As I turn the pages of the old photo album, the paper almost crumbles. The once crisp white sheets are a pale yellow, almost brown. The headings on each file — English film posters, Hindi film posters, newspaper clippings — exude the perfectionism of their owner, who started putting them together at the age of 13. At 78, he is in the Parsi Ward of a city hospital recuperating from multiple fractures, and age-related dementia.
A trip in time
Earlier on that sunny Tuesday afternoon, as I chatted with his sister in the living room of their Lower Parel residence, a cool breeze made the curtains billow and brought the temperature down a notch. Soon, my eyes fell on a vintage rectangular box-type album. I got a well-remembered feeling from childhood, reminiscent of those times when I would open my mother’s cupboard without permission. I was opening somebody’s treasure.
I let out a gasp. An original photograph of a young, charming Dilip Kumar stared back at me. Raj Kapoor wasn’t far behind. As I flipped the pages, Nutan, Madhubala and Dev Anand were all there in their black-and-white glory. At the end of the table lay a stack of notebooks; each carrying the name of a country in neat handwriting — Russia, Japan, USA, Polland, Germany, India and Indonesia. Inside each notebook were colourful stamps. Then there were posters, of yesteryear Hollywood actors and actresses I had not even heard of. They are from the ’50s and ’60s, my hostess told me.
I must meet him, I told her. She looked at her watch and smiled. She had already made fresh papads and bought him his favourite samosas and chikoos to take along. In the taxi, she raved about her brother, who has been keeping ill and was hospitalised one and a half years ago.
Just a hobby
As we entered the hospital wing, we were greeted by a curious sight — six patients sat in a row on their wheelchairs, their eyes fixated on the TV screen in front of them. We sat in the garden with her brother, who looked bemused when asked about his collection. “That was long ago. It is just lying somewhere in the house,” he said, adding that he started it as a hobby with his friends from school. “My father was well-off and we used to buy the photos and posters from shops for approximately Rs 2 per photograph,” he adds. Sometimes, they’d even barter their favourites. “Dev Anand is my favourite actor. Madhubala my favourite actress,” he said, as a matter-of-factly.
Due to multiple fractures in his limbs and age-related mental health problems, my new friend did not recall much about how he amassed this collection. He said he got the stamps from pen friends all over the world, through traveller friends and family. I gently asked how he would feel giving them away to buyers. “Who will want them? They are old actors,” he said, oblivious to the worth of this memorabilia today. He turned his gaze to a bird on a nearby tree, signalling that he was done with the conversation. It became tough to read his thoughts. I glanced at his sister, who looked at him fondly. “I think it is time to sell this collection to someone who will appreciate it. I can use the money for his treatment,” she said. The individuals mentioned in this article did not want to be named due to personal reasons and health issues.