Back to the 18th century

Updated: Apr 30 2006, 06:14am hrs
It all began with his passion for ordinary items of daily usage from another era. Hotelier Vithal Kamat has been collecting these items dating back to the 18th and 19th century for over 40 years. It has now grown to house a museum, which will be formally opened tomorrow in Mumbai.

The museum set up at Bandra-Kurla Complex takes a visitor through a day in the life of an Indian living in the 18th or 19th century. The tulsi vrindavan, a tulsi plant found on the pathway leading to a house finds its place in the museum.

The tulsi had myriad purposes. The plant kept at the entrance to a house wards off mosquitoes and bacteria. It also keeps air well oxygenated. The lady of the house wakes up at dawn and after a bath goes around the plant five times as a manner of worship. This was an exercise for the woman, says Kamat. He enjoys recounting tales of yore and emphasises that no rite was performed aimlessly.

This house of artefacts has been set up to show the generation of today a frugal way of living. Our ancestors did well for themselves, reiterates Kamat, with such limited means.

All the artefacts here point to a lifestyle one now sees only between pages of a book or in films. A typical Indian house has rangoli, traditionally done by women outside their homes. This is a tradition followed even today in many households in the country. Rangoli moulds, almost 84 different kinds, have found their way here. Besides household stuff, there are items of personal care. Like combs, for instance. These are made of various materials ranging from copper, brass, wood, ivory, steel, and also panchdaatu (a mix of five alloys).

One of the highlights is a comb with an attached oil container. Oil drips into every shaft of hair as it is combed. Remember this was in the 19th century!

There are exotic betel nut crackers. Some of these served as love messages to one's beloved. A nut cracker in the shape of a man and a woman twists, as one cracks the betel nut, to turn into a kiss by the couple. The man got the message as the lady cracked his betel nut with it, says Kamat. Items of worshipdecorative puja plates, around 180 types of spoons used for prayers; clothes worn by farmers, landlords, housewives to baby clothes elicit a sigh for a time gone by. It also brings home the fact that life was simple and leisurely.

I have gone to all corners of the country and have been urging people to donate old items in their possession, says Kamat. It's his passion that comes through as he speaks about his lifelong hobby of some things old, all things Indian. I have shown albums of my collection and people have willingly gifted old sieves, rolling pins and one family even gave me a 100- year-old cradle.

Kamat plans to have one such museum in every hotel of his in the country. As of now, there is no entry fee to the museum but a donation box on the premises will aid dumb-deaf and visually impaired, if visitors open their hearts and purses.

Kamat's 73-year-old mother, Indira Venkatesh Kamat, will be seeing her sons tribute to her and to every mother tomorrow. It will be a surprise, he says, unable to cloak his childlike delight at the prospect.