Dressed in a pair of jeans and a striped T-shirt, 34 year-old Poorti Kulkarni is a picture of confidence as she sits comfortably at her Thane residence. But her eyes have a childlike glee as she opens her Pandora’s Box of 1,200 autographs, which she has been collecting since the past 26 years.
The treasure trove comprises autographs of national and international celebrities such as cricketers Sachin Tendulkar and Sunil Gavaskar, tennis stars Andre Agassi, Steffi Graff, Michael Stitch, Jim Courier, Roger Federer, Martina Navratilova, Formula One racing star Michael Schumacher and maestros such as Lata Mangeshkar and Pt Zakir Hussain. The former table tennis player has also got signatures from Martin Cooper, inventor of the mobile phone, United States Secret Service agent Clint Hill and former US presidents Jimmy Carter, George W Bush and Bill Clinton.
Kulkarni’s love affair with autographs started in 1986 when she was nine years old and had gone to Dadoji Konddev Stadium at Thane to see a Ranji trophy match. After the match, she approached Kiran More for his autograph and was ecstatic when the wicket keeper obliged. That first stroke of success was so addictive that she started collecting autographs over the years.
Kulkarni, who now works as a product manager in a travel agency, confesses that she is persistent when it comes to her passion. So whether it is attending concerts and meeting celebrities or tracing the addresses of international stars and writing letters to them, she ensures that she gives her 100 per cent. She says, “As a child, I subscribed to Sportsworld, a sports magazine. Once Michael Stitch’s address was mentioned in it. I wrote a letter to him requesting for his autograph and he responded.”
The avid collector soon started writing letters to Jim Courier and Michael Schumacher. She says, “I exchanged five letters with Jim’s mother. Since I was a TT player, I would tell her about the tournaments that I was participating in and she was supportive.” Kulkarni, however, admits that she hasn’t been always so lucky. Once she found Serena Williams’ address on the Internet and wrote a letter. But the letter came back as Williams’ address had changed.
Ask her if she has ever been rebuffed by any of the celebrities and Kulkarni says, “Touchwood, all of them have been really sweet.” She explains how she has visited the residences of Tendulkar, cricket commentator Harsha Bhogle and cartoonist R K Laxman and received a warm welcome. “Sachin’s mother was very kind and gave me a couple of his pictures.”
Ask her what has been her most prized acquisition till date and she says, “Latadi is very reclusive when it comes to giving autographs. Once she was performing at Shanmukhananda Hall. I was standing in the wings, waiting for her autograph. I had a gramophone record of Latadi’s first overseas performance at the Royal Albert Hall in 1976 and wanted her autograph on that. I requested one of the organisers to send the record to her.”
The Thane resident was ecstatic when the artiste summoned her backstage. “Latadi asked me how I got the record. I told her that it belonged to my father. She not only signed it, but also shook hands with me and allowed me to take a picture with her.”
Kulkarni maintains her collection in leather bags and plastic sheets. She admits that she is possessive about them after she almost lost 100-200 autographs when she went to meet her cousin brother in Kenya in 2001. “I wanted to show him my collection but on my way back home, I misplaced the bag in Dubai. For the next nine months, I cried every day. Fortunately, I got a call from the airline company and my cousin retrieved the bag. After that, I learnt to be careful.”
She has been plagued by requests for an exhibition but explains, “My collection is too precious for me. I have never bought a single autograph. I can lose my job, but I can’t think of giving up my passion,” says Kulkarni.