My Story: The First Guilder

A Childhood in Paradise (Part: 1/7): A New Home

In 1996 my father who served in the Indian Navy was commissioned to take over a new project in the coastal village of Karwar, in the South-Western State of Karnataka. So our family of 5 moved to what would become 4 years of an unforgettable childhood. For a city boy like me adapting to life in this remote village was at first challenging. Looking back now, I realized that isolation in this distant part of the country gave us time aplenty and provided very few distractions. Another reason as to why being in this lockdown at home doesn’t really bother me now. Imagination & Creativity for me became survival tools at the age of 9. We had to create our own activities and our own amusements. Our house lay on the edge of a beach, surrounded by pristine wilderness, with the beach flanked by two mountains on either side, jutting into the Arabian sea, with the massive, exotic, and mysterious island of Anjadip right across our beach. The intrigues of this Island steeped in Colonial Portuguese history was another contributing factor to my obsession with far off and exotic places. Moving to Karwar, was the beginning of an important phase in my childhood.

A Childhood in Paradise (Part: 2/7): Keeping Active

At first, there really wasn’t much to do. Walks on the beach, exploring the wilderness, and then retiring in the evenings to watch a TV with just 4 channels on it two being news channels and the other two being general programming. Boredom eventually set in. But we soon learned to keep active. My brother and I learned how to cook, making simple things for Lunch and Dinner. We created a makeshift garden right outside our house replacing rows of sand with fertile soil and growing all-weather plants. The many failed attempts taught us things about the terrain, soil and weather. We eventually had a small vegetable garden growing Watermelons, Tomatoes and a few other veggies. My dad of course also loved making a mark and so he eventually built for his two sons a Birdbath, with our names engraved in it. The birdbath which was like our marker in the garden drew in a lot of wildlife from Eagles, Owls, other exotic birds to various other fauna. (When I think back fondly of that place I often wish we took more photographs, but back then you had to put in camera film and have it developed, things which were not so easily at hand in Karwar.) Four years later when we eventually left Karwar; we buried Leo, our Dobermann and our first dog. I painted and made a small tombstone to remember him. We were pleasantly surprised to know that both the birdbath and Leo’s tombstone survived intact in place till 5 years after we’d left in 2005. Sadly when my parents visited back in 2012-13 the entire site had been demolished during the renovation of the Naval Base. Only the memories remain now...

A Childhood in Paradise (Part: 3/7): Wildlife in the House

You really couldn’t escape wildlife in a place like Karwar. Everything from Monitor Lizards to Saltwater crocodiles and Tigers to Black Panthers was all around us. This was extremely fascinating for us as kids who’d lived in large cities. A new exotic bird would get us to open an encyclopedia to try and identify the species. We’d just be so curious to know what these animals were and where they came from. We had snakes become regular visitors in and outside the house. Like the time this baby python was resting on our doormat. My dad being trained in Snake handling would catch the Python to show us how to handle snakes, even though I was quite hesitant. Our rooftops would often be visited by families of large Langur Monkey who would routinely steal almonds from the almond trees. A Black Panther roaming our beach was one of the highlights. A Black Panther and her baby cub would stroll across our beach during the night from one end of the beach to the other. In the morning, we’d hit the beach tracking its footsteps and using Plaster of Paris to mould them. As with any big cat they were always elusive. But in our last year before leaving Karwar we finally did see the Panther perched atop a rock blissfully enjoying the sunshine. That was one of the best memories I hold to this day, seeing a Wild Black Panther near our house...

A Childhood in Paradise (Part: 4/7): Saving baby Turtles

Definitely one of the best days of my life was the day we had Turtle hatchlings across our beach. It was a school morning, we’d just gotten ready, worn our school uniforms when one of the base patrolmen came to our house with a turtle hatchling. He informed dad that the hatchlings were all across the beach and were being picked off one by one by crows. Now holding a baby turtle in your hands is one of the most beautiful feelings you can ever have. This particular turtle was a species called Olive Ridley. I must have been in grade 6 and my brother in grade 3, for us this was an experience of a lifetime. This happened right outside our own house, not at some shelter or nursery. We gathered a bucket of water and ran off to the beach. We were aghast that crows & kites were swooping down, eating these baby hatchlings. Now what happens generally is that female turtles return to the same beach from which they were born to lay their own eggs. 3-4 months later the baby hatchlings break open from their nests on a full moon night. The Moon’s reflection shows the hatchlings the way to the sea, however, our beach now had Sodium Vapor Street Lights which got a lot of hatchlings travelling in the opposite direction inland. Once the Sun rises the birds around swoop down and picks them off. We did our best; we were able to save 6 baby turtles that day, while we lost 2 due to injuries from the crows. This experience made me fall deeply in love with the natural world.

A Childhood in Paradise (Part: 5/7): Treasure Hunters

Across our beach lay the Island of Anjadip. Anja means Fifth in the local language and “Dip” or “Dweep” means island, was one of the five islands that surround the city of Karwar. This island’s history is steeped in history, mystery, and warfare. This island was actually the last battlefront of the Portuguese Empire in India. In 1962 the Portuguese in India were confined to Goa and a few enclaves. After the liberation of Goa by the Indian Army in 1962, the last forces made one final stand on the fortress Island of Anjadip. As per folklore, the Portuguese took their treasury and barricaded themselves hoping to wait it out until reinforcements arrived. A blockade ensued once it was clear that the Portuguese had no plans of surrender, the fortress was bombarded by the Indian Navy until victory was won. Stories like this got our hearts racing and made our trips to the island feel like treasure hunts. But apart from old cannons that lay rotting in the sand most of the island was covered in thick jungle and dangerously inaccessible. We did find a bottle covered in barnacles with a wax seal and an old map of the island inside it. Whether the map is authentic, or a prank pulled by my dad to get us kids curious is still a hotly contested family debate. Either way, it took my curiosity even further. Reading about the Portuguese during their time in India and their tales of exploration of the world was my first true love affair with histories of other countries. Our explorations lead us to shipwrecks sunk beneath the shifting sands of our beach to whale skeletons. My life was like something out of a pirate’s tale looking for treasure.

A Childhood in Paradise (Part: 6/7): An Obsession!

In the 2 years that went by I was enthralled by the natural world around me, but I didn’t have many more options. International Travel was a luxury we never had and a PC with internet was still 3 years away. Good old books were all I had. So reading mythology, history, and geography had enlightened me to a world far beyond India. But I needed to focus this on something tangible. At the age of 11, I didn’t know what that could be. One evening during a visit to a family friend’s house, I met Archit. A boy of my age. He was showing me among his other toys, his coin collection. Collecting coins has been an obsession for many generations by great men and yet I wasn’t privy to this at the time. I was instantly hooked, for each coin told a story. They had new scripts, they were made of coloured metals I’d never seen before. I remember holding a brass Greek Drachma with Trireme on one side and an effigy of Homer on the other. Completely obsessed with Greek Mythology by then I knew I had to have it. I was Gollum and it was “my precious”. But Archit wasn’t willing to part with any of his “shiny” coins. Disheartened, he decided to give me a few spares and a bunch of very blackened oxidised coins. In the years that followed collecting coins became an obsession for me so much so that I later discovered that both my Grand Mother and my Grand Uncle were also avid coin collectors in their childhoods. Passing them on to me I’d managed to put together a collection that proudly held many priceless antiques. But on that fateful night, I returned home and I took another look at those blackened coins and discovered something that has mesmerized men through the ages

A Childhood in Paradise (Part: 7/7): Treasure Found! The First Guilder

When you’re a kid, you can be easily amused. You find junk but it holds some memory and value in your heart. But it’s junk! So when I came home from Archit’s, that’s what I thought I came home with, junk! These coins were mostly cents & pennies, currencies I'd seen before. But among them I found a large coin blackened with a piece of pink paper stuck on it. Being very OCD as a kid, I had to have this cleaned. Under a tap of water, and with an old brush I slowly scrubbed it off. A bright light reflected off the coin, my eyes mesmerized by its shine; the face of a queen on the metal white. Rupees are made of steel and have that steel finish & colour and so I was convinced this was Silver! I scrubbed off the dirt all around the coin, and in my hands was 2 and a half Guilders from the “Nederlands”. The effigy on it was that of Queen Juliana of the family of Orange-Nassau. I had to know more about this and if there were more coins like it in my dirty batch. Alas, this was the only one. My search for a reference to this coin in the hope to prove that it was indeed made of Silver led me on a voracious quest for knowledge. My days & nights were spent reading, so to me, this Guilder represented an age of discovery & exploration. I couldn’t travel but my mind took me to places I'd never seen before. It symbolized the core of my obsession with different countries, their people & the culture they live by. In 1999 I used my birthday gift money of Rs. 600 to buy an encyclopedia into the World of Coins. There in its pages, I did locate the Guilder minted in 1961 which was indeed made with Silver. And ever since I’ve been Chasing Guilders.