The only thing that can match Aditya Vij’s odd and diverse collection of artefacts is his equally unconventional personality. The museum in his residence houses many items that history buffs would love to get their hands on – from an enviable comics collection to 13 vintage cars, more than 4,000 matchboxes and even fossils! Aditya was recently featured on Doordarshan as a ‘History Hunter’, where he showcased his artefacts that reflect various trends over time.
We decided to talk to him to find out more about his quirky and somewhat expensive hobby, and its paybacks.
Q: Do you recall when you first decided you were going to start collecting memorabilia from the past?
A: I was barely 5-6 years old when I first started collecting colourful matchboxes – I used to go on walks with my father and he’d give me matchboxes. I continued collecting random knick-knacks for five years and then took a break for the next 25. My daughter stumbled upon my old collection and asked why I didn’t continue, so I started putting these items together again. It helped that I’d just inherited a large chunk of my father’s old collection of books.
Q: Is your family keen on making sure you have a praiseworthy collection? And do you think it’s a trait that has been passed down?
A: Not really. As a matter of fact, they call me a kabadiwallah and a hoarder, ha-ha! But it’s usually out of affection. They have a lot of respect for what I’m trying to do. Over the last couple of years I thought I’d give this a concrete direction and decided to set up a museum, which I run out of my house.
Q: Why do you feel like making a museum is the next big step for you?
Over the last few years, I’ve seen technology changing so drastically. Everything that we used and held precious in our childhood practically disappeared overnight! A lot of people who come to the museum wish to show their kids how a typewriter used to work, or how to click a picture using a film reel camera and how a bellow camera with a black scarf thrown over the head used to function. Even an MTNL phone with a rotating dial is eye-opening for the kids.
Q: Do you start collecting things only when they are about to disappear?
A: Not really. I’ve put together things that disappeared a long time ago. I have cameras going back to the 1890s, hand-painted movie posters from the 1940s, and typewriters from 1908 when they used to weigh about 11 kgs.
Q: What kind of value do these items have for you – apart from the monetary value and the fact they are relics from a bygone era?
A: A lot of people who come to the museum are overwhelmed by the wave of nostalgia that hits them when they enter it. These items are not just relics but objects from an era before the assembly line and mechanisation. The items in my collection were painstakingly made by hand and each object is a piece of art – be it posters, books or cars. Each item is a representation of the craftsman’s skill and is built to last – unlike goods that are produced in this day and age which have a maximum shelf life of three years.
Q: Are there collectors in India whose collections you are secretly envious of?
A: Ha-ha, plenty! Many people have individual collections and they buy items only from a certain product category. I know people who have a collection of 200 typewriters or 300 vintage cars or 700 cars, but I’m yet to come across someone who has a variety of items in his/her collection. I do not miss out on a single category – I have everything from 4000 matchboxes to 13 vintage cars.
Q: Where do you shop for your goods and how do you verify the authenticity of these artefacts?
A: There are agents around the country who have tie-ups with people who buy scrap from old houses – they source items from there and offer them to me or other collectors. This is the most common channel; every alternate day I get an offer from agents. Luckily, I have experts who know whether these items are authentic. It’s hard to tell, especially with foreign goods, but I’m armed with a degree in anthropology to help me detect hoaxes.
Q: Tell us about your show History Hunter.
A: The idea of History Hunter was conceived for the History Channel but after reading my interview with Hindustan Times, the director of Doordarshan approached me and made an offer. I was happy to see a positive reaction because the show was able to reach the masses; it was telecast all over India. But more requests have been pouring in, so we’ve decided to upload the show on the YouTube channel of Prasar Bharti.
Q: What are the oldest items in your collections?
A: The oldest items in my collection are some pre-historic rock tools that I collected during an expedition when I was a student of anthropology. I also own some fossils of fish, snails, tadpoles, and fern leaves, which are millions of years old.
What is your favourite item in your massive collection?
I don’t have an answer to that. You can’t choose between your kids!