The fact that the price of silver has been climbing sharply does not deter Vilas Karandikar from adding a fancy touch to his strange passion. For the last 20 years, he has been collecting exquisite miniature pots and pans made of brass—precisely the kind that every child uses to play house. And now he is fashioning a whole range of mini plates, kettles, ladles, pans and woks out of silver.
In Karandikar’s Pune home is an entire kitchen toyland with 1,050 miniature utensils. You would find these toys across countries, but in Maharashtra they come with a name, bhatukli, and a culture and ethnology behind them. Karandikar says studying them is like taking a walk through history. “They actually represent the society and culture of a whole age that has gone by. We are talking of a time when little girls were married really young. Bhatukli was a means for some learning through role play. They bring that whole world alive for you. You wouldn’t find some of these vessels on modern kitchen shelves,” says Karandikar.
Eighteen years ago, Karandikar had set out on a routine shopping expedition to the famous Tulsi Baug market in Pune. This is the hub of the old city and it specializes in brass and copper knick-knacks. His eyes caught a little display of bhatukli and he, to the astonishment of his wife and two daughters, came home bearing a collection of miniature vessels—thalis, stoves, a wok and a boiler.
Karandikar, an engineer, slowly started building his collection during his travels across Maharashtra and the rest of the country. The Karandikar ‘kitchen’ today has baby pots and pans from Kulu, Chennai, Kolkata and the interiors of Rajasthan. And, he designs and commissions antiquated vessels of the kind that are no longer part of the modern kitchen from artisans.
“Now that copper and brass merchants know that I am in the market for these toys, they come to me with artefacts they find. And I pay through my nose for them, more than what an ordinary customer would pay by weight,” he says.
Karandikar has travelled widely with his collection and refuses to put a price to it. All he will admit to is that he has ploughed a large part of his savings into them. He has now set out on new research—traditional game pieces that are almost extinct.