When thousands thronged Egypt’s Tahrir Square—a historic moment indeed—the whole world watched it on television. But back then, in the early 20th century, that was not the case, with the Vietnam War being the first war broadcast on television. No wonder then it makes B K Anand Kumar’s collection of vintage photographs seem priceless—flashes of history captured for posterity.
From world leaders to important milestones in history, the images transport you to another time. The custodian of such significant historical moments is no history scholar either. Rather Kumar, owner of a plastics shop at Sowcarpet, Chennai, is a history buff whose shop and home is a treasure trove of vintage photos tucked away in boxes and files.
He didn’t go to college, but his knowledge of history could rival that of any history professor. “I go to libraries and read books, watch documentaries and read the newspaper to keep myself updated on what has happened in the past and what is happening around the world now,” he says.
Kumar, an ardent MGR fan, says he started out with collecting photos of MGR when he was around 12 years old. On July 30, 1977, MGR became the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu and Kumar was present when MGR took his oath on Mount Road. “In those days you did not get photographs online. So I spoke to one of the photographers there and he promised to get me a photo of the event. That is how it all started,” he says.
Since then Kumar has not only managed to collect more than 10,000 photographs of MGR, but also other personalities and major historic events of the world. From World War I, World War II, the Indian Independence movement to the Cuban Revolution, the Holocaust, Nagasaki bombings, his collection has crossed the 25,000-mark.
Be it rare photos of Bhagat Singh in jail or freedom fighter Vanjinathan, whose photographs are very difficult to come across—you name it, he has it. Kumar is also a big fan of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and has a collection of documentaries, photographs and old newspaper clippings of the fiery freedom fighter.
This chronicler of history says, “I have visited museums across India. I speak to the authorities and get pictures from there. I got the photos of Bhagat Singh from Jalianwalah Bagh and Netaji’s photos from Netaji Bhavan in Kolkata. I have also been to Anand Bhawan in Allahabad, where Jawaharlal Nehru grew up and Indira Gandhi got married, and have gotten hold of not only photos, but also copies of letters exchanged between Nehru and Indira Gandhi.”
His collection of original photos is small. “I take copies because I don’t have the money to buy originals.” Kumar also managed to get hold of photos of the Holocaust, Hitler’s rule in Germany and his downfall, from a distant relative who lives there. He is also a fan of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa and has more than 3,000 photos of her.
Be it Rabindranath Tagore, Joseph Stalin, Che Guevara, Nehru or Mahatma Gandhi, to name only a few, his collection seems to have covered almost every bit of world history. He also collects documentaries and old newspaper clippings of historical events.
Kumar says he wants to hold an exhibition of his photos. He tried to get in touch with Jayalalithaa for help but could not. However, when he went to Kolkata, he met West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who has promised to help him put up an exhibition in Kolkata. “I really wish that this dream materialises. I am keeping my fingers crossed,” he says.