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Meet Kolkata’s ageless treasure collector

Nokubabu, the 95-year-old who has turned a room into a museum

28 November, 2020

PHOTOGRAPHS BY Abhijit Chakraborty

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In one room of an old, three-storey house in North Kolkata’s Shyam Chand Mitra Lane sits a unique, rare treasure trove of artefacts, nurtured lovingly by its 95-year-old guardian, Sushil Kumar Chattopadhyay, fondly known as Nokubabu. Freelance photographer Abhijit Chakraborty’s lens brilliantly captures both the man and his beloved collection, as Nokubabu, with an exuberance that makes his age irrelevant, lays his treasures open before the world, treasures that make that one room as rich as any museum.

Since he was a child, Nokubabu has been collecting objects discarded by their one-time owners. But those objects, some of them routine, some more exotic, have assumed priceless status under his tender care, and now stand before us as representatives of times long gone, their condition perhaps as pristine as they day they were first bought, thanks to the care lavished upon them by their ‘father’.

From a fully functioning World War I movie camera, to a 1912 pocket microscope, to sea-shell buttons worn by early British settlers in 1777, to an 18th-century calling bell, to movie cameras and projectors dating from several eras, to a working piano accordion, to thousands of long-playing shellac records, the collection is as varied as it is fascinating.

The fact that one, not particularly wealthy, man has built it all up single-handed seems incredible. Thankfully, Nokubabu’s eldest son has inherited his love for the past, and has promised to look after his father’s collection once the collector passes on.  

As for the collector himself, he has established a special relationship between the objects he has collected, and himself. He considers his love for these objects as timeless, since they transcend all barriers of time and represent the day they were first bought, or perhaps gifted. Therefore, he takes care of them the way they were taken care of on that first day. In his own words, he speaks to them, and they speak back to him. 

Nokubabu, a lone sailor in a sea of treasures.

Photographer - Abhijit Chakraborty


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