. There used to be something in Arabic written on a green cloth on the wall in her hut. I copied it on to my best coin. Now that I have learnt a good bit of Urdu script ( Vive La systematic Boasting. Learning fast, am I not, Sumeet?) I think it probably read as 'Allah'.
So I made this coin and took it to class and showed it to my friends. I told them I had found it near an old ruin, I didn't say where exactly. Sunil one of my good friends fell for the trick. We agreed that I would show him 'the place' and help him find more coins in exchange for a Chinese coin of his I had taken a fancy for. So the deal was struck.
That Sunday, after breakfast, Sunil came to my house. Together we set out towards the old ruin, which was an old bunglow rumored to belong to some royal family from somewhere close by (Sangli? I don't remember). The bunglow itself was protected by barbed wire and dogs but I told Sunil I found the coins near it somewhere.
It was a rain washed morning, and the sun had come out. We walked together on a mud path. The koel cooed in the trees. The bees buzzed. We arrived. I told Sunil, Ok let's look around. So we looked around. And while Sunil's back was turned I took another, similar coin out of my pocket, put it in the grass at my feet, gave an exclamation of delight, and picked up the coin and held it out triumphantly to Sunil.
Cold blooded **. That was me.
Sunil was reasonably satisfied. We looked a bit more, but no more old mud coins lay conveniently in the wet grass. We went back.
At school Sunil talked about sending the coin to 'Surabhi', that culture serial on TV. Poor fellow. But I think in a couple of weeks he realized that he had been had. Especially when the coin broke. But I kept up my end of the story till the end.
Sunil, if you are reading this, I think I am sorry. Please forgive me, for I am a changed man now. If you really feel badly when you read this, tell me and I will return your Chinese coin.