Akshya began his career as a junior engineer after obtaining a diploma in mechanical engineering in 1961. (Photo: Shamim Qureshy)
If you thought collecting antiques was a leisurely pursuit that only the rich could afford, Akshya Pattanaik’s vintage museum will astound you and not just because of its vast and rare collection.
The museum is run out of two tiny rooms in Akshya’s house in an Odisha village. And Akshya, 74, is no rifle-toting, mustachio-twirling wealthy land owner but an engineer who later became a local politician. He began collecting rare objects on his sojourns across Odisha and the world for over two-and-a-half decades. Today his labour of love is exhibited at his home in Bolagarh in the Khurda district of Odisha and known as the GhanshyamPattanaik-Pindiki Srichandan Museum.
According to Akshya, this museum is one of its kind in the state and the third such in India after B M Birla’s Science and Engineering Museum in Kolkata and another one set up by the Karnataka government in Bengaluru. Akshya’s museum came into the limelight when he received the coveted “Srusti Samman” in 2008 for setting up a science and engineering-based museum through his own effort.
And his collection is truly enviable. There are 300 radios of various makes, from different nations and belonging to different eras. There are 30 types of ancient telephones, 10 kinds of gramaphones, 20 models of cameras, 10 types of lanterns, 70 types of clocks, 20 kinds of table clocks—one over 150 years old. There are 10 types of charkhas, nearly extinct musical instruments such as the Bheri, Mahuri, and another musical instrument made from a bison’s horn.
Among the rare gadgets preserved here are a Swedish-made kerosene driven refrigerator, a Spanish typewriter, an ancient tin drum made by Caltex company. There is a ceramic water filter from England, three glasses of the famous glass factory of Baranga, a 100-year-old barber’s knife and a coal-operated pressure cooker.
The museum preserves a rare 10 rupee note signed by the first governor of RBI, C D Deshmukh, during the British period. An invitation card sent by the Munsif of Bolangarh in 1942 on the eve of the inauguration of the State High Court to Akshya’s father also finds a place of pride in the collection. There are nearly 2,000 postage stamps from 95 countries and around 200 varieties of postcards and inland letters from the British Period.
There are nearly 1,000 currency notes from 45 countries, around 1,200 coins belonging to 70 nations including rare ones belonging to the eras of Tipu Sultan, Emperor Akbar, the Satavahana dynasty and the princely states of Gwalior and Indore.
Akshya began his career as a junior engineer after obtaining a diploma in mechanical engineering in 1961. Two years later he left that to start a petrol pump. After that enterprise tanked, he returned to Bolagarh and was unanimously elected the Sarpanch in 1975. In 1984, he became the chairman of the Bolagarh block.
In 1997, he led a 65-km long cycle rally of 3,000 farmers to Bhubaneswar to apprise the then governor of the problem of irrigation in Bolagarh, one of the driest regions in coastal Odisha. His efforts earned him the title of “Water Ambassador” of Bolagarh. Akshya has also done much for the environment as well. In the past 35 years, he planted nearly one lakh mango saplings in Begunia and Bolagarh. He also received the Prakrutibandhu Award from the district environment committee, Puri, in 1988. He also played a major role in eradicating leprosy from Haripur village nearby in the eighties.
An antiquarian, numismatist and social activist, Akshya has always been at the forefront of a battle for a just cause. But he is now fighting a different battle and lonely one too—one for more space to preserve his precious collection that has increased over the years. “I am running the museum from two small rooms. I can neither take good care of the objects nor exhibit them properly,” rues Akshya.
Akshya still awaits government patronage. He has been doing rounds of various district and state-level departments for financial aid, but so far in vain. “I need 10 halls to establish a full-fledged museum,” says Akshya. And he won’t give up easily.