Monday, 23 July 2012

False Felicity From A Fake

[The obverse of the East India Company coin, which I perceived to be a rare find.]
A part and parcel of my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is, among other quirks, Compulsive Hoarding, where I find it extremely difficult to discard items, though worthless and valueless for the most part, rich in nothing but emotional wealth, and I always find myself running out of closet space, with the result that I do hijack empty cupboards and nooks and crevices in the house; well until recently, when I moved everything to my room and realised just how much crap I had accumulated over the years. I have collected everything from books, sea-shells, toys, Legos to items of worth such as stamps, coins and currency notes.

In a materialistic world, one adores things we get for free or as gifts or at throw away prices. It does not matter whether the thing possesses any utility or not, all that matters is the price at which it was obtained and the bargain is further sweetened if the thing is indeed an object of desire. Recently, I, well actually my father, acquired a certain coin at a really cheap price and was I ecstatic!

One day, when I was over at my friend's place playing cards, my father called me up on my mobile phone and asked me what would be the fair price of a certain East India Company bronze coin. He does this often, being full aware of my interests, and always gives me a holler when he spots something that may be valuable in his eye. The East India Company was granted the Royal Charter in 1600 when it started trade with India, although it was only after the decisive Battle of Plassey in 1757 that 'Company Rule' began in India. So the Company coins are available right from the 1600s to 1858, when after the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, later re-christened the First War of Independence to make it sound grander, the East India Company was disbanded and control of all its activities and territories was brought directly under the British Crown, then sitting primly on the head of Queen Victoria, one of my favourite rulers of all time even though she was an enemy at that time Thus began the days of the British Raj with the Queen's Proclamation of 1858 at Allahbad. Now one of the first things you do to ascertain the price of a coin is take a look at the year, but I was engrossed in the game and just said anything under 500 bucks should be a steal.

When my father got home that day, I was really excited to see the coin, like a kid waiting for his father back from a trip, expecting a toy. I was even more excited when my father told me he got it for ₹ 50, which is dirt cheap for such a coin. That day, he had taken a cab to work, wanting to avoid driving through all the crazy Bombay traffic, and on reaching office, when he alighted and paid the cab-driver, he was surprised to find in all the change that the cabbie had, an old bronze coin. He asked the cabbie if he would sell it to him, on which the cabbie replied, in Hindi of course, translated here for your convenience, 'I don't want to sell God. You can have it for free.' The coin had an image of some Gods. I was actually surprised and happy to hear that a poor cab-driver could be so righteous and satiated. So just to be nice, my father handed him a fifty for him being so nice, which he reluctantly accepted. He called me right after, and when I told him coins of the Company usually are upwards of 500, the businessman in him gloated, just a little, at the serendipity. I had also experienced a similar moment when a photocopy guy handed me a Saudi coin instead of a 50 Paise coin and I know exactly how you fell.

[The reverse of the coin that brought me back to ground.]
I felt a wave of felicity hit me when I saw the obverse of the coin, it depicted one of the most common and oh-so repeated scenes from the Ramayan, with Ram, or should I say Lord Rama, in the centre, flanked by his consort Sita on his left and brother Laxman on his right, with Hanuman paying obeisance at Ram's feet, for these coins are rare. I had a couple of Company coins with Hanuman or a crab, depicting the Zodiac sign Cancer, on the obverse, but never one that had that scene from the Ramayan. The words 'Shri Ram Darbar' were inscribed on the face of it in only the Devanagari script and not in English, which I found a little weird, but didn't doubt it. However, my happiness was short lived when I flipped the coin over to the other side. On the reverse, there was the usual 'East India Company' along with 'One Anna' in English, and also Urdu. But what was so strange was the year when it was supposedly minted. It read 1939! That told me it was a fake. I should have probably realised that on seeing 'Shri Ram Darbar' in just the Devanagari script, or 'One Anna' not mentioned in the same script, although such coins are not uncommon, but somehow I kept thinking it was a real find. Well, at least until the year brought me back to ground here. The Company did not exist post the Queen's Proclamation as early as 1858 and ever since all coinage was in the name of the British monarch, who in 1939 was actually George VI, the guy on whom the film The King's Speech is based and father of the incumbent one, Elizabeth II.

On some internet research, the layman's, and the lame man's  answer to all questions, I found out that there are a lot of these fakes doing the rounds. I could of course dupe someone by selling it to them. However, despite my atheistic beliefs, I do have morals, and decided to keep it with me as a reminder that one must never get overjoyed about anything without having complete knowledge of what it truly is, not that it would make that much of a difference to a rather stoic person like me, who rarely displays emotions in public, save laughter, which I expend like a spendthrift. It shall also be a reminder to ask ten different questions when someone else is buying stuff for you. And for all of you out there trying to collect something of value, all I'd like to say is 'Inspect before you invest.'

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