There is something strange about how people deal with time. Even as they plan the future and work towards giving it the best possible shape, they crave to hold on to the past. They adopt different ways and means to preserve it, to somehow keep it safe and never let go.
It is this fascination with the past that made Ashok Khanna, a social activist, fall in love with coins. 'The way they look, their history, the very way they shimmer under the light gave me this urge to preserve them,' says 61-year-old Khanna.
'There is a certain romance about being in possession of history and its remnants that made me drift towards coin collection,' he says casting a proud look at his collection of over 10,000 coins that are out of use now.
Born in 1952, Khanna took to coin collection in a serious way only around 1973. Born and brought up in old Delhi's Chandni Chowk area, Khanna was always fascinated with history and rues the fact that 'We as a generation have forgotten it all and are not doing enough to preserve it.'
Asked about his favourite from the lot, his shaking hands reach out for a ring box carefully placed in a safe corner of his closet. 'This is a coin from the times of the East India Company in India,' he says with a proud smile.
The shimmering coin cast in 1840 was worth a quarter rupee then, he says. 'Being a cherrypicker, I know the value and worth of coins and don't lose a chance to pick up coins from whereever possible. I requested a friend, who got it from his father, to give it to me. He didn't know its worth. I don't think he cared about it, but for me it was a treasure and I took it. It's been more than 15 years since I chanced upon this coin. Many people have offered me money to buy it from me, but I have refused. This is my legacy and I intend to pass it on to my children.'
Khanna also claims to have coins used during the times of King Vikramaditya. 'Though I am a cherrypicker and understand the worth of coins, I always consult numismatics, whenever I come across a new find. It helps to stay assured of their historical worth,' Khanna adds. He concedes that though he doesn't intend to sell his collection, he feels good about knowing the numismatic value of each of his coins.
He goes on to explain that numismatic value may be used to refer to the value in excess of the monetary value conferred by law, which is known as the 'collector’s value'.
Khanna says that he loves to compare the changing shapes and sizes of coins. He enthusiastically places Re 1, Rs 5 and Rs 10 coins in various sizes to prove his point. 'We tend to miss details about changes. Not many from the younger generation are being shown the nuances of change and that I believe is the reason behind the fact that they don't cherish the past so much. We need to familiarise our children with these aspects and the reasons behind these changes,' he adds.
The 61-year-old has also been collecting silver coins for years. He flaunts a 1947 silver coin which was made of only 25 per cent silver. Khanna also has silver coins used in 1918 with him. Holding one such coin from 1918 in his hands, he says the coin was used as 50 paise then.
'From me it will go to my children, they will decide what they have to do with it. Though people I come across always ask me about the ‘collector's value’, indirectly asking me if I would want to sell it, I politely decline. This is history and I can't put a price to it,' he says.