He’s got coins that date back as far as the Chola dynasty and the AD period. For those who went to sleep in history class, the latter is in fact the era during which Christ was said to be alive! Clearly what started as a hobby for J Sethuram Deepak in Class 6 has evolved into something much larger than a simple pass time for fun. And given that he runs a successful restaurant business today, we aren’t surprised that his choice of container to house his valuables categorically is the humble masala dabba, and the occasional milk bottle.
“I’ve organised my collection year-wise, mint-wise, by commemoration date, as well as a separate section for the most rare ones,” Sethu says. He handles one of his 18th century King George V pieces with delicate fingers as he passes it to us for a better look. “Coins like these cost at least Rs 20,000 a piece,” he tells us. Now, we’re afraid to ask how much he’s shelled out over the past (almost 20 years) on his entire collection!
Between hunting them down at exhibitions in the city to networking with fellow enthusiasts at the Old Indian Coin Currency Association, Sethu is always on the look out for his next big find. And given that he has multiples of everything — be it currency from Tipu Sultan’s time or what your grandparents may have told you about, the one quarter Anna — this collector filters his treasure hunts with more specific searches. “I memorise images from numismatic books,” he states. “That way I know exactly what I need to add to my collection and it helps me recognise the coin immediately wherever I come across it,” Sethu explains.
A handful of 16th century Mughal coins that he shows us, for instance, appear more like uneven rocks than currency used back in the day. With insignia barely visible, one really has to look closely to realise their value. But Sethu with his practised eye tells us that these in fact have five metals — silver, gold, bronze, copper and nickel. All we can do in response is to turn them over in our palms once more, and look stupidly awestruck. If only, these rocks could talk!
As we wind up, returning all the coins carefully back into their boxes, this reporter ponders upon a passing thought. If one man’s pocket change is another man’s treasure, has anyone at his house ever dipped into Sethu’s masala boxes by accident to pay off the balance on a home delivery for dinner? His face suddenly turns tense. “Never,” comes a curt response, almost as steely as one of his vintage treasures.
Don’t mess with the guardian of a coin collection, is the implied wisdom for the day. Nope, not even if he is in Class 6.