Antiques, Curios and Much More...
Jisha Subin Jagdish; Photo: Anwar Sadath Thalasserry
Saturday, January 14, 2017
Have you ever heard about a museum at home in Kuwait? We, the IIK team were fortunate enough to visit one on the 17th of Dec 2016. It belongs to 65-year old Joseph Panicker who has a huge collection of antiques and curios hand-picked, selected and chosen from various nooks and crannies of the world and displayed at his apartment in Riggae, Kuwait. Joseph Panicker proved that he is not only passionate about collecting artefacts but also a patient demonstrator who explained each piece in great detail.
Joseph Panicker’s living room hosts a rich and varied bouquet of artefacts, to name a few; very old documents, unique artefacts of African origin, Chinese tea pot set, Railway signals, Wooden stand with carvings of Pakistan origin, Floral design made from mica, 3D image maker made of nails, various kinds of old pens, Thaliola and narayam , different types of measures, Conches, Typewriter, Coins collection from about 20 countries, Jewellery collection from Kuwait, very old Clock with a hygrometer and a cyclone detector in it, and much more.
The interesting fact which makes him unique is that he could demonstrate the scientific knowledge of people of different eras and countries through his collection of artefacts. Finally, he sat down to share few of his experiences and interests for IIK viewers.
Jisha Subin Jagdish: How did your hobby of collecting antiques begin? Is there a special event or story that sparked this?
Joseph Panicker: My father had lot of property among which was a cinema theatre. As a child the Gramophone which used be seen in the theatre was always a matter of curiosity for me. As I grew the curiosity never faded and the intense aim to inherit a gramophone became quite strong. Once I finally acquired a gramophone, it became my passion. My first attraction was sounds and started collecting instruments which produces sounds, then developed to other areas as well.
JSJ: You had mentioned that sound was your first inspiration. What are the sound producing instruments which you acquired?
Joseph Panicker: Followed by the Gramophone I collected many sound producing instruments. I have collected a Rain-tube which will give you the effect of rain and you can hear the sound of rain and the falling of leaves. It is relaxing and you get the real feel of rain back home in Kerala. The last bit is very interesting. I also have few types of drums of various origin. A wooden Frog which makes sounds like a real frog also attracted me and I collected it from Korea. I have a singing bowl of Buddhist origin and bells of different kinds as well. There is a pipe which I bought from a 100 fils shop and it can produce a beautiful sound when it is rotated in a specific direction. (It was demonstrated for us). I keep looking for things and analyse and use my engineering knowledge which helps me to find items.
JSJ: From where do you collect these artefacts and how do you bring them to Kuwait?
Joseph Panicker: Majority of the items were collected from Kuwait. I find a lot of items in Friday Market and few other corners around Kuwait. When I see something interesting, I first try to acquire that and then learn more about it, because next time when I go there is no surety that the same item will be there. Many times I have been bitterly disappointed that I lost the opportunity to own an article which had caught my eye.
I like to travel and whenever I travel I hunt for things and usually I am successful in finding something. I ask the hotel staff for places where I can find a proper place to buy antiques. I bought lot of things from Belgium.
It is difficult to bring some items to Kuwait both, due to the size and them being fragile. Rain-tube was one such item which I had tough time in bringing to Kuwait.
JSJ: Do you spend money on items once you like it? Which is the most expensive item from your collection?
Joseph Panicker: I don’t really spend too much amount on buying artefacts for collection. I keep on looking and then wait until I get a good price. Some people don’t know the true value of an item and sell it off at a cheaper rate. You have to spend time to get what you need at a reasonable price. The Friday Market prices are always high in the mornings and later on it comes down. I visit two three places and then only I finalise and buy artefacts.
The most expensive item in my collection is the Kuwaiti ship and it can cost quite a big amount. It was presented to me a by a friend.
JSJ: How do you maintain the collection?
Joseph Panicker: Once I have an item I keep looking for small stands which can hold the item so that I can display the item neatly. I believe all these collection has value only when it is displayed. I have collected beautiful boxes with painting in Arab style to hold rolled documents. All the stands and containers were collected from Friday market. I keep things in mind and collect stand for each and every item.
JSJ: Are u interested only in antiques or have you ever tried visiting tribal areas of Kerala?
Joseph Panicker: I have great interest but never got a chance to visit, soon after studies came to Kuwait and didn’t get chance to spend time in Kerala.
JSJ: This is a real huge collection of special antiques. Why didn’t you try to publicize it or do an exhibition?
Joseph Panicker: It is possible, Dr. Binu Mon also asked me to do an exhibition because children have lot of learning in it. Many of the items will be of interest of children.
[Then he showed his collection of old generation cameras. He had the first generation camera and the later versions as well. He had the old film which was used in those type of cameras.]
JSJ: If I ask you to select your favourite piece which one will you choose? Why?
Joseph Panicker: Gramphone. I had the intention to inherit that, very strong intention and that is still the favourite. Then I like my collection of locks.
JSJ: Are you worried about the safety of the items while travelling? Safety of the collection in a locked house also taking care of the items from dust?
Joseph Panicker: Last time when I was on vacation, one of my friends stayed in my house and he took care of the items. Basically I took a risk and everything was safe.
I occasionally change locations and positions. Otherwise the maintenance really never happens. Whenever I move things, I clean them too.
JSJ: Can you tell us about your career?
Joseph Panicker: I work for Pan Arab consulting engineers, one of the leading consultants in Kuwait. I am very proud that I have worked with most of the landmark buildings of Kuwait such as Avenues phase 3, Arraya centre, etc. I was also a part of many road designs. Before getting involved in road designs I used to wonder what is so interesting in road design but when I started getting involved in road designs, I understood the intelligence in traffic system and related areas. I was involved in design of Road 80 and 85, coast way from Shuwaikh to Subaiha and the one to Doha. Also there are the projects of two artificial islands and 26 buildings and 50 percent kept for future development.
JSJ: Have you ever thought of collecting anything related to Engineering field?
Joseph Panicker: Few items in my collection can’t be called as antiques as it’s my engineering fancy. Any engineering designs used to attract me. Collection of lamps and torches were collected due to my engineering interest. I can show you a torch which looks like liquor bottle. It dates back to 1947.
I have Iron boxes of old kind with different versions where there is facility to regulate heat. The simple technology used in those days is wonderful. The old type of switches always attracts me and I make it a point to pick one to add to my collection whenever possible. I have a special type of switch which was used in hospitals with mercury inside to avoid sparks. Dangers of sparks is more in hospitals as they use different kind of gases.
Security system is another attraction for me and I have collected various types of locks. I have a tortoise shaped lock and a three keyed lock of Indian origin.
Now I have started collecting items related to medical field as my son is in that field.
JSJ: How do you manage to devote so much time on your hobby in the busy work schedule?
Joseph Panicker: I find lot of time in a day. Some are envying me, of course in a nice way, and many ask the same question. I sleep for 4.5 to 5 hours in a day. Earliest I sleep is around 12:30 AM and wake up by 5:00 AM. My dog wakes me up and then we go for a walk. I make it a point to start the day with a walk of half a kilometre to 1 kilometre. I make it a point to attend all occasions and meet my friends and spend time with them once in a while. I am blessed with lot of friends. I spend time at office to complete the reports etc. Though I am 65, I don’t get tired and I have the stamina for all my activities.
JSJ: As you mentioned you have lot of friends; do they help you in collecting artefacts?
Joseph Panicker: No, no. Only a few friends gifted a few small items. Other than that I collect the items by myself.
JSJ: Can you tell us about your community activities?
Joseph Panicker: The only community activity which I am involved is Institution of Engineers. That is the only activity over here.
[Joseph Panicker was the Chairman of Indian Institution of Engineers, Kuwait Chapter previously.]
I am the only expatriate member in Environmental Protection Society, a non-profit organisation. We do beach cleaning, reuse, planting etc. I have many friends through this society. I love to safeguard the environment and I carry water even when I go for a walk in the park and water the plants over there.
[Joseph Panicker was a winner of Bharath Gourav Pursakar in 2011 by Indian Government.]
JSJ: Each piece is unique and am sure each one has a story to tell. Which is the most unique piece with a special story behind it?
Joseph Panicker: So far nothing of that sort because I got everything without great difficulty. I liked something, tried and hunted for it and then got it.
JSJ: As an expat we all have to return sometime - What is your final plan about the collection? Have you had offers from anyone to purchase it?
Joseph Panicker: I have two plans. Either I will donate to this country to the Kuwait National Museum because I was involved in that museum and I have some personal contact over there. I don’t know if they will value for this but I have every good interaction with them and I will try for that.
Selling is not any option and it’s not my plan at all.
Carrying to India is the other option but carrying is not easy. The Kuwait Ship was presented to me by my friend just because he couldn’t carry it to India.
JSJ: Finally, a brief about your family.
Joseph Panicker: I was born and brought up in Pathanamthitta district of Rural Kerala. I belong to a family who was one among the five families who got converted to Christianity during feudalism during the time of Edappalli Thamprans’. The King honoured us with the sir name Panicker, being the karyasthan (managers) of the King. We lived in Tharammel-illam, a traditional house which was cantered around old traditions and beliefs.
I did my Engineering from Manipal University and joined Pondicheri Electricity Board. During that time, I got married to Laila and was brought to Kuwait by my father in law in 1982. I have two children Marian and Andrew. Both the kids were born and brought up in Kuwait. Daughter is married to Sibi, he is working for Bharath Earth movers. Son just completed MBBS. My son also likes collecting artefacts, he is a singer and lyricist as well. My wish is that when he treats patients he should be blessed to cure the people.
JSJ: Thank you sir for the opportunity. It was great visiting you and it was a unique experience of a museum at a home. Thank you for sharing your experience for IIK viewers.
Joseph Panicker: Personally whom I respect is the entire IIK team. The decor you are keeping is very high and IIK is covering all expat’s requirements.
||Jisha Subin Jagdish is working with Independent Petroleum Group as Economic Analyst. She is a Post Graduate in Anthropology and has published research articles in this field. During her stint as a Research Assistant at Kuwait University, Jisha started contributing to various Anthropological and Sociological Journals, an exercise she continues to date. On a lighter perspective, she writes short stories, poems and plays in Malayalam and English. Her hobbies includes pencil drawings and craft works.
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