Numismatist. Philatelist. Movie buff. History aficionado. Lover of local tradition. Post graduate in history. Doctorate in coin studies.
When Dr. Bhanu Pratap Singh completed his studies to become a doctor in 1983, he had never imagined he would have so many passions apart from professional work. He had already been collecting stamps and coins from his school days. As his hobbies took shape over the years, his passion for stamps and coins grew with every passing day.
It all began sometime in 1969, as far as Dr. Singh can remember. It was the centenary year of the birth of the ‘Father of the Nation’ and the postal department released several stamps and coins released on the occasion. All of them caught the fancy of Dr. Singh, who was just eight-years-old then.
The collection of currencies, coins and stamps kindled a habit that was soon to catch the attention of his parents and relatives. His father and relatives would hand him over coins that he would collect while on their trips overseas. Relatives who received letters from other countries too would do him a good turn.
“Since I had started early, I could manage to get their attention. I was lucky that they thought of me and their consideration added to my collection,” Dr. Singh recalls of the early years.
Despite the welcome help, getting the right stamp, coin or currency was not easy for anyone who had the hobby. Identifying the stuff that could make a collector proud was even more difficult. Through his school college years, the collection kept growing. When he passed out of Raipur-based Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Medical College in 1983, the passion showed no signs of waning.
As Dr. Singh’s collection grew after his college years, Limca Book of Records was launched and soon was a top draw among all hobbyists and record lovers always eager to find their name in the one-of-its-kind book.
Sometime in 2002, Dr. Singh decided to call up the Delhi office of Limca Book of Records. He had been following his passion for long and now wanted the record book to recognise him for the collection. During these years, he had also put together an enviable collection of memorabilia associated with the Father of the Nation too. After a few calls, Dr. Singh did not follow up and the issue was, temporarily, forgotten.
“I was very focused on building the collection that I had. Nothing else seemed to matter more to me around that time,” Dr. Singh says of those days.
Two decades after earning his medical degree, Dr. Singh had completed his post graduate degree in ancient history in 2002. He was now firmly on his way to finding his name mentioned in the Limca Book of Records.
A few years later, he connected with Editor Vijaya Ghose again and, in 2012, found his name in the book. His passion has since rubbed off on his wife and son too and their names have also been mentioned for their own records.
By now he had been following his passion very seriously. He worked to get a doctoral degree in the coins of South Kosala in 2014 and followed it up with a DLitt in the coins of Kalchuri kings of South Kosala in 2016.
While he was reading about the history of coins, his collection was growing steadily. Coins of irregular shapes issued by countries from around the world. Coins in various shapes- from bikes to guitars, have also found a place in his collection. There are yet others in irregular shapes like triangles, rectangles or even squares. Some others are multi-coloured and in shapes of animals. These are typically issued by countries to address the unending demand from collectors from around the world, and governments treat this as a source of revenue.
November 8, 2016 was a historic day for the country. In a special broadcast, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced demonetisation of currency notes of ₹500 and ₹1000 denomination. For many around the country, it was an unexpected shock as they had to deposit the currency notes into their bank account.
It was not the first time in the country currency notes had been withdrawn. Dr. Singh recalls notes of ₹ 1,000, 5,000 and 10,000 denomination being withdrawn in 1977. But holding on to those notes was not made illegal, unlike the demonetisation announcement three years ago. For numismatists, who are legally permitted by RBI to hold on to such currencies, this was a tricky situation to be in.
A few days after the historic announcement, a banker friend called up Dr. Singh. The banker had news that he would love to hear. In a hushed tone, he mentioned that a person had come to the bank to surrender currency notes that had fancy serial numbers that were considered special by numismatists. It was music to Dr. Singh’s ears and he immediately decided to visit the bank.
Once at the bank, he realised that the person had the notes with special numbers worth ₹50,000. With little or no effort, the numismatist in him had landed a fortune that he will cherish for a lifetime.
“It was a good opportunity for me. But I don’t think the government should have declared holding on to the currency notes illegal. We collect the currency notes for posterity, not for commercial gains,” Dr. Singh reasons.
Family of Limca record holders
With the kind of time that Dr. Singh has invested in following his interests, little wonder that the two other members of the family now follow their own passion.
Dr. Singh’s wife, Pushplata Singh, has 937 stamps in her personal collection which feature flags and, has also found a mention in the Limca Book of Records. His son, Aaditya, an engineer, has been recognised for making the world’s largest working screwdriver, just short of 21 feet in length.
The coins and currency notes that Dr. Singh collects can sometimes cost quite a fortune. In the early days, convincing his wife to let him spend the monies to build a collection that would get noticed was not easy.
Some years later, the couple made a deal. When Dr. Singh would spend a large amount of money on buying a coin, note, stamp or the other memorabilia that he collected, he promised to spend an equal amount of money on gold jewellery for his wife! It became a practice and his passion proved to be contagious. “After that, convincing her to spend for my hobbies was not a problem,” Dr. Singh chuckled on the phone from Raipur.
In the capital city of Chhattisgarh, the sprawling home of the Singh family has a hall nearly 1,000 square feet in area. It is the place where all their memorabilia, coins, currency notes and other collections are stored in boxes and almirahs.