Clickety-clack. Clickety-clack. Clickety-clack. Typing out a letter or any official communication on a typewriter, before computers and printers became mass products, was considered an important job. Those who could type at express speed in those days, often called typists, were recognised as one of the stars at any workplace. The fingers could work their magic on typewriter keys within minutes, even seconds. Sometimes, that speed could be the difference between winning and losing a deal.

Delhi-born Rakesh Vaid was one of these star typists. He had mastered the use of typewriter keys and enjoyed improving upon his work with every passing day. He was doing a part-time job with a company in Delhi and had two bosses to cater to! Often, members of the sales team would come to him with a request to type out a letter or two. Some of them had become good friends too.

One of the salespersons, Mathew, walked up to him one summer afternoon in 1978. He was in a tearing hurry and wanted Rakesh to work his magic and type a letter for him at the earliest. He had parked his bike outside the office, and a keyring was dangling in his hand as he spoke. As Mathew dictated the details, Rakesh’s fingers were flying on the keyboard. The order, which Mathew was trying to win, was worth Rs. 80,000 - a hefty amount in those days.

When Rakesh was done with the work, out of appreciation, Mathew handed over the keyring to him. As it turned out, Mathew managed to get a prized deal he was chasing.

Rakesh does not remember if other salespersons considered that a good omen, but over the next few days, he got a few more keyrings as gifts. Over the next few weeks, suddenly there were several keyrings that Rakesh had with him.

His father got to know of the gifts he was getting and was not amused. He did not want Rakesh to get gifts for the work that he was doing. ‘If you like keyrings, buy off your own money,’ he was told.

Unknowingly, the turn of events had kindled something in Rakesh. As he collected keyrings, he was taking good care to organise and keep them properly.

Nearly a year later, Rakesh formally joined his first job and would be richer by a princely sum of 850 Rupees at the end of the month. He spent nearly half that salary in buying different kinds of keyrings. He would choose them with care so that they were not repeated, and suddenly he had a few hundred in his collection. He had discovered a passion in life.

According to the Limca Book of Records 2018, Rakesh has India’s largest collection of keyrings, and has over 43,000 of them in his personal collection. His Delhi house has walls adorned with some of the most special ones among them.

“I never wanted to make a record or any sort. I just enjoyed collecting them and often made my own keyrings so that they were unique,” Rakesh says about the hobby that has won him acclaim across the country and in different parts of the world.

The inspiration for keyrings

Delhi is the hub of wholesale trade for a wide variety of things, which are distributed to other parts of the country. Some of these markets have developed over centuries and have an old world feel to them. For those who can brave it, the narrow, serpentine lanes of Sadar Bazar and Paharganj markets, for example, have little shops that often sell things that can be a delight for collectors. For those businesses looking for a good deal at great prices, these could be just the right places.

Born and bred in Delhi, Rakesh did not need to be told this. He had known of these markets and was soon scouring them to find the keyrings of his choice. In the early days, it meant going around and identifying the places. After a brief experience visiting markets and asking friends and relatives, he had soon narrowed them down.

Small businesses and craftsmen from different parts of the country gather at the India International Trade Fair in Delhi and at the Surajkund Crafts Mela at Faridabad, on the outskirts of the capital. These was some other places where he could find the keyrings that no one else possessed.

“It needed some effort in the early days. Once I knew the places, it became a ritual to visit them. Some of the shopkeepers used to think I was a maverick since I would buy just a few of them. Others, became friends,” Rakesh says of his experiences about frequenting Delhi’s wholesale markets.

The special keyring- the one-month project

By the 1990s, Rakesh had become a seasoned collector and word had got around. People would visit his house to have a look at his collection and he began to earn a name for himself. His collection of keyrings included some with images of cricketing icon Sachin Tendulkar, Bollywood stars Amitabh Bachchan and Sridevi, Nobel laureate Mother Teresa and several others. It was now time to raise to bar.

In December 2013, someone visited the house and asked to see the biggest keyring he had. He showed him one that was about a foot long. But the person was not impressed. He suggested that a collector’s biggest keyring should be a lot bigger than that! Upon hearing this, Rakesh hit upon an idea. He had a keyring with an image of the Titanic on it, but there was nothing more. He wanted to use keyrings to make a giant-sized Titanic- a cutout of the iconic ship which would be decorated with keyrings. He began planning for it since it was going to take a few weeks to complete.

Work started in all earnestness on January 12, 2014. A carpenter he spoke to said he would charge Rs. 22,000 to make it. Worse, the estimated weight of the finished keyring, made of plywood and some metal, would be about 45 kg! Managing such a heavy keyring, even if only for display purposes, made it a non-starter.

Soon, he was at work thinking of what else could be used. He narrowed down on thermocol sheets, which were two inches thick. He joined two sheets and started chiseling to carve out the ill-fated ship.

To make the railing of the ship, he pulled the lead out of pencils, which were then left hollow with just the wooden outer shell. Next, he straightened a few gem clips so that they could serve as metallic wires running through the pencils. Once he had a few gem clips straightened, he used them to hem the pencils together and fixed them as the railing for the ship.

He had to then scour the internet for images of people who lost their lives in the tragedy. It consumed a lot of time, but Rakesh managed to get a detailed list and images. On February 10, nearly a month after he had started, the 10-foot keyring was ready. When he approached the Limca Book of Records in 2014, Editor Vijaya Ghose visited his home to see it firsthand. Rakesh showed her the small keyring which was ultimately expanded into a 10-foot long version.

“Yes, the 10-ft Titanic was impressive with keyrings strung up everywhere, and so was the replica. The novelty in his handmade key rings was the use of his own precision work tools,” Viajay Ghose, now Editor Emeritus, Limca Book of Records, says, recalling the visit to Rakesh’s place.

How did Rakesh manage to keep collecting keyrings so religiously, over many years? “It was really about passion! From the day when I got that first keyring as a gift, it grew on me. I wanted to have more and more of them. The passion grew into a habit, and now, my family members also gift me keyrings,” Rakesh sums up his 40-year experience.