My Days as a Collector

For those of you whose pulse quickened at the word “Collector”, imagined lurid tales of my days in the Indian Administrative Service & were licking their chops for some dirty gossip – This post is about the junk I collect. Fooled Ya! I’m so unsorry.

Whenever we visit other people, I’m amazed by the sheer lack of geegaw in their homes. What gives? We have a copious supply of baubles, decorative & otherwise. Objet d’Art are strewn in every room, including the bathrooms. There aren’t enough walls to hang our paintings – half of them are stacked in a cup-board. And I’m still coveting a few Art Deco prints of Tamara de Lempicka. We had to convert a bedroom into a library for our books, CDs, DVDs & vintage Cassettes. Since we buy at least 1 book every week, our bookshelves are packed like a can of sardines.

I’m a compulsive collector. Our home is my museum. Sometimes I wonder what Freud would make of me. According to him, avid collectors are compulsive neurotics who are very anal retentive. As if we need a dead guy to proclaim that I’m neurotic and anal. Its too obvious! So let’s ignore the tedious Sigmund.

Life would be a tiresome bitch were it not for our hobbies. For George W, its war mongering. Miley Cyrus poses for racy pictures (some of them with her obliging dad). Michael Jackson holds sleep-overs with kids (pardon my pun). And Kim Kardashian makes home videos (har har). Like I said, we all need our pastimes.

When we were kids, my brother joined the local Numismatics club. And I tailed along. How excited we were when we got our 1st (& lamentably last) US $1 bill! We entrusted it to our mother for safe-keeping – and she reverently placed it next to her diamond ear-rings. In those days, inertia & a poor economy made Indians sedentary – very few people ventured out of our shores. So after enthusiastically collecting a few slotted pennies, we had to sit around & twiddle our toes. Numismatics, Shumismatics. A hobby is interesting only when there’s some Indiana Jones kind of action going. So I dropped out after the 1st month & left my brother in a lurch.

Next up was Philately. Stamp collecting sounded cool. Our father bought us a Stamp Album from the erst-while Moor Market in Chennai. For a few weeks, no letter or package was safe from our ransacking & pillaging. We accosted – almost attacked – the beleaguered postman every day, in our quest for stamps.

After having our fill of Indian stamps, we grew sullen & withdrawn. “What’s the matter with them? Cat got their tongues?” wondered our uncle. “Which would be a blessing, considering their non-stop prattle” our dear dad jibed. “Don’t you have any friends living abroad? Do we lead such wretched lives that no one from America, Africa or Europe care to communicate with us?” we asked plaintively. Not that we craved human contact with other cultures, we just wanted their stamps. “I do have a pen-pal in Germany” mused our dad. “And I have friends who have family in other countries” said our aunt. “Then what are you waiting for?” we goaded them thanklessly.

We were crest-fallen when their toils yielded puny results. “I know a company that sells foreign stamps” our wise mother said. Somehow, buying stamps to fuel a hobby didn’t sound cricket to me. One needs to sweat it out. But, my lazy brother eagerly acquiesced. We learned a lot from the stamps our mother bought – and our lingo changed overnight. We referred to countries by their postal names. Ceskoslovensko, Magyar Posta, Deutsche Bundespost, Helvetia, Polska, Tanganyika & Sverige figured prominently in our conversations.

After the initial excitement, stamp collection became a drag. Its the hunting, not the possessing, that’s exciting. Possessing makes you smug, not that we minded the bragging rights that came with it. Hunting makes the fruit that much sweeter – and I longed for it. Soon, I renounced Philately as a high-brow hobby, labeled my brother an “Elitist” & chased unusual hobbies of my own making.

I read recently that compulsive hoarders (AKA pack-rats) have a lesion in their right frontal lobe. Said lesion removes all restraint & makes people less discerning in determining the worth of an item. I must have a golf-ball sized hole. For though I’m not a pack-rat & I choose collectibles ostensibly for their value, I happily bounce from 1 hobby to another.

More on that on my next post.


  1. Quote

    //I happily bounce from 1 hobby to another

    Tell me about it. i have had exactly 9745 hobbies till now and i havent done justice to a single one. i used to collect (errr. steal) stamps voraciously till the day we shifted houses and my mother decided that she had place for 2 cupboards, a fridge, a washing machine and a TV but no place for a stamp book and threw it away. my interest in philately has died since then.

    and then there was the time when i collected earthworms and put them in a tin of mud and cut them up and did little expermients. had to stop after mom went green when she realised that i was using her kitchen knife for my experiments. (i m surprised u didnt collect animals?!?!)
    i used to collect chocolate wrapper and bubble gum stickers and little erasers and jeez…. i have lost count now!!

    and i still collect books and my books in turn collect dust.
    my dad collects Readers digest and national geographic. so we have four shelves of readers digest dating from the year 1954 to 2000 and copies and copies of mational geographics.
    what with my mom collecting books on embroidery and my sister collecting letters and greeting cards from friends my house is an antique museum!! 🙂
    Nice post Priya!! sigh!! i am tired of saying this again and again!! 🙂

  2. Quote

    //Ceskoslovensko, Magyar Posta, Deutsche Bundespost, Helvetia, Polska, Tanganyika & Sverige figured prominently in our conversations.
    Aaah! I can so relate to this 😀

    Looks like everybody has been into numismatics at least once in their lives.

    I was more interested in coins than in stamps. I held on to my collection even though i lost interest in collecting after a few years. And then one fine day we had to move, I lost the whole collection!
    I had coins/currency of about 50 countries ! Waaaaaaaah! Boo hoo!

    P.S: Waiting for your next post! 😀

  3. Quote
    Sundara said August 21, 2008, 7:33 am:

    Ha Ha. Things that I used to collect… atleast I thought they were collectable.. Boxes – any box that stuff comes in.. like the crayon boxes, toothpaste boxes, firework boxes and the list goes on. It was fun to get these boxes all of different sizes, but with well defined shapes and then arrange them cleanly in the garage so that they looked in order.. its was fun as long ( or short) as it lasted. The minute my mom looked at about 1/5th of the garage filled with junk ( that’s what she thought anyway) they were gone.

    Cricket balls. I mean leather criicket balls.. from the ones that we used to play with in my school team, to the two half balls, to the four quarter collections, to Duke / SG / Slazenger / kook and so on.. I had ( I think I still do).

    Dont these things remind you of George Carlin.. ” have you noticed – Other’s stuff is S**T and your S**T is stuff)..

    Priya- you should seriously consider writing more…

  4. Quote
    Ramesh Ramaswamy said August 21, 2008, 10:03 am:

    Nice Post Priya!

    In addition to stamp collection…I used to collect the pictures of Steffi Graf 🙂 When my father brings sport star from his office library first thing I do is cut all Steffi’s picture and add it to my collection. I even used to collect doubles or more of the same picture…hoping some other saint like me will also do that and I can exchange for new pictures.

    I think those collections are still at my home back in Chennai 🙂

    – Ramesh

  5. Quote

    Revs – Thanks for your comment.

    You cut earthworms? With a kitchen knife?! Hope you’ve discontinued this practice now. Jeez, how many earthworm livers & intestines you must have eaten, unwittingly. I’m assuming you wouldn’t want to eat them wittingly.

    >>and i still collect books and my books in turn collect dust.

    You are too good! ROFL 😆

    Perhaps one of these days, I’ll publish my posts as a book. Provided I can find a publisher, that is.

  6. Quote

    Jass – Thanks for your comment.

    So you collected stamps & coins too? And you had currency from 50 countries?! Argh, I’m envious. We managed to lay our hands on the currencies of 4 countries, including India 🙁

    Too bad you lost them. It must have taken a lot of effort. I feel your pain, pal.

    Among all the stamps we had, “KSA” confused us the most. Till we found out that it was an acronym for “Kingdom of Saudi Arabia”. We were climbing the walls in frustration by then.

  7. Quote

    Good one Priya

    I also same 😉 ,

    i used to collect stamps, a huge collection, say almost 100+ countries (after some time, i sold each one for Rs 5 [easy ones like Sri Lanka,Gulf countries], Rs 10 [tough one like Malta,Guatemala etc] and made hefty profit 🙂 ). Bigfun chewing gum cricket runs was the huge collection interest and traded with co-collectors for Allan Border, we used to trade Gavaskar and Amarnath. Now collecting Java books,places memorabilia magnet and NFL football team caps, already i have 4 teams caps(New England, San Fran, Chicago, and Tampa Bay) but still 28 to go ;-). Once I complete NFL then, I’m planning to collect MLB baseball teams ;-). I think collecting something is good hobby and time pass, even though it has some drawbacks.

    Don’t they??


  8. Quote

    Sundara – Thanks for your comment & kind words.

    You collected cardboard boxes?! That’s weird, sir. In my long & fruitful life, I’ve only seen 2 creatures take an active interest in cartons & boxes. 1 of them was the local launderer’s donkey. Another is my 7 month old daughter. Both of them chew the edges with great glee, uttering shrieks of pleasure.

    Thanks for bringing up George Carlin 🙂 I love him. I managed to find his “stuff” in You Tube 😀 Wot fun!

  9. Quote

    Ramesh – Thanks for your comment.

    Oh yes, I do remember your “fascination” for all things Steffi. What, you stopped collecting her pictures now? 😯 And you just let her pics collect dust like Revathi’s books? (See her comment above) 😯 😯 That’s totally disloyal. You & Steffi get married, but not to each other & you suddenly don’t want her pics anymore? Ah, I’m gonna cry now 😕 I’m so not chill with that.

  10. Quote

    Subba – Thanks for your comment.

    You collected the stamps of 100+ countries?! I’m green with envy! And your prices would have been beyond our reach. Mother would have killed us. We bought stamps from a store that sold 50 stamps for Rs 20 or something like that. Needless to say, we never had Malta stamps 🙂 Sweden was the most “exotic” country in our collection 😉

    Collecting team caps is interesting. I did try that once, but since I’m not really a sports-buff, it never took off as a habit.

    Yes, I do believe collecting stuff helps us learn a lot, teaches us discipline, how to take care of the collectibles & more to the point, the importance of hard-work & perseverance. Tell that to a kid & they’ll never collect anything. As Dr Randy Pausch would have said, collecting stuff is a good “head-fake”. It makes you learn skills that you never realize you are learning.

  11. Quote

    Good post Priya!!

    As a child, I used to collect a lot of pens and pencils. My whole study table was filled with more than 100 varieties of pens and pencils. I got the collection from dad, uncles, aunts, friends, bro etc., But my mom used to always complain that whenever she would be speaking on the phone and try to pick a pen from my table and write, none of it would work 😛

    My dad is a huge collector of all items right from nuts, blots, old watches, electrical wires, hammers, tools–my dad’s bedroom is like a garage 😛

    My parents are opposites. My dad is a collector and mom a thrower 🙂

  12. Quote

    Saraswathi – Thanks for your comment.

    >>whenever she would be speaking on the phone and try to pick a pen from my table and write, none of it would work

    ROFL! A collectible should never be put to work. As an aside, don’t you collect pens & pencils anymore? What happened to your collection? Did you auction it off in e-bay or something?

    Your dad reminds me of Mr Weasley 😀 Collecting muggle artifacts like wires & spark-plugs!

    Your mom doesn’t have the romantic heart of a collector. She throws your dad’s old watches? They aren’t supposed to work!!

  13. Quote

    Priya – I hate collecting things. The only things I have collect are books.
    My husband has nightmares when I clear up things. (I am sure he too has a huge hole in his right frontal lobe. He loves collecting things). I tend to throw away anything which I don’t see immediate use for 🙂

  14. Quote

    Archana – Thanks for your comment.

    You don’t collect stuff – Yeah, I noticed when we were visiting 😉 I was itching to hang a bunch of prints on the walls, fix a picture light & an up-lighter, arrange some glass curios on the shelves etc etc – I had to sit on my hands to prevent involuntary action 😀

    I really empathize with your hubby. What does he collect? I knew a guy that collected hub-caps. I once collected spiders. It can be worse than those, can it?

  15. Quote

    Funny post Priya. It reminds me of my collections – started with big fun runs. One day, we did a gambling with a coin in our class. Bad luck I lost all my runs. That is when I decided never to visit Vegas. For a compulsive gambler hidden inside me, I may lose all I got.

    Later I got into stamps. I bought a collection book and also purchased stamps. But showed off to various friends. That caught instant attention of some handy guy. Hope whoever it is continued that hobby ( I mean stamp collecting..not stealing from others)

    Later when I moved into teens thanks to Dr.Singh we subscribed to Business Today and I collected 100s of Bill Gates Column and The Hindu new paper’s “Science and Technology” edition articles apart from “Know Your English”. That must be the reason I moved into MCA later into IT. Bill Gates must be thinking that I a namak haraam…never wrote anything worth on MS platform..always Java.

    Once I smelled some money in pocket..I started with Cameras and Lens. Boy it is expensive hobby – F80, D70, Casio, 50mm, 28-85, 70-300, 18-55, tripod, flash gun, filters set, remote wire, camera bags…. It is addiction rather than hobby. Seeing my gear, Vimal asked me to shoot Varshini’s first birthday party.. He must have repented that decision after seeing photos 🙂 thing I do now is collecting South Park episodes in my DVR and blogging (rather commenting on blogs) if that qualifies as hobby.

  16. Quote
    Harish Dorai said August 22, 2008, 9:43 am:

    Great post Priya! My list of collections in my school days included different kinds of leaves and feathers of birds as well. Once I started collecting stamps as well, but it didn’t last long. In my school one of the teachers had a huge collection of Penny Blacks which is considered the world’s first stamp. She was kind enough to give me one. But I lost it some how. I didn’t realize its value at that time ;-(

  17. Quote

    Vamsi – Thanks for your comment.

    I’ll never understand 2 things in life – of course, I understand everything else 😛 – the fascination for alcohol (tastes like rat poison to me) & gambling. I guess its a good thing – though I must be 1 of the few freaks that loathe Reno, Vegas & Atlantic City. Still, it does qualify as a hobby.

    A classmate stole your album? Aw, that sucks. Me hoping they continued to be “handy”, got locked up & beaten up.

    You had such useful hobbies as a teen. Now, I’m almost ashamed to write about my hobbies. Almost. I’ll probably skip some of my more sordid hobbies, methinks.

    I’ve seen some of your pics – they are pretty good. South Park is great. My favorite is Twilight Zone 🙂

  18. Quote


    My valuable collection of pens and pencils served a much “nobler” cause (in my mom’s words).

    My mom distributed them to the dhobi’s, maid’s, watchman’s children. She also collected a group of street children and happily handed it out to them.

    After coming to US, I have again started my collection though 🙂 Don’t know if I will be able to maintain this collection for long or not.

  19. Quote

    Harish – Thanks for your comment.

    Collecting leaves & feathers is an interesting hobby. I’m surprised you didn’t take up medicine or pharmaceutical science.

    You lost a Penny Black?! OMG, they can be pretty expensive if they are in mint condition. I once read about a penny black that cost $2,500!! Prices can go up to $8,000!!!

    There, I made you feel worse now, didn’t I? I’m pretty darn good at it! Oh, Its a rare gift 😉

  20. Quote

    Saraswathi – Moms can utterly miss the point. Who wants to be noble when they can be wicked, huh? You should send a picture of your latest pen/pencil collection to your mom. She won’t really catch the next flight to the US to give them away, would she? Or, would she?!

    One never knows with moms.

  21. Quote

    Oh ya totally. When she was giving away those pens I just thanked God that she din’t throw me away too 😛

    Ya that’s a good idea. I will send her a pic of the pens. Should see her reaction 🙂

  22. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said August 23, 2008, 5:06 am:

    interesting post Priya. It was almost customary to collect stamps when i was a kid (the fact that my father collected stamps is added impetus). I did that too as a passing fancy. I collected cricket player’s photo cards which used to appear in bubble gum wrappers. Again another passing fancy due to peer pressure. Once i reached adoloscenthood, collecting something, anything became too much structure and clashed with my chaotic free spirit. Since we returned to India, i have started a new hobby – collecting the autographs of famous people. I seem to like it. Don’t know how long before i feel that impedes with my free spirited ways.

  23. Quote

    Sukumar – Thanks for your comment.

    I didn’t know your dad collected stamps! There are so many facets to people that we are blissfully unaware of.

    Yeah, the photos on chewing gums were something, weren’t they? My brother was crazy about them. Its probably a guy thing.

    I think collecting the autographs of celebrities won’t clash with your free spirit. See, all other pastimes need some structure, a jargon that isolates the collectors from the common crowd, you need to know a lot of worthless trivia about the hobby, there’s a lot of pressure from other collectors etc. I can see how that can become boring after a while for a person like you (& me).

    But you can collect autographs at your own pace – just whenever you bump into a celebrity. And all you need is a scrapbook to keep them in. Doesn’t demand anything else.

  24. Quote
    Harish Dorai said August 23, 2008, 4:38 pm:

    Thank you Priya!

    Don’t tell me about the lost Penny Black ;-(
    Looking at the chewing gum wrapper story reminds me of the same thing which I did in my school days. The wrapper also had runs and wickets in it. The ad said that whoever collects 100 runs and 10 wickets, get a cricket bat and ball. I sincerely collected 100 runs and 10 wickets, but I never got the bat and ball 😉 I have done so many other crazy things as well. In school days, especially among boys, cars/trucks and their various brands were favourite lunch time topic. In my class there were 2 groups – one that supported Ashok Leyland and the one that supported Tata. I belonged to the Tata group. To my prove my point, I started keeping a count of all the Tatas and Leylands that I see on the road and noted down its registration number in a book. I almost finished a book 😉

  25. Quote

    Harish – They didn’t send you a bat & a ball? Bummer. If they did that now, you could sue them for misleading customers.

    Ashok Leyland VS Tata 🙂 I was smiling when I read that. The part about noting down registration numbers is particularly charming.

    Another boy I know very well noted down registration numbers too – but for a different reason. He & his pals were playing Sherlock Holmes. What if there was a miscreant who escaped from jail? And got hold of a car? And what if the police were wringing their hands, not knowing what to do? So this boy made a note of all the numbers just in case 😀

    That boy is Sukumar.

  26. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said August 24, 2008, 9:27 am:

    Yeah i did that inspired by the famous five. I think they did that in one of the stories. i don’t remember which.

  27. Quote

    Sukumar – So you were what, hiding behind a tree, while you jotted down the numbers? And the $1,000,000 question: What did you do with the numbers collected?

    Just curious.

  28. Quote
    Shoba (subscribed) said August 26, 2008, 1:53 am:

    A very humorous post Priya. Enjoyed reading every line. No, I did not get fooled by the title; guess 12 years of friendship has helped a lot. So far you have listed only very reasonable collectibles of yours. I was looking to see some really strange ones.

    Nice reason behind having a pen friend in Germany. The only pen pal I ever had was in India, studying then at BITS, as emails were not very popular in the early 90s (poor, friend, did not realize that he would get stuck with me for rest of his life by replying to those mails. hahaha).

    I was collecting stamps and coins too when I was a kid, guess, those days these hobbies were quiet popular. The only foreign coins I had were from Nepal, Singapore and Malaysia. I also used to have a cricket album or scrap book they call them these days. I did not know much about cricket ( that’s how I am till date) however did this as that was the in thing those days.

    I then moved on to sticker collection. I remember those days the juice called Tree Top would give out stickers for every juice box and I collected many of those. However that hobby rather ended in a not very happy way. One of my classmates played a practical joke on me by sticking all the stickers on a class desk. Then I moved on to something crazy, collecting Pepsi bottle caps. This was a good one, only flip side is I ended up in Vijaya hospital due to severe acidity.Ofcourse my parents stopped my pocket money.

    One hobby that has stuck with me till date and that I enjoy doing is collecting accessories for my cloths.

  29. Quote

    Shoba – Thanks for your comment.

    Strange hobbies to go with strange old me – Yes, I’ll write about a few of them in my subsequent posts. In this post, I just wrote about the more conventional hobbies that didn’t sit well with me.

    No, my dad had a pen-pal in Germany before we started collecting stamps 🙂

    Stickers all over your desk, huh? Let’s count our blessings – your classmate didn’t stick them on your face 😉 That would have been very uncomfortable.

    Collecting bottle caps was a ruse to have more cola, then. Nice going. What did you do with the bottle caps? Made a necklace out of it or something? Thought I’ll ask, since you are an accessories person 😛

    I’m being very naughty, sorry.

  30. Quote


    Nice post. Brought back some nostalgic memories.

    Growing up, my sister and I collected stamps and made a few bucks out of it too, but unfortunately for us, it was from stealing stamps from our cousins and selling it back to them. We were Saints and weren’t gunning for record profits, you see.

    During college days, I started collecting pictures and printed art form that I liked and had a big cupboard full of them. When I moved out of my house, I put a big “Not trash, Do not throw” sign on the cupboard, but my mom thought I was only kidding and promptly disposed of it. She still hears it from me every once in a while for that 🙁

    The only things I seriously collect today are ball markers used in Golf.

  31. Quote

    NK – Thanks for your comment.

    You Thief!! I was the victim of such banditry as a kid, so I’m not in a hurry to confer sainthood on you.

    What’s with moms & throwing stuff? And they throw away all the good stuff. Like the time when my mom threw away our “science experiment” from the fridge. I won’t disclose the formula to you, but ditch water was an important ingredient.

    Ball Markers! That’s very interesting. Till now, I hadn’t given it a thought. Now, I have to pay close attention to them when we go near a golf course. Notice I said “go near”, not “go golfing” 😀

  32. Quote


    Very Interesting post.
    My dad is an obsessive collector too. He used to collect pens like Saraswathy, most of them he never used and finally end up drying. He also used to collect watches – never throwing out anything even if it doesn’t work. The best part – i can get him a watch for a gift without having a second thought, he would love it anyway.
    He used to write his daily diary for many years and he would save daily calender sheets in the pages with important occasions – he has the calender sheet of mine and my brother’s birthday, all the family weddings, naming cermony, etc. He also collects receipts, pamphletes, tickets etc. when he visits places as a momemto. But after a few years it gets to hoard his cupboard and nowadays he is also trying to discard things to an extend.

    My brother would collect Sportstar magazines and would collect anything with Steffi Graf like Ramesh Ramaswamy. I used to collect History text books,English and Tamil -non detailed text books with lots of story from 6th grade onwards – loved to reread it. My mom said she discarded it a few years back.

    What happened to Sukumar’s stuffed Animal collection. Do you still have all of them? I think you will write in your next post.

  33. Quote

    Sujatha – Thanks for your comment.

    Yes, its very easy to gift an avid collector. Although, once a friend used to collect toy model cars. We were in tenterhooks while buying him a gift – what if he already had it?

    I can understand watches & pens – but writing a diary? That’s a no-no for me. Some parts of your life should never be written down 😉 Collecting the calendar sheets of important events – that’s a very unique hobby. Very sweet of your dad, really.

    Its too bad that your mom threw away your old books! If its any consolation, here is the URL for the e-books of Tamil Nadu textbook society. Re-read them to your heart’s content.

    Sukumar’s collection is an open secret. He has forbidden me to write about them.

  34. Quote

    I have almost the whole collection of the N.F.L. Pepsi bottle caps of the 1960`s does anybody know anything about these caps I have ? Thanks Jim

  35. Quote

    Jim – Sorry, I don’t know much about the value of NFL Pepsi bottle caps.

    Readers – Can any of you help Jim out?

  36. Quote

    Dear Sukumar,

    I am Autograph Collector from India.

    I collect autographs of worlds leading personalities. Its a good hobby to enjoy our life.

    Are you collecting autographs seriously?

    Please contact me if you are collecting autographs.

    Shakil Thasariya

  37. Quote
    Ruchi (subscribed) said April 4, 2011, 1:41 am:

    Lol. Now i know why . So , i have a lesion in my right frontal lobe.
    I am an obsessive collector , read downloader , i download interesting pdf material i encounter on internet, so much so that i had to buy 500 GB external hard disk to store the stuff.

    Thank you for enlightening & sharing your stories with us. lovely read…

  38. Quote

    Ruchi – Thanks for your comment & kind words.

    Good to know another compulsive collector.

    I’m trying to curb my magpie instinct (lover of anything colorful & shiny) with little success. We moved to a bigger house (not enough room in the old house for our books, curios and paintings), but very soon we’ll run out of space here too. Blame my inner magpie for that.

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