TALES FROM THE CRYPT

Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - - HTNATION - Kru­tika Behrawala

They’re sym­bols of trust, to­kens of love and puz­zles that can take half a day to solve. One is shaped like a

map of un­di­vided In­dia (be­low),

oth­ers re­sem­ble fish, mon­keys, pis­tols. About 3,500 locks fill up the loft of the Pa­tel fam­ily’s sin­gle-storey home in Hamir­pura, in Gu­jarat.

Tra­di­tion­ally farm­ers, they’ve been col­lect­ing metal and wooden locks for four gen­er­a­tions, and over a cen­tury. The locks are a mix of orig­i­nals and repli­cas. The heav­i­est weighs 41.5 kg and re­quires eight keys to open. The tini­est weighs 4 gm, and is 1 inch high. There are pin locks, com­bi­na­tion locks, trick locks, even one made of solid sil­ver, meant for a bride’s dowry box. There’s a lock that has a con­cealed key­hole only re­vealed when you press the right rivet.

“When my grand­fa­ther [Gopal Pa­tel] started his col­lec­tion, peo­ple didn’t lock their doors in the vil­lage,” says Dashrath Pa­tel, 50, third-gen­er­a­tion cus­to­dian of the col­lec­tion. “It was when thieves en­tered his home and stole a pot of ghee that he went in search of one. It turned into a hobby and he started col­lect­ing them.”

KHAMBHAT CON­NECT

To buy his first lock, Gopal Pa­tel trav­elled about 55km, from Kheda to Khambhat (for­merly Cam­bay), a port town known for its sturdy locks. “Khambhat was an im­por­tant trade port, so locks were made here to seal the chests that would be shipped over­seas. Even to­day, it’s easy to find th­ese old locks by the hun­dreds in the town,” says V Raghu­nathan, 63, a Ben­galu­rubased for­mer banker, aca­demic and au­thor who has been col­lect­ing locks for three decades, since he started his ca­reer as a fi­nance pro­fes­sor, at the Indian In­sti­tute of Man­age­ment – Ahmed­abad in 1982.

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