PAPER SOUVENIR

By: Jane Borges

With cardboard boxes strewn all over his tiny room in Muttrah, Kailash Chander Jhinga does not seem like the man who could be sitting on a goldmine. But these boxes, which make up for his humble living space along with a creaky wooden bed and cupboard, are stashed with bundles of rare paper currency that could leave anybody amazed.

A self-proclaimed “hoarder” of notes, coins, stamps and books, Jhinga – a Muscat-based Indian jeweller and advocate – says he has invested around US$10mn in the last two decades on his hobby. A decent share of this amount, however, has been directed at collecting a rather unique set of serialised Indian currency notes.

Sourced from over 300 numismatists from across India, this is no ordinary collection. The six-digit numbers on the Indian currency notes of various denominations trace the birthdays of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said starting from his birth year – November 18, 1940.

And these notes are not just of denominations that are currently printed in India – R5, R10, R20, R50, R100, R500 and R1,000, but also the R1 and R2 notes, which were stopped decades ago. He has accumulated nine sets in the nine denominations.

Each set consists of 75 notes with serial numbers that record His Majesty’s birthdays – beginning from the date of birth number 181140 (18/11/1940), leading to his upcoming birthday 181115 (18/11/2015). Apart from this, he also has a separate bundle that records years following His Majesty the Sultan’s birth year, with the first note numbered 001940. Jhinga intends to build on the collection.

His cramped room, which functions as a workstation for this pastime, only reflects his obsession with the new project. Reams of plastic sheets and stationery are spread out on a mat as Jhinga meticulously creates folders for each note. He doesn’t want them to yellow. It’s the 45th National Day of Oman for which he has been burning the midnight oil.

Jhinga recalls how he first engaged in the hobby. “It happened around 24 years ago in Sharjah, when an Iranian businessman handed me a small bag of coins weighing 100g.” But his interest soon waned due to preoccupation with his jewellery business and job as an advocate. It resumed only in 2011, when under serendipitous circumstances he got hold of a bundle of antiquated R10 notes, which he had first purchased with the intention of selling to a friend.

“When I sold it at an exhibition in Sohar, I got six times the amount I had bought it for.” It’s not for nothing that Jhinga feels that numismatic investments are lucrative. “You have to be selective about what you collect.”

Last year, while attempting at finding something exceptional to include in his wide collection, Jhinga struck upon the idea of creating a tribute to His Majesty the Sultan. “I arrived in Oman in the early ‘90s, and since then, I have seen how this place has progressed under His Majesty the Sultan. He has nurtured this place and its people with a lot of love. What he has done is remarkable and his achievements deserve to be celebrated.”

The numismatist says he just wanted to do something different for the ruler, whom he has come to hold in very high regard. And even though Jhinga has invested nearly US$1mn on buying these notes, he has no intention of selling them.

“I hope to meet His Majesty the Sultan one day,” he says. These notes were not easy for him to acquire. “I had to get in touch with collectors all over India. I also got a few notes from Dubai. Since I am into this business for a long time now, I have a comprehensive contact data. It was mostly about getting hold of the right person,” he says.

“You must know that these currency notes are exceptionally rare, and are not readily available in bundles. Sometimes, you manage to get just one or two notes from a source. On other occasions, you get a pack of ten notes with numbers in a serial order. Fortunately, I was able to put it all together within nine to ten months,” he said, adding that as a business measure, he did not tell sellers the purpose of his collection or else they would have demanded double the price.

Jhinga also procures currency with different serial number patterns. These include notes with the asterisk symbol and vehicle numbers. Having travelled around the world, he has also sourced coat buttons of royal families, over 10,000 stamps, and centuries old books and documents, most of which are in bank lockers in India and Oman.

“You need to be passionate about what you do,” Jhinga says, as he orderly stacks his notes and puts them back into a box. “And you also have to be a little crazy.” Jhinga can be contacted on kcja.collector@gmail.com