Sunday, October 23, 2011

Painstaking collection of antique kerosene lanterns rusting in an attic

A one man's lifetime, painstaking collection of antique kerosene lanterns which has to be put up for public display is safely rusting in an attic at his house. The unfortunate collector is MS Padmanabha, resident of Sonar Street, Narayana Shastri Road.

In these days of technological advancements it is really hard to find a wick and kerosene lanterns in any household across the city. But for 75-year-old Padmanabha it became a passion to collect such old lamps. He has around 70 varieties of rare kerosene lamps in his collection. The size of the lamps in his collection range from 5 inch to 15 inches.

In his collection there are a couple of 200 year old rare kerosene lamps made in America, England, Austria, Greece, Germany and other countries apart from India. The 150-year-old German pedestal lamp, the french glass tank, 170-year-old English Carriage lamp, rare Petromax lanterns, and another 20 such rare lamps. If all the lamps are lit it consumes 35 liter of kerosene.

Most of the lamps were given away by people who thought it was useless as they were already broken or not working. Painstakingly he collected such lamps, cleaned and repaired them using his skills and junk materials.

The saddest part is, due to lack of adequate finances, he has packed all these lamps in cardboard boxes and placed them in an attic in a small room, for he can't afford to buy 35 liters of kerosene or has showcase to display it. Due to old age and other family problems he is finding hard to continue his collection.

He has maintained a detailed record of every lamp in his collection like the name, it's origin, the time period when it was in use, which model, capacity of the container to hold kerosene, consumption of kerosene per hour and lastly even the 'candle power' of the light it emits. The wicks and glass holders used in these lamps are rare to find.

In his collection is a unique lamp that can also be used as a cooking stove. He has also designed a stand for this lamp by appropriately modifying a normal mike stand and has also provided two holders for the stand to place a container for storing kerosene along with a match box. Though tucked away, all the lamps are fully functional and he regularly checks them to ensure they are always in working condition. Earlier he was a radio mechanic and as radios gradually became obsolete, he took to repairing taperecorders which helped him to find ways to repair these lamps and make them functional once again.

There was another strong reason for him to pick up this unusual hobby. "There was severe load-shedding during the 1980's and in our house there was just one lamp. But it got broken one day when the tiles from the roof accidentally fell on it. I went to the neighbour's house to borrow their additional lamp which they refused to lend me. This incident made me to begin collecting lamps which later grew into a hobby,” says Padmanabha.

Though many have come forward to to purchase his entire collection of lamps, Padmanabh has refused to sell. 'I have spent almost my entire life collecting this and don't want to sell them. What I need is a small place to exhibit these lamps permanently under one roof. Collecting antiques is also an art and one should encourage it.'

Padmanabh adds, 'If instead I had learnt dancing and taught the same for children, it would have benefitted me tremendously. I have spent thousands of rupees to purchase and repair these lamps. Money apart, it has taken several months of hard work just to repair one lamp.'

As his father Sreenivasachar worked at the Palace for the Royal family, he is thinking of approaching the Wadiyars and seek their help to set up a permanent place of display as an art gallery. He has already exhibited his works in several schools, colleges and even at Rangayana during last year's Dasara when the organizers provided him kerosene freely for the exhibition.

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