Saturday, May 08, 2010

The lost art of 'collecting'

(For a change, this one is not for any publication; just thought of writing it)

Have you ever realised that the concept of the ‘collector’ has vanished from our lives now? Unless you are rich enough or industrious enough to collect antiques and stamps and coins, what do you collect?

You know, and this is for people born after 1980, there was a time when people collected, hold your breath, advertisements! True. Do you know that people like me – and there were more than a few – collected advertisements, cut out from stray copies of international magazines that somehow found their way to us? Yeah, this was before 1991, and therefore, before everything that is available in the West was available in India. So ads of airlines, clothes, watches, everything, was like something we hadn’t seen before. I remember owning 32 print ads of Citizen watches – it’s not even a major brand anymore. I also had 18 ads of KLM. Wow – wonder where that big box is now!

The sources were limited. Swagat magazine had just taken off around the time and it printed quite a few attractive ads. We’d hang around the old magazine stands in Gariahat in Calcutta and tear off pages when no one was looking. And of course, that venerable visiting relative from America or England who would bring a couple of glossy magazines – mostly to show off, usefully for us, full of full page ads.

And did we compete! Yeah, we had an unofficial club of ad-collectors. We’d compare collections as often as we could. Duplicates were kept more carefully than the single-piece ones, and exchanged for sheets of magic. Obviously, all of us stole liberally from each other as well when given an opportunity.

Today, there’s no point to the exercise. Forget the available material in the market, the Internet leaves no reason for anyone to really collect anything. Like names of films watched with details of the director and the actors. If it’s an Indian film, then the names of the music directors too. I had four or five such massive diaries. Full of details. Separate sections with names of directors and actors and music directors. Entire lists of the films they have been part of. And little boxes to tick as I conquered one film after another. As I got older and world cinema opened up new horizons, the number of diaries increased.

Today, I have IMDB.

Today, I also have Cricinfo. So those 26 diaries I owned with details of every single cricket match I saw and didn’t see, are redundant. Would you believe me if I told you that the details included the number of minutes each batsman spent at the crease along with details of how they got out?

And also player lists. Diaries with names of cricketers from each country. Just names. Nothing else. Along with diaries full of names of tennis players, picked up after going through every word in the newspapers and the sports magazines (Star, World and Week) with a magnifying glass. Hockey players too. Honestly. And obviously footballers.

Now why would someone growing up in the 1990s be interested in collecting any of these things? It’s all there, accessible to everyone. There’s no point in cutting articles from newspapers and pasting them on scrap-books. There’s no point in writing long lists. The concept of a Mycroft Holmes or Shidhu Jyatha, for example, is a dead concept.

Pity! Pointless as it was in the broader scheme of things, it did fill up many afternoons, and filled them up wonderfully.