TALES FROM THE CRYPT
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.”
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.