OUR AN­CIENT LOCKS TELL A RIV­ET­ING STORY, SAY IN­DIA’S BIG­GEST COL­LEC­TORS

Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - - HTNATION -

His col­lec­tion com­prises about 750 unique locks — one shaped like a girl with her hands joined in a namaste; an­other a Mughal-era com­bi­na­tion lock with Ara­bic text in­scribed in its ro­tat­ing dial. The right se­quence of text is a verse from the Qu­ran. Th­ese were sourced from Ra­jasthan.

“In pre-in­de­pen­dence In­dia, parts of Ra­jasthan and Gu­jarat were in­di­vid­ual prin­ci­pal­i­ties with trad­ing com­mu­ni­ties and a lot of wealth. So lock-mak­ing be­came an im­por­tant part of the cul­ture,” Raghu­nathan says. His col­lec­tion also fea­tures pieces from the other lock-man­u­fac­tur­ing hubs in In­dia such as Jammu & Kash­mir, Ker­ala and Ut­tar Pradesh.

FORM & FUNC­TION

In 19th cen­tury In­dia, the type of lock you used told a story. A tem­ple lock of­ten had mo­tifs re­lat­ing to the de­ity. A pad­lock that took five keys to open could in­di­cate a joint fam­ily of busi­ness­men who didn’t trust one an­other.

“Indian locks were known for their func­tion­al­ity and in­ge­nu­ity,” Raghu­nathan says. “There are locks where you can see the key­hole and have the key in your hand, yet the method of in­sert­ing the key is so com­plex, such a spa­tial puz­zle, that it can take half a day to open it.”

The most valu­able col­lec­tion of trick locks in In­dia be­longs to Dr Hiren Shah, 60, an Ahmed­abad-based pae­di­a­tri­cian. “They’re me­chan­i­cal puz­zles that I find ex­cit­ing to solve,” he says. His col­lec­tion, pieced to­gether over 25 years, fea­tures over 2,000 orig­i­nal pieces with about 500 dif­fer­ent trick or puz­zle locks.

Over the years, he has been in­vited to con­fer­ences and lock col­lec­tors’ meets in Ger­many, China, France and Aus­tralia to talk about his col­lec­tion.

“An­cient locks haven’t been given their due in In­dia. You won’t find ex­ten­sive col­lec­tions in mu­se­ums, or books on them,” says Raghu­nathan, who is plan­ning a book him­self. Shah has set up a house mu­seum dis­play­ing his pre­cious col­lec­tion.

Last year, the Pa­tels show­cased their col­lec­tion at an ex­hi­bi­tion in Vado­dara. This May, they were in­vited to show­case se­lected pieces an ex­hi­bi­tion or­gan­ised by the mu­nic­i­pal cor­po­ra­tion of Su­rat. “We were told that in Su­rat, about 2 lakh vis­i­tors saw the locks,” says Pa­tel. “I be­lieve it’s im­por­tant for peo­ple to know about th­ese old locks. A lock, af­ter all, is a sym­bol of trust.”

NAN­DAN DAVE / HT

Dharma Pa­tel and his son Dashrath with the fam­ily’s lock col­lec­tion. The heav­i­est weighs 41.5 kg and re­quires eight keys to open.

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