Connecting the past and future through antiques
A 100-year-old handmade chair is just one of the many antiques in this dentist's unusual collection, as RAKHEE MOHAN discovers.
Dr. Aji Kumar with his 100-year-old handmade dentist's chair.
PRESERVING THE past and pioneering the future is how Dr. V. Aji Kumar, a dental doctor and National Chairman for Council on Dental Health, goes about transfusing an hectic life with old world charm and futuristic precision.
Love for antiques
Drawing upon his penchant for all things quaint and beautiful, which he adores "for their exclusive craftsmanship and marked architectural brilliance as compared to the momentary nature of today's wares," this antique addict has over a period of 12 years, collected a sizable amount of antiques ranging from delicately embossed crockery to various models of kerosene lamps from the pre-electric era, from 25 mechanical winding vintage models of gramophones that age back to the 1920s to a 9.5-foot, teakwood cabined grandfather clock having a 39 inch long pendulum dating back to 1700 sourced from a church in Tamil Nadu. In addition to these he also collects old models of furniture, mainly Indian and English teapoys and wall tables, coloured bottles and brass items rummaged out from by lanes of Mattancherry and Mumbai.
His favourite though are the European-styled kerosene lamps of which he has a variety of them, like garden lamps or even the stained glass versions along with some in cast iron and brass. "Earlier, I used to buy whatever I could get my hands on to but now I concentrate on enlarging my lamp collection."
It sure is a paradoxical pastime for a professional whose job is to root out the old and whittle in the new. But he would like to view it differently. "It's not about discarding the obsolete but all about resurrecting its past glory and restoring its functionality." So he tinkers with his antiques, polishing and oiling them into working condition instead of casing them as fossilised adornments. And the pleasure levels don't end here.
The historic lore that is encased in each of his antiques is unearthed through extensive research and analysis to get into the heart of the matter. And he is full of stories whether on the incipience of dentistry when Karna, the charitable, rooted out his golden tooth when other forms of gifts were not at hand or how he came to the conclusion that the grandfather clock was the handiwork of the French, not just because the church in which it was was of the French but by studying various models and their dynamics. "Whether it is dentistry or antiques what interests me in both is their mechanics."
And taking pride of the place at his clinic is a 100-year-old crude handmade wooden dentist chair, "the oldest in Kerala," but in perfect working condition. He traces its roots back to an Englishman in Kayamkulam. Along with it he also has dental implements that trace the developments towards more sophisticated tools that are in use at present. "But these instruments of the past are more scientifically shaped. The syringes and needles can change directions to suit insertions."
And his obsession with all that is old doesn't end here. Now he is on a mission to locate old timers in the dentistry field so that they share their experiences "and people can understand the tremendous chain of progress that has infiltrated this profession in the last two decades."
He himself has played a stellar role in introducing ceramic castings for dentures from 1995 onwards and now, three months back, he was the first to introduce metal-free ceramics with core strength and success ratio rated at higher levels than the normal metal castings. "Aesthetic dentistry is the only field nearing 100 per cent perfection, thanks to this technique as it can mimic all the minute details." Elaborating on its preference, Mr. Kumar says, "it is known for its naturalness, its bio-compatibility, can be used for long span bridges rather than for a single cap tooth, has a variety of shade guides and its wearing out percentage equalises that of our enamel." Adding further he says, "dentistry as a profession is all about bringing back the smile on my patients face."
And what brings a smile to his face is certainly his collection of antiques. Helping him in his passionate pastime is his dentist wife Dr. Veena. "Now my wife is even a greater enthusiast than me not letting go off any from our collection."
And now you can catch a glimpse of this doctor on a television advertisement for the Indian Dental Association, urging kids to take the opportunity to get their periodic dental checkups. And so he continues stocking remnants of a bygone era whilst solving teething troubles of the present age.
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